Building a business with a view at ADNOC

Von Kavitha Rajasekhar

At ADNOC Distribution, the division solely responsible for the distribution of petroleum products across 180 service stations in UAE, there is no IT strategy. Instead, the company believes that what it needs to invest in is a business strategy, enabled by the right technology. Today, ADNOC as a company, led by its various divisions, is moving strongly towards adopting technology that will make the enterprise transparent and information available and accessible across the board." At ADNOC Distribution, we believe in backward compatibility. The business objects are set and technology is then used to ensure that the goals are met. According to us, that is the way to put technology to work for you. There is no IT for technology"s sake. Its about business," says Dr Ali Guidoum.

Technology for business sake

For an enterprise the size of Adnoc, you will find it to be surprisingly nimble and adaptive to new business models and more so with the way the company adopts technology. And when the IT manager of a major department of the company tells you that getting budgets for investing in the right technology is never a hard sell with the management, you know that in this company technology means real business.

Responsible for the complete product distribution across the northern Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah), Adnoc Distribution is one among the 15 core divisions of Adnoc. Having taken a decision in year 2000 to adopt business enhancing technologies, the divisions IT Division Manager Dr Ali Guidoum says IT"s driving value is to enable the business information to be available across the enterprise.

"At Adnoc Distribution, we believe in backward compatibility. The business objects are set and technology is then used to ensure that the goals are met. According to us, that is the way to put technology to work for you. There is no IT for technology"s sake. Its about business," says Dr. Guidoum.

Building the collaborative enterprise

If the technology adoption strategy at Adnoc Distribution can be explained in one word, that has to be "collaborative". Though the distribution"s division functions as an independent department under the Adnoc banner, using technology to build strong ties with other business units is intrinsic to the overall growth plans.

"The entire organization believes in using collaborative technology that will ensure that information flows are maintained across the business. All IT managers across the organization are also people with a business perspective, which makes a truly collaborative mindset a reality," Dr Guidoum adds.

Across the board, all divisions have moved quickly to take this strategy forward into implementation. Adnoc Distribution on its part today has the distinction of having led the market in terms of technology implementation, especially in the areas of retail automation, wireless and connectivity technology.

Consider for example the issue of connectivity. Adnoc Distribution was among the first departments to ensure fiber connectivity to the desktop right from 1995. This initiative not only open up possibilities for the company to make its service stations in remote locations become a integral part of the enterprise information flows, but enabled the remote worker located across the region to also be a part of the business in real time.

Today, all its 180 service stations (including the Adnoc Oasis outlets) are linked to the headquarters through high-speed DSL broadband links. With efforts now focused on expanding its service station network, the adoption of a mix of wireless, broadband and real time information management technologies will continue to remain key to its expansion plans.

Connected for business

A major thrust towards enabling location to location connectivity also came from Adnoc"s plans to bring in the concept of setting up "convenience" stores under the "ADNOC Oasis" brand name.

With a new business proposition in place, this also meant that the department now needed to ensure that business generated at these stores needed to be integrated closely with the other traditional business generated at the service stations.

"We started setting up what we call the "C" stores or Convenience stores at our service stations turning them into what we call the Adnoc Oasis. These service stations, not only offer fuel products for consumers, but also have a supermarket, cafeteria and consumer purchase opportunities at location," says Dr Guidoum.

"There was an evident need for a management system to handle stock and sales related information flows generated at the C Stores. Stock management was important, and real-time updates of all sales information to the HQ became a priority. Also, staff stationed at the Adnoc Oasis needed to have access to the network," he says.

With this initiative, wireless technology made an entry into the technology roadmap of the division in a big way. "Wireless technology offered us a channel to update stocks and sales information in real-time at the C Stores. One solution we deployed had wireless handheld terminals for gathering and updating stock information into the main system. Using this, our stores were able to manage all stock positions and updates, without even having to shut for a day, even for the year end stock audit," Dr Guidoum says.

This project helped Adnoc Distribution totally eliminate the manual process of updating half a million paper-based information documents into the systems that the company had to deal with on a yearly basis.

Having successfully put connectivity technology to work for its new business ventures, the division now plans to scale up the number of its Oasis locations to 80 by year-end from the current 54. "The first one began in 1999 and we have come a long way since," he says.

