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Expolanka Holdings Plc. began operations in 1978 as an exporter of fruits and vegetables. By 2011, the award-winning company had grown to incorporate subsidiaries in the travel and transportation, international trading, manufacturing, and strategic investment sectors. It is listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange.
Headquartered in Colombo, Expolanka has operations in 39 cities across 12 countries, including India, Madagascar, and Vietnam. The company employs more than 2,500 staff worldwide, and serves customers from countries as diverse as the U.S., the U.K., and Dubai.
Expolanka continues to expand, and many of its companies represent large market shares within their industries. Expolanka Teas, for example, has been one of the top ten tea exporters in Sri Lanka for the last six years, while the company’s Herbal Pharmaceutical brand, Baraka, is one of Sri Lanka’s largest manufacturers of black seed oil. With such a high number of brands and subsidiaries, Expolanka wanted to improve decision-making and corporate governance, and instill a process-driven company culture.
Expolanka evaluated various options that it believed would help the group achieve corporate excellence. In February 2007, it implemented Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Database to improve accounting and other business processes and simplify organizational procedures and systems.
“We’ve implemented Oracle E-Business Suite at more than 30 Sri Lankan subsidiaries and deployed Oracle Database at some of our overseas companies, which has greatly supported our local and international expansion,” said M. Uvais Mohamed, manager, finance and ERP, Expolanka Holdings. “We’ve taken our financial reporting and accounting management to a higher level, increasing operational efficiencies and improving the overall strategic direction in all our companies.
“We’ve also streamlined our manufacturing and distribution processes and reduced data entry requirements and operational costs,” he said.
Due to the complex nature of its diversified operations and workflows, Expolanka needed to integrate business processes into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The company’s legacy software was hard to monitor and maintain without a centralized middleware application. It was also difficult to resolve discrepancies between financial and inventory data from trading warehouses and transportation depots.
The group previously relied on five different accounting applications to manage its subsidiaries’ financial accounts. As the size and scale of operations increased and business requirements changed, the capacity and performance level of these applications became inadequate.
Expolanka needed to implement a scalable ERP system and database to modernize its antiquated chart of accounts; simplify complicated month-end financial processes; reduce procurement, licensing and maintenance costs; and support its growth. The company also wanted to provide department, business, and group managers with accurate, up-to-date, consolidated data in a consistent format and give managers greater control over financial operations, such as purchasing and accounts receivable.
“Oracle E-Business Suite enables us to keep up-to-date with our business processes and ensure our day-to-day business activities are running smoothly,” said Mushtaq Ahamed, chief financial officer, Expolanka Holdings. “The user-friendly system also enables our subsidiaries to quickly adapt to new processes, enhancing the group’s integration. As group CFO, it has also improved my ability to make timely and accurate operational and strategic decisions based on consolidated information.”
Expolanka is using Oracle Financials to allow travel and transportation subsidiaries, such as Expolanka Freight (Pvt.) Ltd, to enter data, including accounts receivable and accounts payable invoices, into an integrated application rather than entering it into separate, inefficient client server-based systems. This has reduced the manual data entry required by financial staff by more than 35%, particularly within Expolanka’s transportation sector.
“Previously, financial data had to be entered twice—once into a subsidiary’s operational system and then again into the company’s financial application,” said Christy Ivon, general manager, finance, Expolanka Freight (Pvt) Ltd. “With up to 3,000 invoices being generated across the company daily, there was a lot of duplicated data. Now data is only entered once.”
More than 30 of Expolanka’s companies complete their accounting processing on the same day, which enables financial staff at these subsidiaries and the company’s central office to generate consolidated, tailor-made financial reports in two to three minutes. Previously, it took up to a week to produce some key reports from the legacy systems, as staff needed to compile data from separate Excel spreadsheets and five or six separate financial systems. Expolanka can now also close monthly financial books in 10 to 13 days, rather than the significantly longer period required by the legacy system.
Accounts staff at subsidiaries now enter financial data into their operational systems, where it is transferred to Oracle Financials. This happens automatically twice daily or whenever a user requires, and has enabled individual companies to view consolidated financial information immediately. The group’s head office can independently extract the same financial information at the same time as subsidiaries, so individuals are able to carry out their own analysis with no hindrance to other users.
