Mr Benjamin Ng who leads a project that will enable CapitaLand to be more nimble and serve its customers more effectively.
Mr Benjamin Ng who leads a project that will enable CapitaLand to be more nimble and serve its customers more effectively.

As one of Asia’s largest real estate companies with a presence in over 20 countries, CapitaLand is preparing to streamline its back-end systems with a unified SAP Enterprise Resource System. Inside sits down with Mr Benjamin Ng, Head of Project ‘Global Excellence’, to understand more.

Q: What is Project Global Excellence?

A: Project Global Excellence (PGE) is an initiative to bring our many business units onto a common back-end platform. We believe this will be effective in removing duplication in functional systems and providing greater support to front-end systems, which need to be agile and responsive to changes in technology and the business environment. CapitaLand’s vision is for PGE to accelerate the company’s transformation by leveraging innovation and digital technology upfront — to become more responsive, nimble and faster at seizing new opportunities and be more effective in serving our customers.

Q: Why is this necessary?

A: Right now, we are generally in a good position. Most of our systems still serve our needs, with some requiring a technology refresh. But we believe it is good to plan ahead and look at a holistic approach. It is always wise to think ahead. As Mr Lim Ming Yan, our President and Group CEO often says, “it is important to repair the roof before the rainy season, rather than be caught with a leaking roof when the rain comes”.

Q: What are some of the benefits of moving onto an integrated platform?

A: We observed that current processes across business units are not harmonised. Similar business functions across different business units may have different processes. This results in different application systems (and sometimes, multiple system interfaces and data capture), which reduces efficiency. With the common platform we want to streamline more processes, have a single point of data capture at source, and better economies of scale. Existing business processes will also be standardised and optimised when they are aligned. Our aim is to make complex processes simple. A stable back-end platform will enable the various business units to be more responsive at the front-end in meeting the needs of our various stakeholders.

With one common platform, we hope to deliver more integrated and innovative real estate solutions to better serve our customers. In addition, it will facilitate staff mobility within the Group.

To give an example, with PGE, we hope to have a single view of our customers. If I am a tenant of a shopping mall and a commercial building today, I have to engage with different teams from CapitaLand’s respective business units. My data would also be captured in different business unit systems. With a common database, however, CapitaLand will be able to interact seamlessly with me and have complete overview of my engagement with the different units. Granted, this is a journey. It is not something we can achieve overnight. PGE will be the first step in that journey; a springboard to propel us into the future.

There are other large companies that have successfully implemented similar systems and are reaping substantial benefits from it — increased data accuracy from capturing data at source and at one single point, faster month-end closing, and time savings from automated, integrated functions and processes.

Q: Where does the project stand now?

A: We are now at the crucial stage of mapping out all the backend processes across the Group. This will allow us to identify areas for harmonisation and optimisation, and set the stage for us to define the solution. We will be bringing a number of our key back-end support systems like Finance, Leasing and Procurement, just to name a few, across the whole Group onto the SAP system. Already, we can see some very exciting and promising possibilities emerging — reduced costs from inter-company transactions, faster approval processes without sacrificing accountability and system scalability as our business continues to expand. We are also looking at introducing more mobile solutions as part of the project.

To help us make this shift, we have engaged Accenture as our system integrator. They have a track record of successfully implementing SAP in large companies and within the real estate industry. Their role is to understand our current processes and ways of doing things, our business needs and use their industry knowledge and SAP expertise to help us achieve our goals.

Beyond technical implementation, Accenture will also look into the change management aspect of the project. People are at the heart of our business, and we need to make sure that everyone is on board with us on this transformational journey. We will be rolling out the new SAP system in phases and the first phase is expected to begin in 2Q 2017.

Q: What are some of the challenges you foresee?

A: As its name implies, PGE is a global project. It involves all our business units across the various geographies where we operate. The scale is massive. Steering a large ship to change course will certainly take time. It will be challenging to change mindsets and help colleagues see that the focus is not on their individual role or solely their part of the process. They have to be able to see the bigger picture from the Group’s perspective. Functions and business units will be impacted.

Having said that, it’s important that we are sensitive because project implementation tends to be met by apprehension. We recognise that colleagues may be wary of the changes or perceived uncertainties. Ultimately, every one of us must want to be part of this new journey, not just management. As I have mentioned in one of our monthly newsletters, PGE reminds me of cross-stitches and tapestries where we always admire the beautiful finished product. However, if we were to flip to the underside of a cross-stitch or tapestry, it is often a real mess which is vastly different from the beautiful form on the other side. While there are some who will focus on this ‘mess’ on the underside, I encourage colleagues to be the different coloured threads contributing to the overall harmonious PGE picture on the completed tapestry.

I am heartened to see that thus far, CapitaLand staff have been largely supportive of PGE, and have committed much time and energy towards the project despite the challenges of implementation on such a massive scale. We have seen enthusiastic colleagues volunteering to be part of the project team.

I believe all of us want CapitaLand to move faster, more nimbly and respond better to external forces, so that we can seize new opportunities and serve our customers better. I am confident that PGE will be one of the key initiatives to take us there.