Other value added initiatives in the pipeline include offering wireless-connectivity for customers at service stations, especially as an enhanced service offering for the Adnoc cardholders.

Enterprise integrated

Even though its focus set on using emerging and new technologies in its business, the IT department has significant investments planned towards enterprise applications and infrastructure. "Any organization that wants to get true value for its business from technology needs to consistently plan investment both in enterprise technology as well as emerging ones," says Dr Guidoum. At ADNOC Distribution, the investments roadmap certainly looks busy.

Within the IT department itself there are three sub departments -- application systems, systems operations and network & helpdesk -- besides a section that exclusively looks at technology to enable retail automation. The 45 people IT team (with 30 core staff and 15 support staff) fuel the technology plans for the enterprise.

Over the next two years, technology areas that are hot for investment at Adnoc Distribution include business systems, ERP Financials (replacement from legacy systems), HRMS and CRM.

"From the enterprise systems perspective we focus on an IT infrastructure that will ensure high availability and Business Continuity. We split the DR (Disaster Recovery) centers into two locations within the Adnoc campus. Fiber connectivity between the two data centers ensures that data is mirrored in real-time, the system load is shared and there is high-availability of system resources," Dr Guidoum says.

Helping hands

Using technology to offer extensive customer support is also a big drive within the department. The division recently launched a customer

call-centre that offers IP-based support and communication channels for customers of ADNOC. The communication channels include e-mail support, fax, voice-mail and web-based support.

Internal support services also are enabled for close to 1000 users linked to the network. "We have a full-fledged helpdesk internally with five people manning it in two shifts. These are focused on offering remote site support and internal support for close to 750-800 PCs linked to the IT network," Dr Guidoum says.

Interestingly, Adnoc Distribution has also looked at better systems and resource optimization by having a mix of an internal as well as outsourced model for its helpdesk operations.

"For the past four years, we have been looking at embracing an outsourced model in certain segments, especially in terms of systems management. On the helpdesk front, we have outsourced the management of the systems, maintenance and installation to one service provider and is manned by another partner, but with Adnoc staff," he adds.

This partnership model has facilitated the division to also take advantage of multiple locations that the partners operate in. As for the technology and solutions that power the helpdesk, the division uses LANDesk for remote software control and management and plans to roll out HEAT (through local partner Intertec Systems) for network management.

Looking ahead

Having integrated technology in its business at every stage, Adnoc Distribution says it will now begin to build on this foundation, to help take its business to the next level.

According to Dr Guidom, the next stage will focus on investing in technologies that will enable the organization to cull greater value and intelligence for its business.

"We believe that we have laid the technology foundation in place by implementing collaborative technology. The next stage will be about taking the power of this computing to empower management decisions and enabling better business analytics," he adds.

Investments plans chalked out over the year include implementing business intelligence and data warehousing solutions. Other areas currently under review include implementing an Enterprise Content Management system to integrate both structured and unstructured information, topped by a Performance Management system implementation.

"The key objective we will be looking at is to make the enterprise truly transparent and enable every employee at any location to have access to relevant business information. The focus is building a supporting IT architecture that will provide management and staff a clear view of the business," Dr Guidoum says.


Fuelling innovation

Every large enterprise with IT resources today is focused on making a technology leap, particularly to encourage innovation. While building IP (intellectual property) may not yet be a mainstay among large Middle East players, the market is surely on its way for a build up.

Adnoc Distribution is also going the IP route, especially with its niche petro card (ADNOC Rahaal Smart Card) cum loyalty card initiative. According to Dr Guidoum, the idea is to ensure that this application enables the card to be used as a Gulf wide product.

"At our company, we generally tend to buy and implement solutions across segments if they are readily available. But in the case of our smart card application, we chose to build in house and has been in use across all our service stations besides also being used by Emarat and by other fuel majors in Qatar, Oman and Saudi. We hold the IP for this particular application and believe that there is scope to extend its presence in the market," he says.

The card program is currently used by Adnoc"s corporate customers to provide their employees with this pre-charged card for their fuel and transport needs. Loyalty programs are also often layered onto the smart card.

With this innovation thrust, Adnoc Distribution plans to work towards making this card acceptable on Gulf wide basis. This means that cross acceptance between companies and fuel stations across the region can be facilitated.