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European-American Topics - Business - Information Technology

Information Technology: The universal language isn't enough
By Stephen D. McLaughlin

Posted May, 2006 
There can be no doubt that as any business grows and branches out, Information Technology becomes a critical part of its successful operation. No matter the size of the company, or the kind of business they do, the 1) smooth operation of existing networks and the 2) continuing flow of and access to information have become key components to a business’s ability to generate maximum revenue.  With tens of billions of dollars changing hands via e-commerce every day, the role of Information Technology in the management of even the most basic transactions has never been more important.  The Internet has created an entirely new business culture – one that has the capacity to operate virtually instantaneously – and nowhere is this more evident than in doing business overseas. Transactions that in the past would have taken days or even weeks can now be completed in a matter of minutes.

Communicating, strategizing and sharing information with overseas partners which, in the past, was a slow and costly process is now simply a matter of downloading files or accessing shared networks. While certainly not eliminating the need for some travel and other forms of communication in all cases, setting up a shared computer network with your overseas partners can cut the cost of doing business with them by 90% or more. 
But how do you go about setting up a network with your overseas partners? Are your IT people up to whatever challenges this involves? Are specialized programs, or software packages, or operating systems necessary to set up this sort of overseas network?  Let’s look at the last question first, taking companies in the European Union as our example. In the vast majority of cases, the operating systems that run their computers and networks will be exactly the same (with local languages) as those that run the systems of your domestic partners – and your own computers. Virtually every network or operating platform in every corporation in EU nations runs on either Novell, Microsoft or Linux systems. The same holds true with the various security and anti-virus programs these companies use to keep their networks safe (McAfee, Norton, etc). Once a network has been established, the lines of communications will be open, and the transfer of data should progress seamlessly. 

The challenges involved in setting up a shared network with your overseas partner and operating it profitably aren’t related to their operating systems. Rather, they come from agreeing upon and then setting up shared goals and platform systems. Simply being able to effectively interface with your overseas partner via a shared network is nowhere near all you need to do to operate successfully. As a matter of fact, it is only the beginning.  Even when setting up partnerships with other domestic companies, it takes lot of time and a lot of hard work to ensure that both companies are operating on the same page. The reason for this is that virtually no two companies do things exactly the same way. When dealing with overseas partners, these challenges become exacerbated.  Differences in time zones and hours of operation, language barriers, cultural differences and even business philosophies must all be taken into consideration by your IT professionals when setting up a shared platform of operations with an overseas partner.

To take a basic example, say you are partnering with a German company. In the culture of your company, reports are generated weekly, in English. In theirs, reports are generated every two weeks in German. You bill monthly, while they bill every two weeks. The list of differences goes on and on and it becomes increasingly obvious that the platform you operate on is not the same as the platform they operate on. While the universal language of information technology is spoken by all, your two companies are speaking that language in different ways. To operate successfully and profitably, something must change. 
One of the difficulties is that companies don’t always like change. Your operating platform has worked for you for 10 years, why should you have to change it? And your overseas partner is thinking the same thing. Your members of the conversion team will fight hard to keep their systems in place, while the members from your partner will be doing the same thing. Optimally, the best systems of both platforms should be kept and merged into one shared working platform, but in all too many cases, people believe their way is the best way – or the only way. Add language and cultural differences to the natural desire both groups will have to hold on to what has always worked for them and you could very easily be looking at costly delays in setting up a common operating platform – not to mention hard feelings at the start of your partnership.   One time and cost effective solution to these problems may be hiring an outside consultant or consulting firm which specializes in designing and building international operating platforms to oversee your conversion team.

In many cases, an outside consultant will be able to objectively assess the strengths and weaknesses of both partners’ existing platforms and, working with both sides of the conversion team, merge the best of each system to create a new system that most effectively serves the needs of the partnership. As a completely unbiased facilitator, an outside consultant will have the ability to impartially analyze each component of the partnership’s operating platform using only optimal functionality and profitability as their criteria, unhindered by the restrictions of either corporate culture. 
If you do choose to go the route of using an outside facilitator, it is crucial that the consultant or firm you hire be familiar not only with the platform requirements of your partnership, but also with the cultural and business paradigms unique to each partner’s home country – as well as those of the nations in which you will be doing business. Just because the software, cables and monitors are the same does not mean that the style of doing business is the same. The ability to understand and incorporate each partner’s ethnic, cultural, and business imperatives into an effective operating platform is key to a consultant being able to achieve the end goal of creating a profitable and workable system which takes its strength from its diversity.  The challenges of partnering with an overseas company are considerable, but as success story after success story shows, the profits can be well worth the challenge. The key is in understanding that it isn’t enough to speak the universal language of Information Technology. You need to make certain that everyone understands what you are saying! 

Author Bio: Steve McLaughlin founded Global Market Insights, with offices in Europe and the U.S., with his vision of giving clients two synergistic competencies: knowledge of the global marketplace and industry expertise in manufacturing, finance and information technology. Steve McLaughlin has over twelve years of international experience in three continents, having started
in executive search as a Beckett-Rogers Associate. Steve McLaughlin is a graduate of Rice University where he was student body president, and completed post-graduate studies in International Economics at the Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile. He is available for consultation and can be contacted directly by Email: or Phone: 352-26364921. Additional information is located on his website:


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