Means of control
Aswaaq has laid down an ambitious plan for growth and technology automation is earmarked to shoulder the burden. Nathan Statz investigates how IT is helping save the company a buck.
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Whenever you take a stroll down the aisles of a glistening supermarket, it’s easy for the business-minded individuals out there to drink in the sight of an operation putting so many products on shelves.
Every packet of potato chips and bottle of cola is formulated on several spreadsheets, not to mention there are logistical nightmares to overcome before products leap into shelving. For most grocery chains, the operation has evolved over decades to become a well-oiled machine with a small army of staff keeping the wheels turning. In the case of Aswaaq, the company is only a handful of years old and a visit to one of its supermarkets will reveal a place dripping with technology.
What this translates into is a need for IT speed and is where Jassim Sajwani, director of IT and administration at Aswaaq, comes into the picture. He is head of an IT department that is split up into three sections – network infrastructure, application development and support. This also meant Sajwani was in charge when the organisation was looking to roll out a major enterprise resource planning (ERP) project.
“It started with the three main players in the market. We started comparing the three main products from A to Z. Our main product is the retail vertical, so we were looking for ERP for our head office for the finance and so forth and then for the retail, point of sale, back-office, property management system and eventually everything. We took almost one year to dig through the three products until we decided that Microsoft would be the best product for Aswaaq,” says Sajwani.
Aswaaq was actually first announced in 2007, when His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai gave a presentation about government strategy and revealed the project. Since that announcement, the organisation has hit the ground running with three centres operational in Dubai, along with the head office in Dubai Healthcare City, a stand-alone supermarket and two more centres on the way.
“His Highness Sheikh Mohammed located for us 30-plus lands to build the new communities in Dubai. Our aim is to build up the community centre – consisting of the supermarket and retail shops. We manage the retail centre and the supermarket and we lease out the retail shops,” adds Sajwani.
ERP was identified as a core system that would need to be operational as soon as possible in order to sate Aswaaq’s desire to automate parts of the store. This has seen the use of the latest in electronic shelf labeling technology being incorporated into the ERP system, along with financials and fixed assets, point-of-sale transactions, human resource and payroll tasks as well as supply chain and stock management processes. The project also included the technology which always seems to popup as part of an ERP rollout – customer relationship management (CRM).
The actual products being utilised in the project were Microsoft Dynamics as well as the Redmond-based giant’s SQL Server 2005, Windows Server 2008 and the obligatory suite of Microsoft Office 2007.
“We shortlisted Microsoft in 2007, and in October 2007 we signed with them. As of today, we have the ERP, the retail system, the point-of-sale and the property system. About 65% of it is running and so many other add-ons came with the Microsoft system,” continues Sajwani.
Aswaaq is also planning to add more modules to the ERP system as time goes on, particularly as Sajwani explains that the company has significant competitors in the market. He points out that the aim of the ERP system is to reduce the margins on labour and lower operating costs. Microsoft’s price management system has allowed the company to control everything from stock ordering to unit prices at the touch of a button from head office.
“At the moment we have three branches, so at certain intervals they will deliver the milk for example. We will have to change the prices or we could have a happy hour [where] we will change the price here, press send and it will update immediately on the shelf labels,” he says.
“Ordering is automated; when it reaches a certain limit it will send an alert. You set a minimum quantity and it will place an order and immediately the store manager or the person who is responsible will place an order with the supplier,” he adds.
In terms of actually administering the system, access is granted to the merchandising team and the plant administrator, according to Sajwani. “They are changing this product from one and a half to one dirham and for this product, at this range or for this month. You attach the file, for a range of time, and you just send it and it updates the product line.”
Before any ink was spilled on vendor contracts, Sajwani insisted on laying out return on investment (ROI) parameters. This included discussions with Aswaaq’s CEO about how much had been implemented and what ROI could be achieved. From an ERP standpoint, this also meant analysing the returns on individual modules in the solution and defining the amount it would be used, in order to ensure all of the system was being utilised.