SAP Implementation at Dubai Aluminium

July 17, 2008 by Christoph Zeidler

Dubai Aluminium uses SAP ERP 6.0 Photo: Dubai Aluminium

Cranes as far as the eye can see, gigantic holes in the ground, row upon row of streets, towering pillars across the landscape to carry the country’s first elevated railway. And at the center of it all, the Burj Dubai – the Dubai Tower – is destined to be the tallest man-made structure in the world. In this city, growth is seen primarily in residential and industrial developments.

There are, however, other sides to Dubai: lofty chimneys, for example, and steaming, hissing assembly lines, powerful gas and steam turbines, and desalination plants – the basic elements of aluminum manufacturing and processing at Dubai Aluminium, Dubal for short.

“Wherever you look, there are clear signs of growth in the emirate,” confirms Ahmad Al Mulla, CIO at Dubal. The government, he says, is trying to boost all sectors of the economy and encourage diversification to reduce Dubai’s dependence on oil. The aim is to strengthen Dubai’s position in the global market – something Dubal also intends to do: “We want to be one of the top five producers of primary aluminum in the world by 2015,” Al Mulla reveals.

The company is investing around the world – in neighboring Saudi Arabia, in Nigeria, Republic of Guinea, and India. “We’re expanding production areas and building new plants. We’re growing in terms of revenue, capacity, and personnel. And this is a major challenge for IT.” Working with SAP and consultants from Deloitte, Al Mulla and his team have successfully mastered this transition.

The Shamal project

“We used to work with Oracle Financials for accounting and purchasing. For everything else, we used our in-house solutions,” explains Mohammad Al Hashimi, project manager. When the legacy systems could no longer keep up with the company’s demands, Dubal started to look for a new software solution. The shortlist included the SAP ERP application and Oracle software. “The functionality was more important to us than the technology. We also wanted to know who offered the most comprehensive process standards,” recalls Al Hashimi. To answer this question, Dubal sought the opinions of the departments involved. SAP ERP 6.0 was the clear winner: “The decisive factor was its functionality.”

“As IT specialists, we help the company constantly improve,” stresses Al Mulla. “We are a business enabler, not just a service provider.” Their role as enablers began in earnest when the core applications went live in June 2007. The success of the go-live was due not only to the hard work of the project team, however. “Comprehensive change management and support at board level were critical to the project’s success,” Al Mulla explains. Named after the shamal – a northwesterly wind that brings a change in weather – the project was intensively promoted in all departments.

Managers and employees from various departments were involved at an early stage to compare the old processes with those offered by the new system. The transition to monthly financial accounting involved a substantial amount of work: Dubal had previously reported 13 – not 12 – times a year. This is just one of many examples of how the company changed to accommodate international conventions. “We wanted to avoid in-house developments and changes to the SAP code,” says Al Mulla. “Keeping to the system’s model processes proved to be the right decision.”

Tangible benefits

Shamal’s winds of change have not only affected IT at Dubal. The project has had an impact on the whole company, with over 3,000 employees receiving training and 1,800 working with the new system. Real-time data enables managers to act quickly and competently. The departments are connected with each other and work with the same information base. “Employees trust the data,” says Al Mulla. “The system is completely reliable.”

Dubal’s CIO, however, is already thinking about the future. The next goal is to connect the production processes to the system. Al Mulla intends to choose a business intelligence solution once it is clear how the integration of Business Objects at SAP is proceeding. Nevertheless, he feels the company is already optimally equipped for the future: “SAP is like a well. The deeper you dig, the more water you get.” And in a desert state such as Dubai, this is ultimately the key to survival.

Dubai Aluminium (Dubal), founded in 1979, is one of Dubai’s most important manufacturing plants. It is the largest single-site smelter in the western world. The company is a major supplier of foundry alloys to the automotive industry in East Asia. It also produces extrusion billets for construction profiles and highpurity primary aluminum for the electronics and aerospace industries. With more than 3,800 employees, Dubal has the capacity to produce over 950,000 metric tons of primary aluminum a year.

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