"Harnessing full potential of Internet technologies requires radical changes in workflow, management practices"
Madanmohan Rao interviews Cyril Pereira, founder, Telesis Consulting, Hong Kong
Cyril Pereira is founder and managing director of Telesis Consulting Ltd (TCL), a consultancy firm focusing on strategic management and implementation of start-up joint ventures in China, mainly in digital media. He has 33 years of newspaper and magazine publishing experience in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, especially in the area of technology integration.
Cyril was formerly director of newspaper operations of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and was on the board of the Bangkok Post. He is currently deputy chairman of The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) which includes all the major international media with Asian editions.
Q: What is your assessment of the current dotcom bust and general IT
All excess is unsustainable. The combination of VC greed, fund manager collusion, hype from investment analysts and the lemmings on the street, brought the house down. It also made some bright, otherwise useful talent get misdirected into get-rich-quick schemes.
However, it is a mistake to reject the fundamental impact that digital communications will have on the entire business landscape of the 21st century.
Q: What is your vision of what the Net can offer for a country like India?
Though not familiar with the Indian context specifically, I think the potential for bringing computer literacy to rural schools and broadening access to information, nation-wide, is tremendous.
Given the limited fixed-line telecommunications infrastructure, the value of satellite links with mobile telephones, SMS, WAP functionalities are obvious.
Q: What are the Top Three challenges facing traditional companies today in the
business technology sector?
The first is getting traditional managers to see that the Net economy is not about Web sites and e-commerce, i.e. some 'foreign' activity of no value to their everyday business.
The second is the challenge to creatively exploit digital communication to add value to relationships in the supply chain, marketing chain and internal communications.
Third is the creative destruction necessary, of the existing organisation structures, to re-shape leadership and focus highly adaptive human capital for the chaos that is morphing traditional market and competitive boundaries.
Q: What was the founding vision behind your company?
I created TCL after a 33-year career in media across Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The entire philosophy is around the indivisible parallel worlds of real life and digital leveraging of relationships and communication.
I have carved out my own niche, have a high reputation in the media sector regionally to access the chairmen and CEOs familiar with my track-record, and have little competition. The big boys are full of spreadsheet slaves with little hands-on ability!
Q: What are the Top Three technology trends that we should be looking out for in cyberspace for the immediate term?
The first is the integrated, Web-based realtime information flows, connecting the internal activity of the business with its external environment and relationships. While there is spotty software for bits and pieces of such collaborative sharing (functionally-focused), a re-shaping of the organisation and a consciously designed, integrated information flow is necessary to truly leverage it.
The second is the upgrading of e-marketing technology from the basic text and attachments that are browser and PC-apps dependent, to true, compressed, rich-media e-mail with embedded software necessary to open at the receiver PC. This is already a reality waiting for the end-user communication skills to exploit it. The vitality of such e-marketing is built on realtime tracking of recipient behaviour and response, to build profiling and to enable transactions where appropriate.
The third is dynamic realtime pricing models in e-business that allow the consumer to mix-and-match B-to-B or B-to-C purchases from a menu of offerings, that can be directly transacted. There are too many fixed pricing models that do not cater for consumer-defined requirements.
I do not make any apologies for not getting excited by technology for technology's sake. I tire of the latest great idea. I wait for the fundamentals to be put right in the real world with the digital promise.
Q: Do traditional media need to fear dotcoms and portals any more? Are
traditional media adapting well to the Net?
The greatest impact on the traditional media have been the posting of news content for free and the globalisation of job recruitment at very low cost to advertisers. This has resulted in stagnant circulations in mature markets and migration of national and international job advertising, especially for the IT and finance sectors, to jobsites.
Q: What are the key impacts you see wireless technologies having on news
media? And other businesses?
Wireless and mobile computing enable information 'on the move' in very stunted form. It moved a peoples' revolution in Manila (demonstrations against the former president Estrada), so its power can take unexpected forms in different contexts.
Speed of communication in realtime is possible without physical desktop access. The freedoms of cyberspace communication, liberated from fixed cables, is a powerful combination.
News content on mobile devices can at best be teasers to full-length reports in traditional media.
There are very useful logistics applications for structured SMS on mobile devices, for fleet management and time-critical distribution functions.
Q: How would you rate the Internet competitiveness of companies in the
various Asian countries you operate in?
The opportunities for Internet business development depend on the infrastructure available to support it. This includes the 'brains' available to exploit such infrastructure and the maturity of the banking and e-commerce environment for consumers.
Singapore and Hongkong are the most developed in this respect with high education levels, adequate IT talent, high telecommunications access, developed credit card and smartcard consumerism.
China and Thailand have high mobile phone ownership and usage, due to the poverty of their fixed line infrastructure. WAP applications and SMS functionality have good potential there.
No economy can be of any greater attraction for businesses than its prevailing consumer power. If the rea-world business opportunities are constrained, the Internet dimension is not suddenly going to invent wealth to tap. It will be a mistake to equate technical Internet infrastructure automatically with Internet business opportunities.
But paradoxically, countries with generally poor telecommunications, distribution and wide distances between suppliers and buyers, are finding the Internet medium ideal for B-to-B supply chain efficiencies. The Philippines is a prime example.
And whereas Hongkong and Singapore are well established in Internet infrastructure, they are very compact cities and consumers enjoy ready access to product displays for direct inspection before purchase. The high-density living conditions also encourage family outings to shopping malls regularly rather than e-shopping.
Q: What is your most interesting current project?
The City of Shanghai and the newspaper publishers there have opted to replace the traditional street vendors with modern kiosks. My principal has been granted the contract to supply 2,000 kiosks over the next two years for installation in the pavements of streets throughout Shanghai City.
Phase-2 of the project will connect barcode scanning at the sales points to a back-end database, to track realtime sales patterns by location, time, day of week, etc. that will feed back in a closed loop to the various publishers, to fine-tune print orders and distribution logistics. GPS positioning for the distribution fleet is a consideration to streamline routes and targets, for the very time-critical nature of morning newspaper sales.
When fully implemented, this would be a world model in fully integrated distribution logistics for the newspaper industry. These kiosks are also being considered for other electronic consumer services with external touchscreen facilities (secure) for smartcard access, to book theatre and cinema performances, pay home electricity and water bills, etc.
It is very ambitious and a reflection of Shanghai's determination to rapidly modernise into a world-class city. Go to www.qumbet.com for a flavour of the kiosk designs!
Q: What advice/recommendations/tips do you have for Internet entrepreneurs
and professionals in India and elsewhere?
The proven consumer Internet business models are classy, creative pornography and dating sites! Amazon, the past darling of the Internet fever, has yet to post break-even, but has success metrics on all fronts and has done all the right things about customer profiling and up-selling.
The opportunities lie in adding digital interactivity to successful real-world businesses, to leverage supply chain efficiencies and client relationships, for targeted profiling and marketing.
It takes a long-term, sober business strategy with solid real-world distribution and fulfillment infrastructure, plus deep pockets, to build a sustainable Internet business. There is no short-cut. Get seasoned business managers on the team.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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