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10 lessons U.S. tech managers can learn from their counterparts in China

Bill Marcus | Jan. 6, 2015
China’s tech star is rising rapidly. Global companies -- and their savvy IT leaders -- would do well to keep a close eye on the country’s technological transformation.

On the other hand, owing to uneven infrastructure and a highly unregulated business environment, Chinese are resigned to the fact that execution almost always will disclose new obstacles. "They are ready to adapt quickly."

Guillaume Deudon, the director of information systems for Dow Chemical's Asia-Pacific operations, suggests IT managers try to embrace the motto "fail cheap, learn fast." In China, people know if they mess something up they can always do it again, says Deudon. "Errors, mistakes, design glitches happen, but they are quickly overcome."

Lesson 7: Gain influence by cultivating relationships
In China, relationships are the only business currency that matters. Personal interaction with customers and suppliers is a necessity, says BearingPoint's Bernstorf — even for techies who may discount the value of interpersonal networking.

In China, "it is easy and common to start socializing with people that you meet once or twice and, in fact, it is necessary to do so," he says. This is especially true when something goes wrong — and in still-developing China, much more than in the West, it usually does go wrong. A culture of relationships makes it easier to find someone fast who can help, he says.

Relationships also cut costs and implementation time, says Law. "In the Chinese culture, intense use of lawyers and very precise definitions in business dealings, while deemed necessary and even smart by Western standards, is to some extent frowned upon because it shows lack of trust right from the beginning," Law explains. "To compensate, Chinese IT executives use the influence gained by having good relationships to get things done at every turn."

Lesson 8: Structure IT like a startup
Where 20 years ago there were no recorded startups in China, in 2013, entrepreneurial startups were responsible for 75% of all newly created jobs, according to Ministry of Commerce data. That means the startup mentality prevails, with the best CIOs functioning like savvy procurement officers who know how to take full advantage of services from the cloud — including cheap and free software like email and WeChat, which many Chinese are now substituting for phone service.

"I have a friend who started a company," relates Law. "In order to keep his team small, he rented everything from the cloud. He outsourced infrastructure and support to a cloud vendor, and he outsourced system development to local software houses."

"The traditional role of the IT managers is shifting in a fundamental way," says Law. "They do not have the legacy IT baggage of custom developed systems to worry about, so they can take advantage of the new cloud IT world more so than their U.S. counterparts."


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