Leveraging on technology to support and indeed boost business processes is an unending challenge for many medium to large corporates. But exactly what tangible benefits are achieved by these companies becomes a bit diffused over time, creating an unsettled feeling amongst the senior decision-makers in the companies about whether their substantial investment in complicated information technology (IT) processes and systems is being well spent.
In this context, the Microsoft Sri Lanka-Brandix case study comes as a breath of fresh air. As Sri Lanka’s largest apparel exporter, the IT needs of Brandix are vast and called for the services of an agile IT partner that could streamline and pre-empt future technology gaps while delivering genuine value for money. True enough, Brandix looked to the expertise of Microsoft Sri Lanka to provide it with best of breed solutions that would enable process integration and enhancement to manage the apparel giant’s value chain.
As a result of this fruitful partnership, Brandix has become the first Sri Lankan company to be showcased in the Microsoft Global case studies’ site for use of world-class technology. Slated to post savings of US$200,000 annually as a result of Microsoft’s comprehensive solutions, these impressive statistics have made companies globally sit up and take notice of Microsoft Sri Lanka’s solutions. By investing in Microsoft products and technologies, Brandix has experienced returns on investing in a strategic IT partner.
A Mammoth Task
Tracing the genesis of this success story, Microsoft Sri Lanka was faced with the challenge of finding fitting solutions to several urgent issues faced by Brandix as it struggled to streamline its communication and operational needs. Brandix employs over 20,000 people directly and generates indirect employment for an equivalent number. Given its massive organisational set-up, Brandix has always laid emphasis on backward integration, command of its supply chain and intra-organisational processes, rightly believing that these factors will give the group an edge on the global platform. Its vertical integration extends from fabric manufacture, wet and dry finishing, to accessories such as thread, buttons, and hangers. Today, Brandix is Sri Lanka’s largest apparel manufacturer, supported by over 25 manufacturing facilities nationwide, coupled with global sourcing offices. The company recorded a turnover of over US$320 million in 2006.
To facilitate collaboration between departments, Brandix was using several websites that were supported by different application servers as well as an intranet system accessible over the web. With 2,000 users of its collaboration and productivity tools, the system did not provide consolidated information and was difficult to manage because of the multiple stand-alone operations.
Hiranya Gunasekara, Head of Group ICT, Brandix, explains the problem faced by the company: “It took employees a long time to acquire, create and share information on market trends. We could not upload information efficiently with our previous intranet system and employees could not update shared documents and make it available for everyone without IT involvement.”
Furthermore, much of the available information was outdated. Imran Vilcassim, Account Technology Specialist, Microsoft Sri Lanka, says: “Within the Brandix Group, we found that the market intelligence was not sufficient for the marketing team, so we decided to look at a central repository of marketing information. Without updated information on buyers, marketers cannot make the right decisions required to meet customer expectations.” Realising the need for the apparel giant to set up an easy-to-deploy, accessible collaboration portal that could be managed by end users with minimal IT support, The team at Brandix rose to the challenge with scalable seamless solutions based on microsoft that would add limitless value to the leading corporate entity.
Off the Starting Blocks
At the outset, Microsoft recommended that Brandix deploy Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007 collaboration software and the InfoPath® Forms Services to help manage all the information it needed for its business and allow users to easily upload information on their own. As a Microsoft Enterprise customer in Sri Lanka for the previous three years, Brandix was aware of SharePoint Server 2007. “Our assessment for an information portal started four years ago. We discovered the capabilities of the environment while being an existing Microsoft Enterprise customer, but we were also considering other alternatives such as content management software,” says Brandix’s Hiranya Gunasekara.
Additionally, SharePoint Server 2007 was chosen because it had all the features of a collaboration and content management portal and proved easy to install. SharePoint Server 2007 was installed on an HP ProLiant 350 Server. The first portal, Brandix Market Watch (BMW), was deployed in February 2007. BMW helps marketers within the company by giving the most upto-date information on the market. “BMW is for all internal employees to view as we publish information on current market conditions on the portal,” adds Gunasekara.
