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A scanning success

BMB Marking Systems putting Lebanese intelligence into international markets

by Thomas Schellen

The company’s name harks back to a time when they were selling labels and systems to affix price stickers to items on Lebanese supermarket shelves. Having moved far from vending the humble label, BMB Marking Systems (BMB MS) today is in business automation software. It provides consumer goods companies, logistics firms and utilities in the Middle East and North Africa region with distribution intelligence solutions and is pressing into Western and Eastern Europe. No wonder they are working on a shinier, polished identity.

“We have grown tenfold in the past 10 years from 2003 till now, and to cope with our growth, we need to do something with our branding and on the marketing level,” says Amine Soueidy, the general manager of BMB MS. “We have to create our brand and this year is our year of marketing when we will start to do this.”

BMB MS is a core division of BMB Group, an information and communications technology (ICT) company that is part of the private Lebanese Doumet Group. The other divisions of BMB are active in ICT networking, content management and security solutions. From a headquarters building tucked away behind the Baabda Serail in the hills above Beirut, BMB MS runs its business in Lebanon and across the MENA region, with country offices in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Algeria.

Consumers may never notice it, but BMB MS is a known entity in its field. Most recently, the company scored two major contracts to supply distributors in Saudi Arabia with software and the associated handsets from its global hardware supply partner, Motorola. The first contract was for equipping the PepsiCo distribution network in Saudi Arabia with 1,000 units, and the second contract was for sales force automation (SFA) of Binzagr, a company specialized in distribution and logistics of fast-moving consumer goods. According to its website, Binzagr covers the kingdom as distributor for 55 large brands, from Kellogg’s to Unilever’s Dove, and moves over 450,000 cases per day.  

Having implemented the first two phases of the Binzagr SFA contract from late 2012, BMB MS last month completed its delivery in the Jeddah and Riyadh regions where the nearly 1,000 Binzagr distribution vehicles were equipped. According to Soueidy, the contract also entails delivery of another two batches of 600 and 800 units for a total of almost 2,400 units. “The value of this contract was above $3 million, [making it] the biggest contract ever in this specific product in the Middle East,” he says.

Keeping up with demand

Business process automation and customer relationship management — the ICT categories that one may associate with SFA — comprise a software specialization sector with many niches. Growth of the market for automation of distribution and logistics processes was tech-driven, Soueidy says, and BMB MS saw two major leaps in the past 10 years: first, when smaller and better programmable devices came out around a decade ago and then when GPS functionalities matured about three years ago.

In the earlier stages of the technology, clients were sold on the automation part. By replacing paper invoices and verbal or handwritten reports from sales staff, software systems paid for themselves by reducing data entry time and errors. They set free — ideally for more productive work — the employees originally hired to transcribe invoices generated by the sales force.

Today, however, customers demand more from their systems. Tracking and managing distribution fleets, analyzing orders and sales patterns, evaluating  performance, gathering information on behavior of competition and sales points, and responding to promotions — these all define the distribution intelligence value of an advanced system.

Software companies that address this demand have to invest in identifying the needs of their corporate customers; this includes helping them to identify parameters and information requirements that make their custom-built software systems maximally efficient.

“What customers really want from a system today is greater understanding of what they do. You create a tool for your customer that enables him to monitor his product in the market much better,” Soueidy says, adding that the critical advantage for BMB MS as provider in this specialization is that the company has been part of the evolution of distribution automation from the days when the underlying technology was introduced globally. “In many technologies, development started in US, moved to Europe and then came here. In our case, we started along with everybody else and we are experts just as much as everybody else in the world.”

Soueidy credits this factor and BMB MS’ aggressiveness for establishing the company’s dominance in the  Lebanese market for its solutions niche.  He adds that this is also the reason for BMB MS being able to expand into larger regional markets where it has taken market share from local providers, including scooping the Binzagr contract against a Saudi supplier whose system the client had been using for several years.

In meeting international clients’ demands for solutions in MENA countries, BMB MS found that it could compete successfully against leading vendors of automation solutions. His confidence of being able to stand up as a Lebanese company against well-known European software houses was boosted further, Soueidy says, when he participated in a conference and took a booth at a trade event last September in the United Kingdom. “We feel that we are competitive, and this is why we will be in Europe this year.”

From Beirut to Britain

BMB MS has taken concrete steps toward entering the United Kingdom, where it is negotiating to acquire a majority stake of a reputable automation software company. It also harbors aspirations to enter the Eastern European market via Romania, Soueidy tells Executive. Details of the investment in the UK are still confidential but the aim is for both companies to benefit from knowledge transfers and market openings.

An important motivator for the expansion plan is market size. The UK has as much demand for automation software solutions as the entire MENA region, offering far more opportunities than Lebanon. According to Soueidy, the healthcare sector in the UK alone will need to be equipped with one million handsets to accomodate growing home care where nurses will visit patients in their residences.

Complementing this growth ambition is the ongoing investment into BMB’s corporate identity, where each division in the group will be branded with its own descriptive term that will be combined with BMB, such as BMB Mobile. In a public branding exercise, the company will soon display its logo on a large banner in the waterfront district in downtown Beirut.

The idea behind the branding effort is for BMB to become ingrained in peoples’ minds as a stalwart Lebanese player in information technology. “We are planning now for the next 10 or 15 years, because it is our objective to take this company to a global reach,” says Soueidy. “I am sure that BMB 10 years from now will be doing something different from what it is doing today but within the scope [of our expertise].” 

The growth proposition is twofold; in adding geographies and technologies. While the company’s home market is likely to account for smaller portions of future revenues at BMB, the company’s strength will remain rooted here, Soueidy confirms. “I think we will have a base in Europe but Lebanon will remain the kitchen from where we feed all these countries.”

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Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years. Send mail

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