In addition, as a listed company, regulatory and compliance requirements for Expolanka are very strict and subsidiaries need to be aligned to meet all relevant reporting parameters in a timely manner. With Oracle Financials, the group is able to achieve these requirements with very little manual involvement.
In the past, subsidiaries had different systems to record fixed assets, such as land, buildings, motor vehicles, and technological equipment. When financial staff or Expolanka managers wanted to generate reports to see assets that were owned by a subsidiary or across the group, they had to extract the data from the subsidiaries’ systems and copy it into a standard format, which could take a significant amount of time.
“Consolidating fixed asset information in Oracle Financials’ asset module enables the company to quickly produce standard reports detailing the assets owned by different subsidiaries and how much they are worth,” said Mohamed Shiraz, manager, risk and control, Expolanka Holdings. “We can automatically see how long a subsidiary has had its assets, how much the assets cost originally, and their current value. Extra information, like asset tag numbers and asset locations, also help verify fixed assets faster and more easily within the group.
“We have also standardized procedures for buying new assets through a group fixed assets policy,” he said. “Any asset worth more than US$900 (LKR 100,000), such as a vehicle or large piece of equipment, must be approved by our central office if it’s not in the original budget.”
In addition, by improving the fixed assets accounting processes, Expolanka significantly enhanced internal compliance and control procedures to assign certain users to specific accounting tasks. The company can now carry out compliance verifications with ease and safeguard valuable company assets by improving accountability.
Oracle Financials’ inbuilt approval hierarchy process will be implemented in the future to ensure these policies are automated. This will remove the need for manual intervention and ensure compliance, further improving visibility and accountability across the company.
Expolanka implemented Oracle Purchasing to streamline purchasing procedures across its manufacturing and trading companies. For example, Neptune Papers (Pvt.) Ltd, a subsidiary of Expolanka, exports a variety of shredded paper, including scrap documents collected from banks and other institutions and old newspapers, to India for recycling.
Previously, if the subsidiary wanted to buy a shipment of old newspapers to export to India, it would raise an internal purchase order and follow its own approval process before making the purchase. After implementing Oracle Purchasing, purchasing staff at Neptune Papers have to generate the purchase order from the consolidated system.
“Purchases over a set amount can immediately be flagged and approved by the company’s relevant supervisor before the purchase order is sent,” said Mohamed. “We can also see each subsidiaries’ purchases broken down into day, month, or year to date, as well as who made the purchase, when it was made, what it was for, and if the item has been paid for. This has improved visibility and accountability across the company and enabled senior managers at the central office to monitor financial information more efficiently.”
Oracle E-Business Suite also enables Expolanka to carry out transactions in multiple currencies. The multicurrency and translation features allow the group to upload trial balance figures in each countries’ respective currencies, converting amounts to Sri Lankan currency for consolidation purposes.
By integrating Oracle Purchasing with Oracle Inventory Management, Expolanka can immediately see levels of inventory, such as pharmaceutical components or food products, at its manufacturing and trading companies. The intregration has enabled the company to complete hundreds more inventory transactions, such as checking stock by types or by country, as it no longer has to consolidate information from company spreadsheets.
“We can immediately see the exact amount of available inventory in our warehouses and calculate its value,” said Fazil Fowzi, accountant, Expolanka Commodities. “We know at any given time whether inventory levels have been reached and can see exactly how much of any product we need to reorder. We use this information to approve purchase orders, and ensure money isn’t spent unnecessarily, and that manufacturing staff don’t need to stop work to wait for necessary stock.”
Oracle Order Management and Expolanka’s in-house operational systems, which run on Oracle Database, have provided Expolanka with a consolidated view of its international trading and transportation processes. When customers call to order a product, such as dried foods, or want to book freight transportation, the request is entered into the integrated system so sales and financial staff, and subsidiary and group managers all have access to the information. The customer can also make a payment at the same time, request an invoice, or order another item or service. Staff in the shipping department can automatically see when the order was placed and ensure that they are adhering to delivery deadlines.
