Smooth operator

Mindware back-office overhaul ensures efficient processing and no room for error

Tags: CRMIntel CorporationJuniper Networks IncorporatedMicrosoft CorporationMindwareSymantec Corporation
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Smooth operator Mindware general manager Mario Gay.
By  Andrew Seymour Published  January 10, 2011

The distribution channel is a competitive environment where any sort of lapse in efficiency can often have severe financial repercussions. For pan-regional networking and software distributor, Mindware, the decision to overhaul its back-office systems is therefore designed to ensure it has a bright future in the market.

When you think about distribution, the image of large warehouses and boxes being shipped from one location to another inevitably springs to mind. Yet what goes on away from the physical process of transferring the product to the channel customer is often central to how smoothly — and profitably — the entire operation functions.

As a distributor that bills around US$200m worth of technology products a year, back-office efficiency has become an increasingly important priority for Dubai-based Mindware in recent years, and more recently led to some monumental changes in the way the company conducts its business.

These changes are best illustrated by the introduction of new systems which automate a variety of processes that Mindware, like many IT distributors, previously found time-consuming and laborious to complete.

The pinnacle of the company’s latest investment is its so-called ‘B2B’ platform, which provides a direct line of communication between the distributor’s own Orion ERP system and those of the major vendors it represents, in order to facilitate processes involving purchase orders, goods received notes (GRNs) and reporting. The system, which is based on Microsoft’s BizTalk Server technology, has resulted in immediate benefits for the company, according to Mindware’s general manager Mario Gay.

“Our systems talk directly with the vendors’ systems, which simplifies the type of operation that we are running, reduces paperwork and cuts down the time of carrying out a transaction,” he explains. “In less than two or three minutes, we can place an order, receive confirmation and complete a transaction.”

At present, Mindware has synchronised its systems with Intel, Symantec, McAfee and Microsoft, while Juniper should be on board within the next month. Those vendors contribute a significant chunk of the distributor’s business today.

Mindware has invested more than US$150,000 into the project, according to Gay, and that doesn’t take into account the cost of staff training. But he insists that has been money well spent because Mindware’s previous way of working was prohibitive to its ongoing growth in SMB channel. Its increasing presence in that sector over recent years has brought with it a higher number of single orders — usually at a lower invoice value than a typical enterprise sale — which are generally more complicated and expensive to manage on a manual basis.

But with greater automation and integration among its purchasing and sales departments now assured, the Midis Group-owned distributor claims order processing is faster, simpler and more accurate than ever before. Just as importantly, it allows the company to support a higher number of transactions without having to scale its workforce.

“We have completely simplified the process, streamlined the process, and this is the first stage of putting a solid platform of integration between vendor and distributor. The next step is to go with the same platform to the resellers,” says Gay.

All of Mindware’s operations, which extend to countries such as the UAE, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, are now connected to the B2B platform, providing true centralisation for all its employees.

“We have gone for a high level of integration and visibility with the vendors because we wanted to have a fully transparent operation. We are sure they understand the value of it at the end of the day,” he says.

The B2B investment has been supplemented by the recent implementation of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, a project carried out by Dubai-based software and consulting outfit Metadata Technologies.

Mindware claims the system is benefitting partners in a number of ways, as it is now better placed to profile partners, update details in its system and understand customer requirements.

The solution now serves as the backbone of all Mindware’s sales, marketing and financial initiatives, says Gay.

“The CRM integrates with our ERP so that every quotation that goes out of Mindware is loaded and reported into the CRM and management has full visibility of it. With the B2B we have done the integration with the vendor to provide full transparency and, as I said, the next step will be to have full integration with the reseller partners, so that the reseller partner can see all aspects of the business online.”

He continues: “We want to prepare a solid platform that can be scalable in the future because nobody knows what the business model of the future is going to be. What we definitely know is that a distributor has to provide value to the vendor and it has to support a larger number of transactions — and you cannot support a larger number of transactions with the traditional methods.”

The days of running a back-office operation where all information and data is shared in Excel format finally appear to be over for Mindware.

And while that should leave an impression on the company’s balance sheet, it is also a reflection of the investments that need to be made to compete in the modern-day distribution environment.

“The space for grey areas is disappearing,” proclaims Gay. “In a world where the margins are always tight and the vendors are imposing their conditions, you need to be in the market and you need to provide complete transparency.”

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