CRM to go
Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group’s HANA upgrade has reduced its infrastructure costs and laid the foundations for a mobile app revolution across the UAE-based conglomerate
Since the start of the year, the sales staff in ID Design’s five UAE stores have been using iPads to help answer customer queries and close deals. The interior furnishing company, one of Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group’s retail subsidiaries, has been taking part in a pilot of its internally developed SMART (Sales Mobile Application Real Time) app.
Equipped with iPads, the salesforce both in-store and out seeing clients, can take stock enquiries from customers, provide quotations, check on clients’ sales history and payment status, communicate to the warehouse on delivery, check order status and provide relevant reports for the sales team and managers. It’s hoped the mobile ‘customer relationship management’ (CRM) system will advance customer service, improve client management and ultimately increase sales. “If a customer wants to see a piece, but it is in another showroom, we can check immediately,” says Debasis Panda, group IT manager, Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group (ESAG).
“The salesperson has the option to check and show the customer a photograph [of the product],” he adds.
When meeting with large corporate clients, typically away from the showroom, the app’s ability to present the salesperson with a complete view of the customer – previous orders, payment history —is particularly important. The app also allows the salesperson to take notes on a client’s plans, which are entered directly into CRM app.
“If we are sitting with a customer we should have a holistic view of the client,” says Panda.
SMART gives the salesperson the option to “to sit in front of the customer and take the order during the discussion. Or, if they are thinking that they might renovate [their] showroom in two months, [we] can capture that [information]”, through the app, explains Panda.
With the initial pilot completed in Q1, SMART is now live in five business units — Interiors, ID Design, Betterlife, TTE Technical and Al Gurg Stationery. Initially rolled out to 150 users, the application will eventually be deployed to 500 users across the group.
Currently, it is too early to tell if SMART has generated an increase in sales. According to Panda, there needs to be a ‘cooling off’ period now the application is live, as users become familiar with the technology. “After that, definitely it will increase sales,” he says.
In the meantime, ESAG expects to see indirect benefits as the iPads are used in-store to improve customer experience and SMART streamlines the sales process, allowing the salesforce to focus on clients.
The sales team “will get more time, they will be meeting more customers… resulting in more sales”, predicts Panda.
Work on the mobile app started in August 2015 when EY (Ernst & Young) was brought on board to manage the project. Actual coding work was outsourced to India. As part of the project, the group ran a comparison of the respective merits of both Android and Apple platforms. “We felt that Apple was a better platform, even if it was a little expensive,” says Panda.
The previous system had been completely paper-based. So a sales person could fill out order forms with clients, but had little knowledge of what was available in the warehouse, or the payment status of the client. When they returned to the office they had to fax the order back to the client for signature.
Given the fundamental change in working practices brought by the iPads, there has been comparatively few change management challenges. The intuitive user interface has helped minimise concerns of users. “Everybody uses smart phones and applications nowadays. This is really nothing different,” comments Panda.
Even so, in some business units the shift away from paper-based systems to mobile apps will take longer and pose greater change management headaches. “There are some businesses that are good with pen and paper and there we are facing some challenges. We need to bring them to this platform; we need to [show them] that this is helping them,” he adds.
The team is currently assessing other areas where it believes a mobile technology can add value to the business. For instance, the in-house team is designing a small customer feedback form that will sit on iPads in-stores for customers to use. The small project also gives the group’s in-house team a chance to enhance their own mobile coding skills.
More sophisticated development work is being planned, with an app for field technicians and another for warehouse operations in the pipeline.
“As per our mobility roadmap, we have clearly defined the approach and areas to be covered in one year,” Panda adds.
A robust backend application and database architecture underpins ESAG’s mobile app revolution, and provides the scalability to manage further growth. The group is a long term SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) site, beginning a group-wide roll out 11 years ago. The latest phase of its SAP project was an upgrade to ESP7 and a migration to SAP’s relational database platform, HANA.
“Our key objectives going forward are to double business volumes and increase efficiencies in our processes and day to day operations,” says Abdullah Al Gurg, group general manager, Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group.