In a momentous step, the financial information portal went live in June 2007, offering financial information and dashboards for senior management. Following this, its Human Resource (HR) department set up a portal entitled ‘Systematic Hiring of Internal Employees’ or SHINE, in August 2007. SHINE provides updated information on internal job vacancies that users within the group can apply for. “The internal recruitment function is now automated with SHINE and all applications are automatically processed through the system,” says Kolitha de Silva, Assistant Manager, Information System, Brandix. Endorsing this sentiment, Hiranya Gunasekera says: “Now, knowledge workers can find exactly what they want through an easy search interface.”
Delivering Enduring Solutions
The teams at Microsoft and Brandix worked tirelessly to introduce customisations on the look-and-feel of the various portals, taking into account infrastructure and system development needs. Any and every technical challenge was addressed suitably by Microsoft technologies and now eventually some 800 users use the various portals. Microsoft Sri Lanka’s success with Brandix hinged on four key areas where tangible benefits were registered by the apparel group. These were:
*Improved collaboration on information resulting in an annual saving of US$ 200,000: Brandix has experienced information sharing by consolidating relevant information into a central location. At the same time, managing the central repository and uploading new information has been rendered easier. Other benefits include improved productivity for knowledge workers, better decision-making for the entire company and improved ease-of-use of the portal system leading to a predicted overall saving of US$ 200,000 annually.
*Improved Information Access: In the past, employees were forced to rely on the administration department to locate important information, creating delays and unreliability. Today, with all information is consolidated in one location without unnecessary duplication Brandix expects to save large amounts in administration costs as well as the time and effort on part of its employees. “Our knowledge workers can find exactly what they want through an easy search interface. Moreover, the Board of Directors do not have to rely on the Finance Department for information, as financial and performance reports are available on our portals,” says Brandix’s Head of Group ICT.
*Improved Productivity: With easy access to information and automation of data collection using SharePoint Server 2007, Brandix expects to reap a 30% improvement in productivity. For example, the HR portal SHINE allows automated processing of a job application, which had to formerly be assessed manually. “Now, most of the required information is centralized, but end users can update documents and files on their own without IT support. For example, our management staff can directly update a report or Microsoft® Excel® sheet using SharePoint Server 2007, making it automatically available to all,” says the Assistant Manager of Information Systems at Brandix.
*Better Decision-Making: By always having the most current information, the different SharePoint Server 2007 portal sites help team members collaborate better and empower the management to make better decisions. “Management now finds it easier to respond to the market as we have current market information right at our fingertips,” reveals Hiranya Gunasekara. “With the different information extracting capabilities, we can also gain valuable insights into our processes,” he goes on to say.
Commenting on this historic occasion, Mr. Channa de Silva, Enterprise Leader, Microsoft Sri Lanka stated: “Brandix was one of the initial customers who took the bold initiative to bet on Microsoft technologies to support their critical business requirements and this case study clearly demonstrates the value that Microsoft solutions brings to a customer. This is a significant milestone not only for Brandix, but also for a Sri Lankan company to be featured as a Microsoft’s global Case Study, which is carried out after a rigorous evaluation process. We are extremely happy to have been able to provide support to Brandix in enhancing their business and hope to build on this long-term relationship further”.
Imran Vilcassim, Account Technology Specialist for Brandix from Microsoft Sri Lanka, is suitably proud of having Brandix featured on the global Microsoft site. “We now have one of our own Sri Lankan companies listed in the Microsoft global case studies’ site at www.microsoft.com/casestudies for its exemplary use of technology to support its business.
This case study is a testimony of how Microsoft’s products can be used to provide genuine business benefits for its customers. Success stories such as this reinstate the faith of corporate decision-makers in the efficacy of using the right IT solutions provider to partner their businesses. Microsoft Sri Lanka’s Imran Vilcassim concludes by adding, “We, at Microsoft Sri Lanka, is proud to have Brandix among many renowned global companies on the case studies site and to have been able to effect a case study showcasing a Sri Lankan company making maximum use of Microsoft technology.”