A taste of something better

After years of strong growth, Dubai-based Chef Middle East found itself struggling to keep on top of business.

Tags: Chef Middle East (http://www.chefmiddleeast.com/)DynamicsMicrosoft Gulf
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A taste of something better Satheesh A Nair, IT manager at Chef Middle East.
By  Ben Furfie Published  January 4, 2011

After years of strong growth, Dubai-based Chef Middle East found itself struggling to keep on top of business. With operations in five locations throughout the Middle East being managed using little more than accouting software, the company turned to Microsoft to help it bring in the ERP system it desperately needed.

One of the most common reasons a business fails is because its IT systems failed to grow with it. Chef Middle East was determined they wouldn’t be next. “We didn’t really have what you would call a true ERP system,” revealed Satheesh A Nair, IT manager at Chef Middle East. “We had software that performed many of the functions that the ERP system does – mainly through our accounting software – but we didn’t have a through and through ERP system.” The lack of a true ERP system, he reveals, was hampering the plans that management had set out for the company. As such, it fell upon the IT department to look for one that would match the requirements of the business.

“Despite pressure from above, we were keen not to jump into the first solution we found, get stuck and then not go anywhere,” he says. “So we decided to get the basics right first, and then move onto the more complicated, but powerful things an ERP system allows. We eventually settled on Microsoft Dynamics because it was the one that – from what our research told us – best suited our requirements.”

However, just because it was the best fit, didn’t mean that there weren’t issues for the company. “We were moving from simple accounting software to a fully fledged ERP system. It was a big jump, and that’s why we wanted to take it slowly. We couldn’t afford any mistakes,” he adds. “We focused on integrating Microsoft Dynamics into one single part of our business – partly because we didn’t want to raise expectations of what the software could do, and then disappoint because it didn’t do what we’d promised.”

Many of the things the company was planning to use the ERP for were intended to simply and streamline the business’ five offices. “Our systems were ran separately in each location,” reveals Nair. “It was the same software, but they weren’t linked with each other. Dubai had its own server, Abu Dhabi had its own, and so on. We basically wanted the connectivity, management and the stock management capabilities of an ERP solution, because with our business, if stock levels go below a dangerous level, then we have problems. As it was, there was no way for us to develop trends across the company; at least not without time consuming research.”

However, it wasn’t only Chef Middle East that was to benefit from the introduction of Microsoft Dynamics. “Our customers too have seen the results of the integration. As a food company, expiry dates are very important,” adds Nair. “So we wanted that to be tracked too, so that we could ensure that we are giving the customer the correct expiry date, even after the product has left us.”

However, as Nair explains, the implementation of Microsoft Dynamics as the company’s new ERP was only a small part of the overhaul the company underwent. “The separate servers had led to a situation where the product codes were different within the company. To give you an example, in Dubai Lipton’s Ice Tea was ‘8’, while the same product, the same box, even the same number of pieces per box in Abu Dhabi was labelled as ‘c’. The situation was similar at our other sites too,” he adds.

That careful approach to slowly integrating the ERP into the business meant the biggest problem the IT department came across was the issue of training. “We have around 50 users in total who interact with the software,” reveals Nair. “Of that number, around 35 to 40 of our staff are considered constant users.” That many users presented the company with a logistical headache when it came to training. But luckily for the company, the user-friendliness of the solution meant that the biggest challenge most people had with adapting to the new software wasn’t a technical issue. “The biggest hurdle was getting people used to the idea that Microsoft Dynamics brought in business processes. With the old software people weren’t necessarily following any processes or workflows,” explains Nair.

Maintaining those business processes is one of the main focal points for the IT department, according to Nair. Unlike many rollouts, the company deliberately chose to eschew heavy customisation of the solution.

“We’re still a growing company. While cost was an obvious attraction of Dynamics, we had to ensure the solution we went with would allow us to grow,” he says.

“We avoided customisation partly because of costs, but also because if in two or three years we needed to upgrade to a new version of Dynamics or any other solution, that customisation would only create headaches. It’s certainly not the main reason why we avoided customising it, but its certainly one of the biggest benefits looking down the line in terms of management our IT infrastructure and assets,” he adds.

“We had originally given ourselves five months to integrate it and roll it out,” he adds. “However, we managed to complete it within just four months, and at launched it at our offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Umm al-Quwain and Muscat on the same day, while our Doha office went live shortly after.”

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