Now that WeChat has more than 100 million overseas subscribers, Tencent, China’s leading web content provider, faces a new challenge: improving the experience of its customers outside of China. Steep rises in content consumption — largely driven by the increasing use of mobile devices to access services and information — represent a significant opportunity for content companies like WeChat to go global. To achieve this, Tencent has made positive steps in boosting its investment in data centers and networking outside of China.
To improve its user experience in the rest of Asia, Tencent recently announced that it will colocate one data center in Hong Kong and has chosen Equinix to operate it. This is already the second node that Tencent has built outside of mainland China; the first was implemented in Canada to serve North American users.
As an Internet company that operates its own large data centers in mainland China, Tencent has deep experience in data center construction and management and has leveraged this experience to develop best practices and key criteria for data center provider selection. These include:
Networking and interconnection options. As Tencent intends to rapidly expand its business into more countries, it needs carrier-neutral data center providers to offer the necessary connectivity options. For its Hong Kong implementation, Tencent used Equinix to optimize transit routes to achieve lower latency and better connect users inside and outside of mainland China; the data center provider can access multiple networks and peer with members of the Equinix Internet Exchange.
I’ve just returned from SAP’s 2013 SAPPhire China user conference; with more than 17,000 attendees, it’s still the largest SAP event on the planet. The vendor has recently launched new offerings, like HANA enterprise cloud and extended ERP solutions for new industries; it has also extended its China strategy by announcing SAP Anywhere, a bundle of cloud-enabled mobile CRM services, which it has just begun piloting here.
At the event, clients presented their feedback on SAP services, particularly rapid deployment solution (RDS) services. Ever since their launch two years ago, SAP has extended RDS services to more than 150 software applications. The RDS concept aims to provide everything out of one box; clients buy a bundle of application and implementation services. RDS services have brought tangible benefits to clients that want to quickly start their SAP journey or begin with pilot implementations before going for a full-scale rollout.
However, RDS does not apply to all SAP application implementations; it primarily depends on the client usage scenario. Forrester believes that RDS will not be an attractive choice in a few instances:
Large enterprises using SAP core ERP systems as a mission-critical application. Large enterprises normally make huge investments in these projects. Their primary focus is not on saving time or money; instead, their top priority is ensuring that the project is a complete success and that all functionality is rock-solid: well-developed and thoroughly tested. RDS services, which can cover up to 80% of ERP system functionality, may not be the best choice in this scenario. We’ve seen this happen in China and Southeast Asia time and time again over the past two years.
Chinese manufacturers are repositioning. They’re willing to invest more in improving their core competencies, like R&D and design capabilities, by using outsourcing providers that have successfully served foreign peer companies in the same industry. They must dedicate all their resources — including internal IT systems and solutions like ERP — to meeting this goal.
We recently published a case study on Tagal, a joint venture of ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe and Angang Steel in China. The company was finding it difficult to face up to new business challenges; not only was its infrastructure aging, but its original outsourcing services agreement was constraining business development.
To solve these problems, Tagal changed its sourcing strategy and successfully migrated its ERP system to an Itanium x86 platform to accelerate business processes. The resulting ERP efficiencies enabled employees to process orders and reports twice as fast as before. This has improved Tagal’s relationships with its customers, which are some of the world’s largest automakers. Tagal also reduced its total cost of ownership by 20% in the first nine months alone, primarily due to the simplified sourcing strategy.
How did Tagal achieve these tangible outcomes? It redesigned its service contract and employed three key principles when re-evaluating vendors:
Modifying sourcing governance. Tagal drew on lessons that it learned from 10 years of outsourcing. Its new service provider contract contains more penalty terms; for instance, the provider now must refund the outsourcing fee in any month in which it does not fix two system errors within an agreed time period.