“We have streamlined our order and delivery processes and can immediately see the status of an order to ensure the order is moving quickly though the system and that correct delivery and invoicing procedures are followed,” said Mohamed. “The integrated standardized application has reduced the risk of human error and improved our customer relationships.”
Expolanka exports a lot of perishable food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, so it is imperative that these products do not sit too long before being shipped, especially if they are to be transported internationally. There are 21 preshipment forms, including customs forms, that sending and receiving countries require for perishable food shipments. Previously, it took a long time to fill out these forms and submit them to Sri Lankan custom authorities.
“By integrating order and delivery information in Oracle Order Management, we can submit forms quickly and easily and send the shipment as soon as possible,” said Mohamed. “This reduces the risk of perishables going to waste or not being in top condition when they arrive, saving significant costs in wastage and improving our customer relationships.
“We can also see exactly when a delivery is made and ensure the invoice is generated promptly,” he continued. “If an invoice isn’t paid within 30 days it affects the company’s working capital, leaving less to invest or requiring loans with interest to cover the company’s expenses, so it’s vital we don’t let unpaid invoices slip through the cracks.”
Oracle Cash Management has enabled Expolanka to more easily comply with its cash management policies, such as updating daily bank statements with receipts and payments the following day rather than more than a week later. The company can also immediately see the cash requirements of various subsidiaries and quickly calculate how much money to move from one company’s account to another for a payment or an important purchase.
“Previously, we had no quick way of seeing how much money each company had, so if one needed extra cash we would have to borrow it from the bank, which led to high interest payments,” said Mohamed. “Now money can be moved to where it is most needed. This is easier than arranging or extending a loan, and it saves on repayments.”
Expolanka also uses Oracle Cash Management to ensure all payment processes are in place and being followed properly.
“Purchases take place with a set approval hierarchy, so the company can make sure we follow best business processes aligned to our requirements,” says Mohamed. “That way, we know our accounts are up-to-date and that staff follow correct procedures.”
Expolanka implemented Oracle Database at its companies in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam to record critical freight transportation business information, including dispatch times, destinations, and the type of freight being transported. The integrated system enables managers at subsidiaries and head office to better monitor end-to-end transportation services, ensuring correct deliveries are made in the agreed time. Transportation staff also uses standard data, such as vehicle and driver numbers, and follow standard procedures, which has improved data accuracy and reduced the risk of human error.
“Because many of our freight management companies now enter information regarding their freight and deliveries into a centralized database, we can see the exact status of a delivery and better monitor its progress,” said Asitha Kaggoda, head – group IT, Expolanka Holdings Plc. “We need to ensure the journey runs smoothly and that produce, especially perishable goods, such as live fish or fresh fruits and vegetables, gets to its destination as quickly as possible.
“Previously, each company used an internal SQL database to record transportation information so central management had no way of monitoring their day-to-day activities,” he continued. “Now, we can see everything from the number of trucks at each depot, to the length of time it takes to complete international deliveries, which increases warehouse staff and driver accountability and ensures we provide the best possible service to our customers.”
The integrated database also provides senior management with more information to help them make strategic business decisions, such as what products to invest in or which industries and countries to target.
After researching various options, Expolanka decided Oracle provided the most flexible and adaptable enterprise resource planning system and database, and best met its business needs. The company was also impressed with Oracle’s solid reputation among other diversified businesses and its readily available local support.
“We had a vast amount of business-critical information available across the group but needed to integrate the data before we could really use this valuable resource,” said Mohamed. “We could see that Oracle’s robust and scalable solutions would make it so much easier to bring this information together, so we could analyze it more effectively and use it to make informed business decisions.”
In early 2005, Expolanka put together an internal team to head the Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Database implementation. It then engaged Oracle Partner Satyam Computers to offer technical advice and support. Satyam staff travelled from India to Colombo for several weeks but due to national security concerns had to return to India, which held up the implementation process for several months. After its return, Satyam worked with the Expolanka team to complete the first phase of the implementation and, in July 2007, Oracle E-Business Suite was rolled out simultaneously at 10 companies. This was followed by seven more companies during the second phase, several months later. To date, more than 30 Expolanka companies are using Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Database.