Battle of the Bulge

Outsourcing firm MBS wanted an ERP system that could manage its rapidly growing workforce without compromising on its lean, efficient foundations.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  January 18, 2009

Outsourcing firm MBS wanted an ERP system that could manage its rapidly growing workforce without compromising on its lean, efficient foundations.

It's an age-old conundrum - how to ensure that the growth of an enterprise matches the growth of its infrastructure. For most organisations, it's a smooth process that shadows the evolution of a company through its formative years.

But not all enterprises are that fortunate. Take outsourcing specialist MENA Business Services (MBS) which grew by nearly 800% in a single year in terms of manpower. The firm found that its existing account package and basic spreadsheets could no longer cope with managing this level of workforce - and made the decision to implement a complete integrated ERP system from IFS.

We wanted something that can grow with us – we are a fast growing company but we didn’t want to implement a big monster, because in terms of functionality, we wanted just to have enough for our real needs now. On the other side, we wanted an implementation that had to be very fast, very out of the box.

MBS first opened for business in 2003 and today operates in seven different countries with a total of 23 IT staff in place. The firm provides a range of contact centre services for a number of prominent clients including regional telecoms operators and utility providers, in addition to business process outsourcing services which mainly centre on medical transcription.

Luis Ortega, MBS's chief operating officer, explains: "We were starting to struggle with management of our human resources including payroll, the management of our finance and accounts - especially because we needed to consolidate on a monthly basis seven different companies. We also wanted to have various strong centralised units in the company to support everything related to purchasing, suppliers and so on. This was not possible with the previous solution we had in place."

"That's the reason why we decided to go for the implementation of an integrated ERP solution. We wanted something that can grow with us - we are a fast growing company but we didn't want to implement a big monster, because in terms of functionality, we wanted just to have enough for our real needs now. On the other side, we wanted an implementation that had to be very fast, very out of the box - we don't have too much customisation," he continues.

And when Ortega means fast, he means fast. After IFS was selected as the vendor in March 2008, the $250,000 project officially kicked off in April and MBS went live with all modules in July. The implementation required eight professionals from IFS and six individuals from MBS to complete successfully.

Ortega notes that the main drivers behind the project were business rather than technology-related: "We were severely constrained before because we could not do consolidation of our accounts on time - which is very important because our partners are a Kuwaiti investment group and an Omani national. The Kuwaiti group is part of a bigger stock market-listed group; obviously they have very tough requirements for all the subsidiary companies for financial reporting.

"The other reason has to do with our outsourcing business which is very intensive in the use of human resources. Since we now have 850 people, we wanted to have a proper and updated employee database with all information related to their history, CVs, skills and training. This was impossible with the previous situation where we used Excel spreadsheets for that purpose," he adds.

One of the key priorities when defining a project with wide-ranging effects such as ERP is ensuring that costs do not spiral out of hand. Ortega says that he had this aspect well in hand.

"We didn't want to make a lump sum investment in the project, because we trust that we can get involved with IFS and make better use of time and materials. It's interesting because most of the companies want the opposite - a fixed closed price. We thought that it was much better to go for an open time and materials model. There are a lot of non-measurable benefits of the implementation of the system that cannot be put in a formula to calculate the return on investment," he states.

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