SAP officially started its first business operations in 1995 in China. Prior to that, several Chinese end-user organizations like Shanghai Machine Tool Works Ltd. tried to implement SAP through partners based outside China. Through discussions with CIOs who have experience in such projects, all agree that these early SAP projects did not meet expectations. During this first decade of SAP in China (1995-2005), aka the 1st wave of SAP implementations in China, many SAP projects either failed outright or continued to fall short of expectations, primarily due to shortage of local SAP skills and cultural misalignment. China is not a unique in Asia and early adopters in Indonesia and Thailand faced similar challenges since the early 2000s.
As Chinese organizations continue to rapidly grow their activities, one of their major IT challenges is shifting from legacy to more standard information systems – and SAP solutions remain a key option in this shift. But today, experienced CIOs are also setting more realistic expectations regarding business outcomes for these SAP projects. For instance, they now consider SAP as a tool to automate some of their organization’s business processes rather than misinterpret it as a primary mechanism to drive revenue growth or improve profitability – which was a rather common misconception in the past. Chinese organizations have also modified their views on external service providers and are now much more open to leveraging these providers to bring additional value to their SAP implementation projects.
On June 6, iSoftStone announced plans to make the company a wholly owned subsidiary of China Asset Management Co., Ltdand delist from the U.S. stock market. This is the fifth IT services (ITS) provider headquartered in China to announce plans to go private in the past 9 months. The others were Yucheng Technology, AsiaInfo-Linkage, Camelot and Pactera.
Why are these firms going private? Despite ambitious global growth plans, Chinese ITS providers have largely failed to articulate a compelling value proposition to U.S. and European clients. By focusing mainly on low-end application development services they have instead primarily competed with much bigger and much more experienced Indian providers – but without the ability to offer lower costs. In fact, the average profitability of Chinese ITS providerswent down from 10-15% to less than 5% over the past 2 years, when most large Indian firms are in the 15-25% range. Going private will give these5companies a chance to transform their current model relieved from the quarterly pressure to meet Wall Street analyst expectations.
Existing and potential customers of these ITS providers may have concerns seeing these providers going private, particularly regarding overall company transparency, including financial strength and corporate governance. I believe clients will have to balance their concerns against the potential benefits that going private may deliver, which include:
China’s GDP growth slowed to 7.7% in Q1 2013. While below market expectations, this growth rate still ensures strong continued IT spending, as local organizations seek to meet ongoing demand for products and services. At the same time, we expect Chinese government stimulus packages to drive increased consumer demand, particularly in the retail, supply chain, and banking industries. Chinese organizations wishing to capitalize on these opportunities are currently seeking ways to transform their business and decision-making processes and broaden their product portfolios. This, in turn, has driven increased interest in third-party service providers as organizations seek to augment limited (or, in some cases, nonexistent) internal IT capabilities.
Recently I spoke with IT managers at two local Chinese companies; they shared their recent experience with third-party service providers.
A top 5 Chinese insurance company worked with multiple service providers to strengthen its CRM data mining and analysis capabilities. While this company started its CRM implementation project in early 2006, it still had limited capabilities to manage fast-growing customer data, which was essential given the increased presence of foreign insurance companies in the local market. In response, the company sourced application development and modernization services from Accenture, primarily to define a data architecture and deliver analysis capabilities. With these new functions added to their existing CRM systems, the company enhanced customer data analysis capabilities, grew related sales, and improved customer experience/loyalty.
Over the past three years, multinational companies’ (MNCs’) approach to outsourcing in China has steadily matured as they seek to leverage broader outsourcing models and source from a combination of global providers and local Chinese providers.
In my latest report, Lessons Learned From Outsourcing In China: Part 2, I analyze the key outsourcing trends and approaches to help sourcing and vendor management (SVM) professionals at MNCs select the right local outsourcing suppliers. As part of this analysis, I’ve highlighted the main service capabilities of local Chinese vendors broken down by service model and profile the different types of service providers that currently operate in China.
