• Speeds up decision-making for 10,000 employees through a unified collaboration platform
• Encourages 86 percent adoption rates among employees thanks to ease of use and accessibility
• Enables rapid modernization of mailboxes and data infrastructure through a quick migration process
• Significantly reduces cybersecurity spend thanks to encrypted cloud storage and integrated identification features
• Creates the foundation for long-term digitization and automation projects
When it comes to digital adoption, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has some of the highest consumer uptake of technology in the world. Its overwhelmingly young population has among the highest smartphone and social media usage in the world, and an undeniable appetite for new technologies dominates the region’s development. As a result, long-standing enterprises which have helped transform the fortunes of the Middle East in recent years are turning to digitization.
The Al Shirawi Group was founded in 1971 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and soon expanded into many different industries, from manufacturing and engineering to solar energy and air conditioning. “Our first priority was to help build the country in the early stage of formation, and our second was to help the people,” says Madhukar Nath Chaturvedi, Director of Information Technology at Al Shirawi. “As a result, our parent company offers multiple kinds of business and it is one of the most diversified business groups in the Middle East..”
To manage this diversified offering, seven CEOs oversee three or four companies each across the portfolio. Although each has autonomy over their businesses, they all depend on a centralized IT infrastructure. Introduced in 2007, the infrastructure provided shared IT services across the whole group, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), data management, and communications services.
As the company grew in size, however, its technical requirements and need for collaboration tools became greater. “Our previous IT system was good when we first adopted it, but as time went on, its features didn’t develop in a way that benefited us,” says Chaturvedi. “We were not able to collaborate remotely easily, the connectivity was not strong, and we had to connect to a VPN.”
Looking for better connectivity and the ability to collaborate remotely, Al Shirawi chose Google Workspace as the right solution for its needs, enabling its employees to work together everywhere and support its digitization journey. Security was also a priority, as Al Shirawi mostly communicates with clients via email and chats.
“One factor in choosing Google was that it is able to give us new technology via the cloud,” says Chaturvedi. “We know Google will continue to enhance Workspace and add new features to the system.”
With enthusiastic support and clear mandate from senior management, Al Shirawi aimed for a rapid migration of its email data and collaboration platform to Google Workspace. To get there, the company enlisted the aid of UAE-based IT consultancy iSolutions to deliver a basic proof-of-concept before developing a six-month migration plan for the wider company.
“When it comes to choosing a partner, skills are the most important thing. If you don’t have the right kind of skills, the project will be delayed and may even run into trouble,” says Chaturvedi. “iSolutions had everything we needed. They were flexible in commercial terms, liaising with Google HQ for us to find the best pricing and solutions.”
One key challenge for Al Shirawi was migrating the mailboxes of its portfolio companies to the cloud. Some of these were as large as 100GB, and spread across several different mail providers. To address this, the iSolutions team created a thirty-day plan to move all of the company’s inboxes and archived data to Gmail.
Within six months, the full Google Workspace migration was complete, with 86 percent employee adoption rate across the Al Shirawi portfolio. “All of our teams were happy to switch to Google Workspace,” Chaturvedi explains. “It offers solutions that our previous system could not provide, and is much more user-friendly. There was enthusiasm and hunger from the employee side, and the migration was top-driven. These factors meant the implementation was able to happen quickly.”
Features such as the enhanced search capabilities of Google Workspace also helped to encourage users to embrace the new tools. “One of the best things about Google Workspace is the search technology,” says Chaturvedi. “We can search using any kind of parameters, and this is something that users really like. It’s helped push our adoption rate much higher.”
Previously, the Al-Shirawi Group had to make separate investments in security systems across its portfolio, everything from firewalls and inbox security to an on-premises cybersecurity team. “We even had to perform different security tests regularly across the company,” says Chaturvedi. “Now, all of that has been transferred to Google’s data centers.”
Paper documents and firewalls are now a thing of the past at Al-Shirawi. The group company’s documents are hosted in encrypted cloud storage on Google Drive, while its teams use the integrated Cloud Identity features on Google Workspace, as well as multi-factor authentication for maximum security.
Perhaps the biggest benefit Al Shirawi has experienced from deploying Google Workspace is in changes to its culture and productivity. The conglomerate now has a fully mobile workforce, able to work across devices and locations with ease. This has enabled a level of collaboration that has streamlined every aspect of the organisation’s processes.
“Google Sheets is one of our most used tools,” says Chaturvedi. “We use it for data collection, and technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning allow us to obtain fast answers by analysing the data in the background. It can automatically predict the answers we’re looking for and prompt them. Then, whenever we are having a meeting, multiple people are able to comment on a Sheet and correct any errors immediately.“
By speeding up collaboration, projects are now completed about 25 per cent faster. “One of the key advantages of using Google Workspace is intangible, but crucial,” explains Chaturvedi. “What it has done is gifted our company culture with speed.”
This boost in productivity has also led to direct cost efficiencies, with the company’s IT costs reducing by around 30 percent since its migration to Google Workspace. “We don’t have servers, we don’t have security products, and we don’t need as many support staff,” explains Chaturvedi. “So our IT costs have reduced dramatically.”
As Al Shirawi celebrates its fiftieth birthday, the company hopes to expand its digital transformation efforts across all its operations by automating many of its processes. It has formed a digital council at the apex level for the group to help achieve this ambition. Led by the group’s finance director, audit director, and Chaturvedi himself, this initiative aims to futureproof its portfolio’s operations. This is being supported by the development of the Al Shirawi hub, which automates all payment and invoice processing through the cloud, as well as the continued rollout of Google Workspace tools across the portfolio.
“We want to become an example for digital transformation across the whole Middle East,” says Chaturvedi. “Our goal is to have the highest technological maturity in the region. It’s a journey that we are looking forward to embarking on over the next five to six years, together with Google Workspace.”