Transforming the Information Technology in one of the largest diversified conglomerates in the Middle East, Al Ghurair, from a service provider to a business enabler has been a mammoth undertaking.
In the last 15 months the family-owned group, which was founded in 1960, has restructured its IT department, moving it from a fully centralized function to a federated organization with a major Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) program across all the business units that make up the hugely successful group. Business Review Middle East speaks to Mohamed Said, Group Chief Information Officer, who led the technological evolution to find out just how such a feat was achieved.
From the outset Mr Said looks to be the right person for the job. Having started his career in programming, Mr Said, 45, advanced into software and application development until he reached his role at Al Ghurair. Prior to joining the group, he had extensive experience both regionally and globally where he led large digital transformation programs for major retailers in the US and GCC. At Al Ghurair he embarked on an ambitious digital strategy to turn the existing IT department into a business partner.
“The most challenging part of the transformation journey was dealing with the diversification of Al Ghurair,” he says. “We are a conglomerate with many different industries; Foods, Resources, Properties, Construction, Energy and many more. For a large and diversified group like that, it’s a challenge for an IT department to find the right balance between synergy and responsiveness and to be able to speak the business language of all these different businesses.”
“The first task in the transformation was to revamp our systems, specifically ERP, which had little standardization. We embarked on a large digitization initiative, implemented huge ERP program and created a supporting infrastructure providing value for the businesses. Beside the Administrative functions provided by the ERP system which includes Finance, HR, and Procurement, the solution extends to cover the Operational activities for different industries such as Manufacturing, Projects, and Property Management ”
To deliver the new digital landscape for Al Ghurair, Mr Said divided the strategy into three different phases.
“The first phase involved creating differentiating capabilities within the IT department. My immediate task was to create a strong linkage between the IT organization and the businesses. We moved from a centralized organization to a federated organization, where we focused more on responsiveness to the business demand by having technology experts with relevant industry expertise supporting the businesses. We have also built a PMO (Project Management Office) within the IT department to ensure we deliver upon our vision and strategic objectives.
“The second phase was about implementing the ERP project, Disaster Recovery program, and building technology road maps for each business. The third phase is still ongoing, building on what we have done already and embracing various technological trends, from Cloud Computing to Robotic Process Automation and the Internet of Things to execute on the technology road maps”
Mr Said has also facilitated the introduction of paperless meetings via a leading collaboration solution on Apple’s iPad that transforms directors’ and executives devices into highly secure digital board and committees meeting packs that can be accessed online or offline from any location.
While these achievements are no doubt numerous, they did not arrive without challenges.
“When you’re making IT organizational changes you need to drive collaboration and ensure the businesses are aligned on the strategy. We also hired the right people, despite encountering challenges in finding appropriate caliber across every role.”
Indeed, Mr Said’s understandably high expectations of new hires added an extra element to the recruitment test.
“Finding talent, generally speaking, is a challenge for any CIO,” he continues, “but to add to this, I wanted people capable of understanding the businesses and their needs. They report directly to the business, and thus, have the advantage of directly demonstrating how the IT strategy works. It took time but now we are in a very good position and are executing the strategy as we speak.”
Establishing a change management framework to lead the ERP program ensured there was a readiness from the businesses to adopt the introduced changes to processes and systems.
“We worked with the businesses to ensure that every IT project had a sponsor from the business. A change management plan was put in place when it came to the training, communication, and reassessment of roles and responsibilities,” Mr Said explains.
“For example, one of the major challenges in ERP implementation was to find the right balance between what each business needs to be customized and the base product package. Many companies fall into this pitfall and end up with highly customized ERP systems, which may not contribute to the bottom line of the business.
Mr Said collaborated with the executive leadership team, who welcomed the technology road map. “We looked at the solutions, if customization was a business need with a tangible impact, we accommodated it, but if it was not, then we worked together to identify the best solutions.”
Another important element related to Change Management was Benefit Realization. “Our governance model includes what we call “Rear View Mirror” where we analyze the utilization of the new systems. This helps us answer the question: “Did we realize the benefit of what we implemented?”
“As an example, we realized that a percentage of users were not logging onto one of the systems,” Mr Said says. “We are now going back to assess the reason. Are these users following a manual process, do they get their data from outside the system? Answering these questions helps us in adopting the system to continually improve it and realize the full benefits for the businesses.”
Mr Said continues: “The partnerships with our vendors have worked extremely well so far, and we look forward to working with them again in the future on other transformational initiatives.”
As for the next three to five years, the Group CIO is keen to focus on exploring differentiating opportunities and leveraging technology and trends related to mobility, cloud, robotic process automation and big data.
“We want IT to become a capable organization and to play a proactive role in providing differentiating capabilities for the business,” he concludes.