Key findings from the report include:
MNCs are adopting sophisticated outsourcing approaches in China. Many MNCs are shifting away from a pure global service provider approach to a broader shortlist that also includes Chinese providers. SVM professionals at MNCs appreciate local providers’ broader geographic coverage, lower outsourcing cost and more flexible service deliverables.
MNCs are also diversifying their outsourcing requirements. After signing the first wave of outsourcing contracts in the past five to 10 years, MNCs are becoming increasingly comfortable considering more sophisticated outsourcing contracts, such as best-of-breed selection, vertical outsourcing, etc.
Local outsourcing service providers are continually improving their capabilities. To approach more MNC clients in China, local providers have enhanced their geographic coverage in remote cities, accelerated consolidations, recruited senior talent for improved depth at key positions and aggressively recruited fresh graduates to manage costs.
On November 2 in Shanghai, Microsoft announced the availability of Office 365 and Windows Azure services for customers in mainland China; both have been available in Hong Kong for several years. Through its collaboration with 21Vianet Group and HiSoft (now part of PactEra, a merger of HiSoft and VanceInfo), Microsoft is the first multinational vendor to provide public cloud services in mainland China delivered through onshore cloud infrastructure.
Under the agreement, Microsoft has authorized 21Vianet Group, which has a “value-added telecommunications service” license, to operate Office 365 and Windows Azure in China. This is critical to Microsoft’s overall strategy in China, as only Chinese companies qualify for this government license, which is normally issued by ministry or provincial bureaus of MIIT (the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology). Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft is sharing cloud services revenue with 21Vianet Group and in exchange is able to leverage 21Vianet Group’s license to operate cloud data centers in China.
Microsoft’s entrance into the public cloud services market in China will affect both local and multinational cloud services/technology vendors in a number of ways:
Government regulations restricting multinational companies from offering public cloud services in China are gradually loosening. We expect other multinational cloud providers to follow Microsoft’s approach of partnering with a local service provider that has the “value-added telecommunications services” license. The government’s primary objective with this license is to protect local providers and stimulate onshore cloud infrastructure investments, and this goal is met through partnerships like this.
On August 10, rival IT outsourcers hiSoft and VanceInfo announced their intention to merge. The resulting entity will comprise a much bigger organization, with more than 20,000 employees mainly located in China, making it one of the largest IT services vendors in the country. In another recent example of market consolidation, BeyondSoft announced on August 18 that it would acquire six Chinese and Japanese subsidiaries of Achievo, a US-based offshore IT services provider.
Over the next 18 months, we believe that IT services vendors in China will face increasing price and margin pressure driven by rapidly increasing local labor costs. The days of relying on low labor costs to drive business in the US, Europe, and Japan are numbered. Chinese IT services vendors are being forced to evolve from a cost-based to a business value-based approach. As a result, we expect the Chinese IT services market to consolidate over the next 18 to 24 months as vendors seek ways to improve their organizational and operational maturity.
The challenges hiSoft and VanceInfo will face after the merger are indicative of broader market pressures, including:
An increased capacity to better compete in large deals. As separate entities, hiSoft and VanceInfo both faced significant challenges when bidding on large-scale outsourcing projects with a total contract value of more than $50 million. With this merger, we expect the newly formed organization to gain better access to these deals as they become more visible to MNCs. However, the new company will still be small by Indian offshore standards.
I would like to take couple of minutes to introduce myself and the research topics I’m working on. I came to Forrester through the acquisition of Springboard Research and specialize in helping Vendor Strategy Professionals understand trends in IT services and outsourcing in Greater China.
With my latest research paper, “Driving Outsourcing Success In China,” I want to help vendors raise awareness on the Chinese outsourcing market, which will grow at 17% CAGR over the next five years. Nonetheless, entering this lucrative market will pose several challenges for international newcomers. In my research, vendor strategists will find insights about:
Introduction to the market dynamics with drivers and inhibitors.
Possible go-to-market approaches for outside vendors entering into China's IT services market.
I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to share your own experiences and ideas with me. Are there other questions that you would like me to address in my upcoming research?