This week, I was fortunate enough to catch up with globetrotting enterprise project manager, Sean Hull. Sean trouble shoots some of the most interesting and complex enterprise technology implementations on any continent. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about IT markets from his highly-internationalized perspective.
Sean, what’s your background as a global IT project management / implementation consultant?
I’ve been managing technology implementations in some capacity for over 10 years. Lately much of my work is at the international level, with a lot of time spent ‘in-country’. I find it makes a great deal of difference communicating face to face v. Skype. What makes this exciting for me is the fact that I spent a lot of time through the early college years living all over the world, so applying my professional skills at that level is coming full circle for me.
If your company is in technology markets, why think global?
Never mind the very real arguments of expanding your customer base, spreading risk, leveraging international currency, tax and/or incentive benefits…etc., smart “young”technology is beating you to the punch if you’re not at least considering international markets. For proof, Google the nominee list for the 2012 Tech Crunchie Award. I was having lunch with some project colleagues in the U.K. They insistence that technology producers in Europe needed to internationalize their product and business models seem to be as ingrained as every kid having to learn several languages. It’s seen as a necessity. I think we tend to feel somewhat invulnerable in the U.S., economically and otherwise, but can’t imagine why one would not want partake in the global market.
What do you see as some of the key differences between implementing enterprise systems in the American market vs. other markets?
It’s probably worth it to mention that all my experience has been with‘enterprise’ solutions, (Here’s an attempt on the definition of enterprise) The key – and most obvious -difference is working with international / cross cultural teams and customers, where not only the language, but the dynamic and motivators can be vastly different from country to country. The Indian development team is not only in a different time zone than the German project team, but also approaches the work differently. This cultural level is on top of the many moving parts of a technology implementation.
Do you see any fundamental differences between American software/system design and those designed by non-American vendors?
It might be something seemingly innocuous as mailing labels or something more integral, such as the processing of foreign currency or VAT taxes, but‘internationalizing’ a technology solution can be a complicated affair. It’s more than just toggling the language of the labels in the software. But if the solution is solving a real problem, it doesn’t matter where it’s made. I think some of the best opportunities for technology right now are in healthcare – a problem (in some form or another) shared by countries the world over.
How much cross-cultural background and language skills does a project leader need to lead a technology implementation overseas?
Maybe somewhat playful, but I’ve caught a lot of ‘nuances’ (for a lack of a better term) in situations where English was being spoken and I did not advertise the fact that I understood the native language or lived the culture. For me that would be German. The point being that English truly is the language of international business, but the networking, feedback…etc. might not be. It certainly does not hurt to walk and talk the talk.
Are there dangers of coming into a project unprepared?
Besides wanting to be prepared, here is where I invoke my “gray man” theory. Put another way; fly under the radar…in the beginning. No one likes the new guy who comes in with guns blazing (cue images of a Wild West saloon shootout.) No matter how much is put in print on the science behind the black art that project management is, it’s still an art with its many subtleties. Then layer different project methodologies, cultural differences and languages on top. Watch, listen…your time will come.
One tip for taking your technology international?
Taking anything international takes consideration and planning. Just like any other important strategic initiative, don’t do it part time. As this Fast Company article suggests, assign a dedicated resource(s) to lead the charge.
Thank you, Sean, and safe travels to you!