Asian IT Customers Require Special Care

Harald Weinbrecht
Harald Weinbrecht

Mr. Weinbrecht, what inspired you to found ISS?

Weinbrecht: In 1997, there was significant growth in Asia. Many organizations identified a need to have best practices in place and to support their business operations with excellent IT solutions. But there was also a lack of expertise to enable such a capability effectively. So we jumped in – offering a one-stop solution for competing on an international platform. To satisfy the smaller budgets of such organizations, we developed industry-specific solutions for the chemical, high-tech, and automotive supplier industries and thus help them deploy preconfigured SAP software, such as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application , in three months.

How does working in Asia differ from working in Europe or the United States?

Weinbrecht: Every country has its own language, currency, tax, and legal requirements. Although Europe might be comparable to Asia with respect to localization issues, an implementation in individual Asian countries needs to take the culturally diverse background into consideration. For example, a project in Singapore can be pushed through fairly quickly, but a project in Thailand usually requires more time to ensure user buy-in. Many of the midsize companies in Europe already have SAP software in place or use other advanced ERP solutions. Therefore, change management does not dominate the implementation process as it does in Asia. Because of the generally higher level of IT knowledge and exposure, user training and end-user management do not play as significant a role in Europe as they do in countries like Malaysia and Thailand. The methodology therefore might need adjustment in the sense of putting a greater emphasis on technical solutioning instead of user training.

Does the decision making process in Asia follow special rules?

Weinbrecht: In Asia, the role of the CIO is largely unknown in midsize organizations. There are managers who help with technical implementation of IT, but their role is confined to execution of a defined strategy. In large and progressive organizations, the role of a CIO is gaining popularity, along with the responsibility and authority usually assumed of such a person, but in midsize organizations, it usually is the CFO or group controller who drives such an implementation. Companies find it still difficult to cost-justify IT solutions perceived as expensive and prefer to invest in a manufacturing machine. Final decisions usually are made by the top management team, which in most cases is represented by the CFO.

Are many companies in Asia willing to deploy the latest technology?

Weinbrecht: Some companies are willing to invest in the latest technology and sometimes directly influence the development of the software through their requirements, but this is more of an exception and is confined to a few very large organizations. The advantage of being a first mover in technology is outweighed by the cost of working through the initial teething problems. The situation is further complicated because technical specialists are not as highly regarded and consequently not as highly paid in Asia as are their counterparts in Europe or the United States.

How do you encourage companies to change their core IT programs?

Weinbrecht: The spreadsheets still used by many companies are very flexible and accommodate every single wish for change more or less on-the-fly, so there is a certain amount of resistance to implementing integrated ERP solutions. Although top management understands and supports the need to adhere to identified business processes, it also wants to be flexible enough to adapt to a constantly changing environment. To address this conflict, ISS puts a lot of emphasis on demonstrating the adequate solution based on SAP software to all key users early on – to obtain their buy-in and clarify concerns about flexibility.

How does your methodology differ from the usual SAP implementation procedure?

Weinbrecht: Implementing SAP software usually starts with a business requirements study, a (revised) business design, or a business blueprint and then goes into configuration and realization. With our preconfigured industry solutions we do not need to go into an in-depth business requirements study. Best practices for the specific industry based on SAP Best Practices offerings and our local implementation experience have already been built into our solutions. We have expanded and localized the SAP ASAP Focus methodology. ISS fine-tuned certain aspects, such as putting more emphasis on user training to cater to local requirements.

Can you demonstrate the ROI of an ISS SAP-based solution?

Weinbrecht: Just as an example, one of our customers experienced an immense increase in process efficiencies and shorter cycle times, presenting the perfect opportunity to inculcate the value of best practices and quality control among the staff. Before the implementation, the production staff was using paper or self-created Excel spreadsheets to record material usage and costs – a huge risk that jeopardized data management and integrity. Now, the accounting staff can perform accurate currency conversions for international sales, and because up-to-date data is easily accessible, any discrepancy can be quickly captured and accounted for.

For a rollout to other countries, we just need to build a template based on the ChemXpress industry solution, for example, while at the same time doing a fit–gap analysis for those countries. The fit–gap analysis runs the customer through a prototype, explaining how a system should work. If the processes currently used at the customer are covered by the process in the ISS solution, there is a fit. If the customer does something today in a certain way for which there is no corresponding process demonstration in the ISS system, there is a gap. In that case, either the customer changes the way the preconfigured processes in the ISS ChemXPress solution work, or the consultants adjust the system configuration to change the way ChemXPress works.

Where do you want to expand your business next?

Weinbrecht: We already have executed projects in Japan, Korea and in various provinces in China where many of our customers have manufacturing sites :in Shanghai, Wuxi, Tsing Tao, and other locations. Another area where we have recently gained some traction is the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia and Dubai. We have a presence in Dubai, and we see a lot of demand from customers in that region as well.