Taking ERP to the next level

Emirates Flight Catering is looking to build the next generation, next layer of automation on top of its core ERP, to stay competitive

Tags: Emirates Flight Catering CompanyOracle Corporation
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Taking ERP to the next level Tewary: Monolithic ERP systems have helped companies to manage growth, but now it is time to develop the next layer.
By  Mark Sutton Published  November 14, 2012

Emirates Flight Catering, already a highly automated operation, is looking to build the next generation, next layer of automation on top of its core ERP, to stay competitive.

Any catering operation involves tight timing and spinning a lot of plates, metaphorically speaking. Just the business of gathering ingredients, preparing them, and getting them to the customer in a timely fashion, requires close co-ordination between supply, processing and delivery, along with financial transaction management and HR functions, all with the pressure to deliver in a narrow window of service. Take the processes of an average restaurant, and magnify the volumes not just by tens or hundreds, but by thousands and you get an idea of the scale of Emirates Flight Catering’s operations and the tasks involved in managing it.

The company, a subsidiary of the Emirates Group, provides all the in-flight catering not just to Emirates Airlines, but to 125 customer airlines, with 260 flights per day out of Dubai, along with catering for other Emirates outlets, airport lounges, VIP and private jet services and major events in Dubai, along with Linencraft, a laundry service that handles 220,000 pieces of airline and hospitality linen every day. From its facilities in Dubai, Emirates serves an average of 125,000 meals per day, and has just recently hit a new record of 151,000 meals in a single day.

Providing a 24/7 service to so many customers requires a staff of around 7,000, and a very high degree of automation and control over processes. In addition to its existing facility at Dubai airport, in 2007, Emirates Flight Catering opened a new facility, to provide dedicated services to Emirates. EKFC 1 facility is one of the most sophisticated operations of its kind, with a capacity to deliver 115,000 meals per day. EKFC 1 includes a 2.55km long electric monorail system for the transportation of meal carts, a bin conveyor system for automated washing and delivery of trays and carts, and a vacuum waste system with pipes of 600m in length.

Managing such a complex and intensive environment naturally requires a major investment in information systems. Tying all the operations together is a deployment of Oracle’s JD Edwards Enterprise 1, version 9.0, which includes a wide range of modules, including finance, inventory, purchasing, manufacturing, HR & payroll, plant and equipment maintenance and product data management. The ERP is running on IBM hardware, with IBM operating systems and DB2 databases, with office solutions from Microsoft. Emirates Flight Catering also worked with Oracle to develop unique modules for airline catering functions, and the system is integrated with the industrial control systems that manage the automated systems at EKFC 1.

While the ERP system has been in place for a number of years, the company completed an upgrade to version 9.0 in September last year, and the upgrade provided a wide range of benefits to Emirates Flight Catering, such as reducing invoicing time by 60% and introducing electronic invoicing for customers, enabling faster development of new menus and costs, reducing inventory and improving stock management, speeding up delivery of payslips and eliminating the need for manual processing in several tasks.

Arun Tewary, vice president (IS) and CIO of Emirates Flight Catering, says that with such a complex business, particularly in catering, involving customers with diverse requirements and a huge number of suppliers, tight management of all processes is essential.

“In the food industry, material planning and on-time delivery of the finished goods is critical. You cannot delay the flight, because you could not deliver the food in time. Time is of the essence for us,” Tewary said.

Moreover, the controls delivered by the ERP system have been fundamental in enabling the business to expand in a measured fashion, increasing output, without dramatically increasing resources.

“When we implemented this solution, six years back, we were doing 44,000 meals per day, and we had around 4,600 employees. Today I am doing 150,000 meals, and I have 6,700 employees — just look at the ratio. These monolithic ERPs have served their purpose, we would not have been able to grow so much if we didn’t have a solid back-end foundation in place with respect to systems.”

But while the ERP solution is essential in keeping Emirates Flight Catering operation’s running smoothly, it is not the main focus for Tewary. With aggressive plans for the future growth of the company, his attention is now on what comes next, and where additional technologies can deliver an edge for the business.

“I started realising two years back, and this goes beyond EKFC, that these ERP applications have served their purpose — it is a necessary evil for any organisation, because the core business processes can be supported only by these enterprise applications,” he explains. “Competition is very tough, for similar types of products and services; there are many players. You need to keep growing your edge, so you are in a position to retain your customers and be competitive. If you remain with only the enterprise applications, the monolithic systems, which everyone has got, then how do you get the edge over others, and prove yourself more competitive? You need to think differently.”

With the need to gain competitive advantage in mind, Tewary has developed a new three year plan for EKFC, to develop an even greater degree of automation. The project, dubbed ‘Next Layer’, aims to introduce a wide range of new technologies into operations, that will build on the existing ERP, and open up new areas where processes can be accelerated and management tightened.

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