The number of businesses opening branches in other countries is growing. However, running an international business, especially one that operates in more than two countries, can be extremely difficult.
It can be challenging to communicate with employees who speak different languages or, even if they do speak English, may understand terminology and colloquialisms differently. Think of everyday words such as “flat” vs “apartment”; “boot” vs “trunk”; “jam” vs “jelly”; or even some potentially embarrassing miscommunications – such as an Australian employee referring to flip-flops as thongs, while for British and South African employees, “thongs” refers to a type of underwear.
If that sort of confusion exists between countries that share a common language, it is clear that unless there is standardisation of company basics such as product names and descriptions, there could be total confusion when it comes to sales, orders and reporting on financials.
Cultural variations including differences based on religion and local customs add to complexities. For example, if customers in the country into which you are expanding are accustomed to next-day delivery, but your systems are only set up to deal with deliveries within 48 hours, you could find yourself having to deal with disappointed, if not irate, former customers. Another example is the work week. In many Middle Eastern countries, the work week is generally Sunday to Thursday, whereas in many other parts of the world it runs from Monday to Friday.
In addition, when you are operating across different time zones, just picking up the phone to ask for clarification may be all but impossible. Orders could be lost while waiting to obtain clarity about a stock number or availability from a head office, which opens at different time.
Denis Bensch, CIO of FlowCentric Technologies, says in order to succeed internationally, a business must be able to control its stock in multiple locations, manage sales and purchase orders as quickly and simply as possible.
“At the same time, control across borders will also have to meet the internal and external risk and compliance requirements of both the home country and the country in which the subsidiary business is located.
“It should also be remembered that, while dealing with tax can be a challenge even when operating in one country, having to negotiate the ins and outs of taxes, fees and tariffs when operating in more than one country can be a nightmare,” Bensch adds.
According to Bensch, what’s required is the migration of standardised processes from the head office to the remote offices.
He emphasises that, while standardised processes are always important, they are probably even more significant for companies that are operating in more than one country. This is particularly important for processes that are executed often, directly determine costs, have an impact on customer satisfaction, support business growth, improve efficiency and – perhaps most importantly in global companies – streamline communication between people, functions and departments.
Standardised process is also important to set the approvals that ensure accountability, enable the optimisation of resources, ensure process consistency in everything from recruitment and hiring (even across different jurisdictions) to order fulfilment, and keep chaos from creeping into day-to-day operations.
“However, implementing standardised processes might be easier said than done when the business in the foreign country has been acquired. That business will be used to doing things the way it always has, which makes the implementation of process consistency difficult,” Bensch says.
“At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that it’s not possible to just replicate systems from one country in other jurisdictions. Where necessary, certain aspects of the process will have to be modified to comply with the specific legislation, industry regulations and customs of each country.”
There are a number of ways to achieve process consistency and transferability, including customising the company’s operating systems, such as the ERP and DMS systems – a complex and risky undertaking.
Bensch believes it would be far easier and faster to keep the standardised ERP or DMS systems across the entire organisation and build a customisation layer to accommodate the different requirements of the various countries in a BPM system. This would make the company’s processes repeatable and transferable.
BPM is technology that is used to automate a business process in order to accomplish it in the shortest possible time and at the least possible cost. It is particularly helpful for achieving greater efficiency, reducing human error, adapting to changing business needs and clarifying job roles and responsibilities. It is also useful to help prevent bottlenecks and identify duplicated tasks.
“A key benefit of BPM is agility: BPM facilitates the design of processes that are flexible – and allows for changes to be made to processes with minimal costs. Processes can therefore be customised easily to accommodate regionalisation for dealing with time zones, currencies, regional taxes, regional laws and so on.
“This approach makes opening offshore branches and subsidiaries much simpler without sacrificing quality. Corporate control is enforced, local control is accommodated and agility is assured,” Bensch concludes.
Planning to expand your business into different countries, or is your company already operating in multiple locations? Contact us to find out how we can assist you in standardising your organisation's business processes.