CSIPER grows multinational business faster with help of videoconferencing

Johannesburg, 13 Sept 1999

South Africa`s leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) consultancy is growing its multinational operations with the help of videoconferencing.

Earlier this year, CSIPER Consulting, which is headquartered in Pretoria, set what South Africa`s largest business daily, Business Report, claims is a local record for an information technology consultancy contract with a deal worth at least $10 million (about R63 million). The contract calls for CSIPER to provide SAP R/3 implementation and training services to a Fortune 500 company in the USA.

"In recent years we have been involved in major projects in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region as well as throughout South Africa," says CSIPER founder and CEO Hans Visser. "One of our biggest problems has been to supply an adequate level of support."

At the crux of this issue is the fact that high-level knowledge is thinly spread.

"With a product like SAP (enterprise resource management software), an extremely wide spectrum of knowledge is required to use it properly. It would take one person maybe 20 years to learn all its modules. For any company to be able to provide wall-to-wall SAP knowledge requires many consultants who are knowledgeable about the different modules.

"At a major project site, you may need to have access to all this knowledge, but you may need an average of only 10 minutes a day from one particular specialist. It would, of course, be ruinously expensive to have this expert waiting around on site to do only 10 minutes work a day. What we needed was a method to make his or her knowledge available wherever and whenever it was required."

The best solution CSIPER has found so far is videoconferencing.

"We are working on perfecting it, but have already reached the situation where videoconferencing is helping us on two levels," says Visser. "The first level is knowledge sharing. All the best knowledge in our company can be made available to all of our clients very quickly. We are installing videoconferencing terminals at each of our major clients. For instance, we have a large team working on a project in Kansas City and I speak to our client there via videoconferencing at least once a week; other specialists in the company do so as often as they need to.

"Importantly, this is not just about communication. Use of videoconferencing enables people to do application sharing, meaning they can log on to each others systems and take over the input screens from the other side of the world. The value of this to hands-on problem solving is immense."

Videoconferencing is also enhancing organisational management, he says. "We are a flat organisation with people based in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, London, New York and elsewhere. All these people have to be communicated with and linked into our administrative and management systems, appraisals, etc. While much can be accomplished with e-mail, there are times when we need to talk interactively. Videoconferencing has provided us with a solution here as well."

On the matter of return on investment (ROI), Visser cautions against simplistic analyses. "One of the most hyped advantages of videoconferencing is cost-savings on air tickets, hotel accommodation and other travel expenses. In fact these are minor compared with the opportunity cost of having to get a group of highly paid experts in once place at one time.

"What happens in the real world is that we just do not meet because the actual cost of having to meet physically in one location is horrific. We have experience that enables us to make a direct comparison. We had a large team in Sydney, Australia for 18 months. We did not meet regularly with them, and this had a negative effect on our ability to deliver quality service, share knowledge and handle issues on the ground.

"The team currently working in Kansas City is about the same size and we have much greater contact now because we meet via videoconferences. In other words, videoconferencing enables us to hold meetings that previously we just could not afford."