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Company News | Shifting gears

By Aloysius Choong, CNETAsia
21/05/2004

Sometimes, doing more with less is about wringing every last drop of value from your IT vendor. Or spotting the best deal from the gazillions available.

James G.J. Jeong,
CEO and president,
ComSOC Technology -

Photography by Munshi Ahmed

 

Other times, it's just about knowing when to cut your losses.

This was the case for James G.J. Jeong, head honcho of high-tech chip design house ComSOC Technology, who paid S$10,000 (US$5,820) for an accounting software in 2002, then decided--just one year later--that it was inadequate for his needs.

It was an expensive lesson for the South Korea-born Jeong, but it was also a good one.

This year, he went shopping again with his accounts manager Andrea Chai--this time with a clear idea of what they wanted. They paid S$50,000 (US$29,105) for an accounting, sales and inventory software, plus another S$30,000 (US$17,462) for a virtual private network and firewall. On this occasion, though, it was money well spent. He's confident that this latest solution can meet the present needs of his firm and scale up together with his future demands.

Here, Jeong and Chai share their experiences.

Q: Tell me about the new system you implemented recently.
Jeong: We invested in software to improve our accounting system. We also linked to our overseas sales and marketing team, giving us real-time access to those branches.

For example, I can access our Hong Kong branch status through our Web server. Instead of me calling them and them finding the data, I can now check anytime I want to. Provided our guys key in the data correctly and on time, it saves us a lot of communication time and money.

Also now, when I go overseas, I can access our system. It's convenient, that's why we invested in this system last year.

In fact, we had spent quite a significant amount to purchase new software just one year before. But we decided: S$10,000 (US$5,820)--forget it, we'll throw that away. We can recover that by saving on our communication time and cutting costs, and by better data management--that's worth more than S$10,000. That's why we decided to buy the new software even though we had one purchased just a year ago.

What was wrong with your old system?
Jeong: There were insufficient features for sharing information from various places. That was the main concern. Also, in terms of convenience of the software itself, the old one was not very good.

Normally, how do you make such IT decisions?
Jeong: Either myself or one of the staff will bring up an issue. Then, I'll give one of them an order to look for a supplier, and they'll collect all the information. We'll then have an internal discussion, and the person in charge will summarize and present the good and the bad.

Andrea, in this instance, you were in charge of gathering the information. Was it a difficult process?
Chai: Of course. When we wanted to look for software, we asked a few software houses to come in. A sales colleague and I sat through their presentations. Whatever features that we didn't have previously, we made sure we had them this time.

A lot of software houses tell you during the presentation they can do it.. But then you have to talk more to them. I think you need to talk to each vendor a few times before you can properly understand what their features are.

Sometimes there are certain features that aren't built-in, but they can customize it. We chose Microsoft Navision because it is customizable.

Microsoft assigned a few agents (for Navision) in Singapore. Normally you don't meet the people behind it. But someone from Microsoft came down and said to me: If there's any problem the agent cannot support, you come to me. That gave me confidence in them.

Were there any differences in terms of what they promised and what they delivered?
Chai: I think there'll always be slight differences. The people who promote the software are salespeople. They do not have the technical knowledge to understand what we needed. Of course they'll say: Yes, we can do it. But when it comes to implementation, there may be slight hiccups somewhere.

And were there any hidden charges?
Chai: No. We made it very, very clear to them. Up front, we already told them: If you don't have the feature, you have to customize for us. The cost was fixed.

How long did the process take?
Chai: Three to four months.

Are you satisfied with the solution they have given you?
Chai: I would say 80 percent to 90 percent. There are still some features we want them to implement, and they have been very helpful.

How confident are you that, as you expand into other countries, your software will be able to expand with you?
Chai: As our business expands, we have more regions. For example, we need a system to take care of different languages, like if we open a branch in India, Korea or Japan.

Jeong: We plan to expand our operations in India to a development team. Eventually, we'll have to hire locally in India. So once we have an operation, we'll have to implement new applications into our current software. They can go package by package.

Coming from an MNC, what was the biggest difference compared to working for an SMB today?
Jeong: In a big MNC, you only neede to focus on a certain area. It may be more narrow but very deep knowledge is required. But in an SMB, you have to do everything yourself, because you're short of manpower. I may not do such work directly myself, but at least I need some knowledge to guide staff.

Would you say, then, that the chief of an SMB has to have good knowledge of technology?
Jeong: Of course you must. I don't mean they have to have very good knowledge, but at least you have to guide staff or show them where to go. That's leadership.

You've said before that manpower is your most important resource.
Jeong: Although you talk about software and computerization, who manages that? It's people. So the key factor is people.

In the old times, maybe 10 people have to work hard for 20 people to eat. Now, one bright person leads for 100,000 people to eat. One person can create very innovative products or technology or goods, and he can set up a factory and employ 10,000 employees. Then to sell, he has to set up branches and hire another 5,000 employees. And because of one guy, 15,000 others can eat.

So, do you think you're that one person?
Jeong: I don't think so. I'm not that genius, yet (laughs). What I'm saying is that times have changed. You don't want a diligent farmer at this moment. You want someone to work smart. You don't have to work very hard and so late. You just have to focus during working hours, and you have to be able to create within your job scope.

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