An “E” for Excellence in Export

Exporting oil and gas equipment to the Middle East and Asia is not easy.

Jamal Qureshi, a native of India, worked for 15 years in the oil and gas industry in the Middle East. His wife and business partner, Akila Attarwala, also from India, has a background in medical supplies. Together they determined that the U.S. was the best place to start and run an export business. Qureshi says, “We wanted to start our business in the United States because this is the land of dreams. We could never have started this business in the Middle East, where we would have encountered many more restrictions.”

In addition to a favorable business climate, Qureshi and Attarwala found scores of small and medium-sized U.S. manufacturers from whom to source high quality products at low cost to distribute to their overseas customers.

In 1998, their first year in business, the company made one sale – for US$950. But with vision and determination they persevered. They also turned to the U.S. Department of Commerce and its agencies for help.

Encouraging SMEs to export

Marcia Cino, director general of the U.S. Commercial Service says that of 25 million U.S. small businesses, less than one percent export. To encourage more companies to export, the agency’s assistance centers offer free services including consulting and research, as well as low-cost services such as market matchmaking. Qureshi and Attarwala leveraged the services and those of the Export-Import Bank and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

As a result, in just four years JQ American had contracts from the major oil and gas companies in the Middle East and sales of nearly US$2 million. The company also received the Presidential “E” Award for Excellence in Exporting, the first of many export achievement awards. This year it is on course to top the US$3.5 million mark.

Decision making with the help of US Small Business Administration

With success came new challenges. Qureshi and Attarwala knew that their business was ripe for a business management system to help them move forward. “For the past two to three years we had it in mind to find another solution,” says Qureshi. They realized that their way of operating was simply too labor intensive and not efficient enough.

Qureshi began formulating the list of requirements for an enterprise management system. He identified the need for a better way to manage bids and tenders, develop quotes, work with multiple languages and currencies, track orders and shipments, keep more accurate records, expand to new locations, and run the reports they needed to stay on top of the business.

At the end of 2005 he worked with the Small Business Technology Center at the SBA. Over the course of the next year, Qureshi methodically evaluated the list of ten solution suppliers that the SBA suggested they consider. “We wanted to make a decision for the long term, so we were very thorough in our assessment,” recalls Qureshi.

Having actually been surprised to find it on the list, Qureshi contacted SAP last. In January 2007, Apollo Consulting, an authorized SAP Gold partner, presented the SAP Business One solution. “One of the most impressive elements in the process was that Apollo listened to us,” notes Qureshi. “They understood what we wanted and that we didn’t want to make a mistake in our choice.” The SAP Business One solution fit their requirements, and Qureshi and Attarwala saw the additional advantages of choosing software that aligns with what many of their partners and customers use also. Not only was it a matter of potential supply chain integration, the choice was an enhancement to their credibility and reputation.

40 percent improvement in number of orders processed

The plan was finalized in April 2007, and data migration began. Starting in September the company began processing orders in the new system. Over the next three months they realized quick time to benefit with a 40 percent improvement in number of orders processed and number of orders shipped. Keys to this improvement were SAP Business One multi-language, multi-currency capabilities, the integration of end-to-end communication and processes, and the elimination of redundant data entries and errors.

Qureshi says, “We communicate internally much better now. Not only that, I can see the whole operation from my office. I can track items at every stage of the transaction process.” This is especially significant to the company because of the intention to communicate to customers and deliver products and services quickly and accurately. As Qureshi says, “In world business it’s ‘fast this’ and ‘fast that.’ There’s no room for slow motion.”

Rolling out additional functionality, the company is beginning to leverage the powerful set of financials in SAP Business One to better manage and track costs and focus more on areas of greatest profitability. In addition, Qureshi says, “We are learning to customize reports in order to analyze complete information about buying patterns.”

Crawling, walking, running

Encouraged by their success, Qureshi and Attarwala continue to expand, methodically and deliberately, into new markets where they see opportunity. For instance, a medical school and a new hospital are being built in Bhopal, Qureshi’s home town in India, and JQ American is pursuing a contract to supply equipment.

“The solution is as nimble and adaptable as we are,” asserts Qureshi, “so we know that as we expand into new countries SAP Business One will accommodate new languages and currencies, and new taxations and other local customary practices.” It can handle special licensing and special documentation for new areas of business, as well.

Next on their list of SAP Business One capabilities to deploy is enhanced e-commerce through the NetPoint Commerce package, which includes easy-to-use shopping cart functionality, online customer help, and rich inventory support.

Qureshi says, “We feel like we are part of a revolution. Electronic communication and the support of our new solution level the playing field. We can run with the big players now.”