Middle East Free Zone Attracts Greater Share of Customers with the Force.com Platform
The Ajman Free Zone offers organizations a rewarding package of tax and other incentives to stimulate their re-location to the region; however, the administrative services that underpinned the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Free Zone operations were not among those incentives. Services such as licenses, visa applications, and property management were largely paper-based, slow, and unrewarding to customer organizations. In response, the Ajman Free Zone deployed the Force.com Platform from salesforce.com—in partnership with Cloud Concept—to transform services delivery. Launched in only three months, the Free Zone has reduced the average time taken to process an application of any kind from seven days to between one and two days—optimizing service delivery and helping to increase demand for the Free Zone.
- Transformed and streamlined how the Free Zone engages with its customers
- Enabled company to build and run applications much faster and at a fraction of the cost of traditional software platforms
- Designed, developed, and launched cloud system in only three months, using expertise of Cloud Concept business partner
- Enabled Free Zone to deliver more responsive, more rewarding, and more efficient service
- Reduced average time taken to process an application of any kind from seven days to between one and two days
- Led to re-deployment of two administrative staff, saving approximately $100,000 annually.
- Enabled team to drill-down insight into performance of approval process, identifying bottlenecks and where additional resources might be required
- Connected co-workers, captured staff knowledge, and shared news and experiences using Salesforce Chatter
Ajman is one of the seven emirates constituting the UAE, and with an area of just 100 square miles constitutes the smallest emirate by area. Strategically situated at the entrance of the Arabian Gulf, Ajman Free Zone is well placed to serve the eastern and western markets; and in the last few years there has been a four-fold increase in the number of local and international investors entering the Free Zone. A multi-million dollar development plan covering more than one million square meters area is fuelling this growth further, and accommodates 6,000 companies.
To operate in the Ajman Free Zone, organizations must fulfil a multitude of criteria. For example, they require an operating license (which needs to be regularly renewed), property lease contracts need to be agreed and signed, and foreign employees require visas and identity cards to work in the Free Zone. Simultaneously, the Free Zone provides a variety of support services to organizations, such as administering lost passport requests, submitting police reports, or issuing cards to employees which allow them to submit and receive work papers.
Customers left in the dark about progress of their application
Traditionally, the Free Zone managed all of these services on behalf of its 6,000 customers manually. Mohammed Jassem, head of Information Technology, Ajman Free Zone explains why this approach needed to be changed. “There were three key problems associated with the management of these processes,” he says. The first was that it created a mountain of paperwork and that delayed the process and cost the Free Zone more to administer. Second, the organizations in the Free Zone needed to come to our offices in person to complete the documentation and collect their identify cards or visas. And third, we had only a limited knowledge of where a particular document stood in the process. Customer organizations would call us up and it inevitably took a long time to determine where their application stood, or where it would be completed.
The processes were ripe for transformation. However, the Ajman Free Zone needed help to achieve it. The Free Zone had previously worked with Cloud Concept—one of the region’s most experienced and skilled cloud computing businesses—to develop a series of cloud services. So it made sense to turn again to their expertise to determine whether a cloud-based solution could be used to streamline and automate the administration services. Jassem comments, “There are very few vendors in the Arab world dedicated to cloud development, and Cloud Concept stand head and shoulders above any other vendor we’ve seen. They understand the way the market is heading; they have an intimate knowledge of our cloud strategy, and have been able to add significant advice and guidance at every step. They’re a true partner.”
Sharpening how the Free Zone engages with its customers
The Ajman Free Zone is using the Force.com Platform to rapidly build and deploy a series of important cloud-based services, each of which is helping to sharpen the way the Free Zone engages with its customers. The solutions are also helping to shrink the time between service request and completion, while bringing down costs. The Force.com Platform’s simplified programming model and cloud-based runtime environment is enabling the Free Zone to build and run applications much faster and at a fraction of the cost of traditional software platforms. “With the Force.com Platform, we can run the entire business in the cloud,” says Jassem. “Right now we have 50 users on the system; however, can easily expand that number; and we have access to 200 database objects. The only limit to the customization is your imagination.”
Designed, developed, and launched on only three months, the Salesforce CRM system is being used to automate and re-define a substantial number of previously manual processes. These include government services, such as visa applications, licensing services, facilities management applications, and correspondence. “We now receive more than 2,000 requests per month, and the quality of service we’re delivering is more responsive, more rewarding, and more efficient,” he adds.
So how does it work? If a Free Zone customer has a member of staff who requires a work visa or an identify card to work in the Free Zone, they simply visit the Free Zone website and click on the required service. Instead of travelling to the Free Zone offices in Ajman, they simply submit the entire application online, receiving an automated notification when the application is received. The Free Zone submits the necessary documentation to the immigration officials for validation, following which the approved visa is returned to the Ajman Free Zone. The customer then receives an SMS message to confirm the visa or identity card is ready for collection. This fast, automated workflow has enabled Ajman to reduce the average time taken to process an application of any kind from seven days to between one and two days. The government authority has also been able to re-deploy two members of staff to other tasks, saving the equivalent of approximately $100,000 annually.
Comprehensive, drill-down performance insight
Jassem’s team, together with the team managing the applications, also have drill-down insight into the performance of the approval process. They can immediately review the number of applications in the system, where the bottlenecks are, where additional resources might be required, and the average processing time, among many other dashboards. “The Force.com Platform project has transformed the Free Zone’s ability to manage customer needs. We’re now supporting 6,000 organizations that account for 25,000 staff and by offering a faster, more timely service, we are able to attract more organisations to the Free Zone—ones that might otherwise have taken their business to other Free Zones in the UAE.”
Salesforce Chatter enables the Free Zone to keep abreast of this and other services. The private and secure social network is used by up to 150 staff to update one another on people, projects, and data. “Chatter makes it easier than ever to connect with co-workers, capture staff knowledge, and share news and experiences,” he says.
Looking ahead, the Ajman Free Zone will continue to add services to its portfolio, including electronic payments, licensing and maintenance services. They will also add a complaints capability—although based on the quality and success of the services deployed using the Force.com Platform so far, there isn’t expected to be much demand for this service.