“The group’s migration to SAP HANA was one of the many initiatives in this direction,” he adds.
Since going live on HANA in April 2015, the group has secured significant cost advantages and vastly improved SAP application performance, including delivery of real time data to the SMART app. “As we currently have our ERP on HANA, it has sped up response times of the mobile apps,” says Panda.
The accelerated application performance is attributable to the business warehouse (otherwise known as a data warehouse) structure that was brought in with HANA. “People were very happy we moved to HANA because everything is just completed in a click. It is much quicker — it is like 60 to 70 times faster,” comments Panda.
With a data warehouse in place, the IT department could fulfil a long held requirement for real time reporting to the senior executives. The real time data is particularly important for the retail businesses within the group. “Management wanted to know the status of the business whenever they were outside the firm… they would like to have this [real time] information,” explains Panda.
Starting in Q4 2015, the seven strong in-house SAP team began updating all business reports across the group to run through the data warehouse. Previously, pulling data for management reports and publishing it in Business Objects had been done through the application layer. HANA now stores data in the business warehouse, before pushing it to Business Objects, vastly boosting application performance. Report requirements differ from company to company — some may have five to ten reports, others have more — making it difficult to judge just how long the process will take.
“We are doing reporting directly through the database layer so it will be much faster,” says Panda. “It is probably a matter of a year [before we’re finished],” he adds.
ESAG is already feeling the business benefit of the switch to HANA. “SAP HANA platform has changed our view of data management and simplified tasks, giving our business a cutting-edge advantage and incomparable agility,” explains Al Gurg.
“Today’s business environment requires real time response to changing market conditions. But gathering actionable information from large data sets is beyond the capabilities of conventional infrastructures. With the SAP HANA platform’s in-memory technology, we will be able to analyse massive data sets to gain real time information and take a faster business decisions,” he adds.
Aside from real time reporting, the shift to HANA offered significant cost savings. In 2014 and 2015, the group was looking to overhaul large parts of its IT infrastructure. As part of the process it conducted a cost/benefit analysis based around three scenarios; shift everything to the cloud, install a private cloud environment based around HANA, or upgrade its existing IBM DB2 architecture.
Although migration to the cloud could have saved the organisation “millions of dirhams”, the senior management didn’t feel comfortable shifting its data off-site. Instead it opted for private cloud environment using HANA and upgrading to ESP 7.
HANA’s data compression technology resulted in a smaller database footprint than rival platforms, and consequently less cost. “Whatever data sizes we had before we moved to HANA, it became half or one third of the size because HANA compresses the data size,” says Panda.
“HANA is the right path for us to go… It was basically a cost and future roadmap decision,” he adds.
With HANA being a relatively new technology, ESAG had to arrange relevant training in Dubai with SAP for its BASIS team ahead of the project. The group also decided to partner with SAP Field Services on the migration project. The functional project team went for training later.
Ongoing process improvement is a characteristic of ESAG’s SAP project. Since the initial SAP rollout was completed in the 23 wholly-owned Al Gurg subsidiaries in 2010, the IT department has been working closely with individual business units to improve business processes. “Process improvement is a constant journey; you should never stop it,” says Panda.
The group has been careful to avoid customisation of its SAP suite of applications, preferring instead to tackle change management issues. “We try and do as much change management as possible… when you change the system, change management is required,” Panda adds.
As part of that change management process, the conglomerate, which has between 600-700 SAP users, runs as many as 10-to-12 training courses per month for a mixed audience of new joiners and existing staff. “The change management challenge is always there, but I think we are still learning…”
As part of the group’s ‘journey’, it is investigating RFID (radio-frequency identification) systems across the group as it seeks to improve its warehouse management.
“RFID makes the supply chain considerably more precise and improves the efficiency and reliability of the entire process,” explains Abdullah Al Gurg.
“As real time information is made available, administration and planning processes can be significantly improved. With this solution we will be able to optimise our inward and outward inventory process to a great extent, with almost zero error. This solution will be fully integrated to our SAP ERP system,” he adds.