One of the Middle East and Africa’s most popular leisure names moves to enhanced business excellence
January 19, 2017
With its fashion, leisure and entertainment brands such as VOX Cinemas, Ski Dubai and Magic Planet, Majid Al Futtaim Ventures is a leading Middle East and African leisure, entertainment and business group. Now, with Microsoft’s help, it’s moving to a unified business intelligence management information platform for its next phase of growth.
A desire to be more proactive
Founded in 2006, Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, as part of Majid Al Futtaim, has grown to enviable success, with a highly federated structure allowing it to win market share in a number of diverse retail, leisure and other business activities. It comprises five wholly owned subsidiaries and two joint ventures, and is now active in markets as diverse as consumer finance, healthcare and running cinema multiplexes.
But that complex structure also meant, historically, a lack of visibility into all current operations, says the organization’s Chief Information Officer, Richard Wingfield. “We were able to create management reports at the end of every month, but these had to be created by handing off numerous Excel spreadsheets scattered through the group,” he says. There was also no support for access by management from mobile phones or other devices at times they wanted to view core financial and performance metrics. “We were very reactive, and we knew we needed to better understand our operations on a day-to-day basis. To do that, we’d need a technology that could work with multiple data sources coming from multiple business systems in many different units. It highlighted the need for group-wide, modern BI—a decision the leadership of the company immediately agreed to.”
The vision, then, is of digital transformation—and to deliver that, not many BI products would be a suitable fit. Wingfield says the decision to go with Microsoft’s award-winning BI platform Power BI, as well as other key Microsoft technologies, was made after extensive evaluation of competitor products.
But the company found Microsoft as the most suitable option. “We are already users of Microsoft technology, from Office 365, including all of its productivity apps within, to Dynamics AX ERP system” Wingfield says. “But what really mattered to me for this kind of enterprise product,” he adds, “was the fundamental way the company has changed its way of doing business in the past few years, particularly around its vision of cloud and analytics. That really dovetailed so well into our own vision of what we want to do with IT here.”
As a result, he and his team opted for the Microsoft route, contracting local Microsoft partner Teambase to start building the solution he and his CEO envisioned for Majid Al Futtaim Ventures. Teambase delivered business intelligence by starting with one business that supported the firm’s fashion outlets, which offer premier global brands to local consumers. “They had data scientists on the team who workshopped very closely with the users, across a variety of functions from finance to HR, to determine what exactly they needed.” Teambase offered data governance expertise and commitment to delivering the outputs from data that users said they needed.
Positive reception from the business
The result of all this hard work is a fully operational BI service, currently used by all knowledge workers across the group, who are able to access the information they need on an as-needed basis, in the reporting format they want. A principal early deliverable was a data “content pack” for the fashion business in only six weeks, a short turnaround that was made possible by the decision to employ the Agile development methodology, with Teambase’s support and guidance. Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, is also being rolled out in a phased way across the organization.
The new platform leverages data held in the very latest Microsoft business database, SQL Server 2016, and is being offered to users in ways they want, ending the need for all that messy end-of-month Excel work and giving decision makers the ability to see the KPIs (key performance indicators) they really want to. “Mobility is a key benefit for us in our adoption of business intelligence,” Wingfield says, noting that it means business users are free to work with the data they need on an anytime, anywhere basis, which had been one of the key project goals of the move to BI.
So has that vision of digital transformation been achieved? Wingfield—and his fellow managers—say that digital transformation is a journey and Power BI is a start. “This has been very positively received by the business, from our CEO down,” says Wingfield. “And our colleagues started reporting benefits very quickly. Adoption was rapid because it really didn’t take long for users to see how they could get concrete results from the new system; there was quite a ‘buzz’ across the group, and we were very pleased when the CEO singled us out for praise on our internal social media feed.”
A predictive future?
What does Majid Al Futtaim Ventures want to do next with this technology, though? For Wingfield, the answer’s clear—move beyond the proactive stage he’s now delivering to a more predictive one.
“We are very interested in what Microsoft’s doing with analytics, especially with its plans to let companies like ours consume advanced technologies like machine learning through Azure,” he notes. “That’s really exciting for us, as it means we won’t just know, as we now do, how many people went to our VOX Cinema theaters and what movie they saw, but will tell us how they might spend more money with us, or exactly how long a line has to be at the concession stand before they move away.
“That kind of highly granular business information has fantastic potential for groups like us, and we love being in an ecosystem that we can soon get them in.”
``Adoption of Power BI has been very positively received by the business, from our CEO down. ``
Richard Wingfield: Chief Information Officer
Majid Al Futtaim Ventures