This article by Stephanie Clifford describes some of the difficulties U.S. companies face when they decide to do business with the rest of the world. She focuses primarily on the problems of international shipping. A company has a product and an overseas customer wants to buy it. Sounds like an ideal situation, right? Unfortunately, it can be a huge headache. There are many areas where serving international customers can be a challenge. For example, the ordering system. A company that never envisioned international markets probably didn't set up its systems to manage different address and phone formats, salutations, honorifics and languages and diverse shipping options. To give you an idea of how troublesome this can be, here are three different address formats for three different countries:
The American Church in Paris
65 quai d'Orsay
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 62 05 00
Lycée Franco-Japonais de Tokyo / 日仏学園
1-2-43 Fujimi Chiyoda-ku / 1-2-43 富士見 千代田区
102-0071 Tokyo / 東京 102-0071
Téléphone : +81 (0)3 3261 0137 / Télécopie : +81 (0)3 3262 6780
USASmith Tower Management
506 Second Avenue, Suite 1021
Seattle, Washington 98104
Telephone (206) 622-4004
Facsimile (206) 622-9357
Now you might think that in a globalized world companies would have designed these systems to be global from the very beginning. That presumes that the company had international in mind right from the start and had the foresight to see how it would grow and move into other markets. Even today, there are a lot of small national companies with modest ambitions that don't think about this. As Kennedy once said, "There is always some poor guy that doesn't get the memo." As for older companies, some of their systems are ancient (in IT terms), very fragile and not easy to change. I've been in places with systems that were built by people who long ago moved on to other things or retired and they left no documentation behind them. Fine way to get revenge if you are at odds with your company because by the time they figure it out, you will be long gone and you can watch them suffer from a safe distance.
The only bone I have to pick with the article is that it gives the impression that this is a U.S. problem. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It' s a problem everywhere even in Europe. Not too long ago I interviewed with a small French multi-national and these folks were tearing their hair out over this. They didn't even have a common customer or product database for the X number of countries they were selling to in the Euro-zone. Amazing but true.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why IT people are so important. If you want systems that enable you to sell and ship anywhere, anytime, anyplace, then you have to talk to us. :-)