ERP for the Asian way of Business

CEO of iContro Software, Frank Lee, has pointed out the advantages of being an Asian-made ERP provider to companies that are based in Asia. He understands that robustness is a key factor in the success of an ERP or enterprise resource planning solution, and the Asian business landscape is conducive for the development of ERP software that is scalable, resilient and flexible.

In fact, iContro Group was established since 1995 with the vision that ERP solutions that are based on the Asian way of doing things, “Asian Business Culture”, will dominate the future global ERP market.

This is because the Asian business culture is more demanding and requires much larger systems in terms of variety of features and options in order to keep up with manufacturing operations in this part of the world. The ERP solution for this kind of environment has to be robust and agile enough to accommodate a consumer market that prioritises variety, continuous introduction of new products as well as rapid revolution of products.

“iContro ERP is designed based on this Asian way of doing business,” Lee explained.

He also believed that iContro’s TUV-Certified Delivery Model also allows them to leapfrog over their larger, international competitors who on average are twice iContro’s age. Being TUV-certified, also means iContro’s customers can go to market faster, due to easier recognition, acknowledgement and acceptance in the different markets they go to.

The added benefit of being one of the first ERP vendors to be TUV-certified, sees iContro being able to compete with the likes of global vendors like SAP and Oracle.

The iContro advantage

Having a primary focus on the manufacturing-based sector also gives iContro the unique advantage of working with Asian manufacturers; a majority of whom have a reputation of very strict adherence to global standards, while being very cost-conscious at the same time.

In fact, Lee opined that Asian manufacturers dominate the world, and he viewed India as being the next super manufacturing power house to emerge from this region.

Lee also shared, “It is still pretty common to hear companies that are not happy with their existing ERP investments, particularly ERP from Western vendors.” The CEO who is also the creator of iContro’s solution, actually views Western solutions as being in total contrast to Asian solutions –  rule-based and high-cost.

His own engagement with customers and potential customers is a long-term partnership, that is based on mutual trust. This is evidenced by the stable of companies that have been using iContro solutions since it first began 20 years ago.

“Also, there is no such thing as standard best practices, as promoted by some ERP players. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, because practices vary according to company, core competencies, nature of business, nature and education level of workforce, product strategy, target market, operating environment for both SME and large enterprises.”

One would think that iContro systems solutions are customisable, but Lee opined that customisations contribute to higher cost. What iContro offers instead is a wide collection of tested business models with over 1800 ready reports templates.

“Our customers continue to adopt process enhancements and system upgrades since our inception 20 years ago!”

Lee also shared the strong opinion about why any ERP investments fail. “Companies are forced to adapt to an ERP software’s way of operating. One crucial factor I’ve learned; you cannot simply take US- or Europe-based ERP business models to literally replace your internal operating models.”

This leads to too much customisations, which is a key factor why a majority of ERP implementations are not up to the task.

All enhancements of iContro solutions are also done by iContro themselves, a key prerequisite to be certified for safety and quality by TUV Rheinland Group which is a 140 year-old global leader in independent testing and assessment services.

Lee emphasised, “Third-parties are not allowed to customise our ERP solutions for our customers and all our engagements are direct. Other vendors would allow third-party to deliver customisations and enhancements, however.”

The opportunity

Because of these glaring shortcomings, Lee views that in Malaysia and Singapore, a majority of ERP businesses are opportunities to swop out an existing ERP solution that simply isn’t working the way that it should. “Most Malaysian companies are on their second or third ERP solution,” Lee pointed out.

“ERP doesn’t have to be expensive. Generally it is, with unpredictable total cost of investment due to customisations and exchange rate factors.

“iContro’s unique TUV-certified delivery model coupled with our low R&D cost in Malaysian Ringgit and India Rupee, means that we just like other Asian-based enterprises, are able to provide ERP solutions at much lower cost and with more advanced technologies.”

Top ERP trends in Malaysia

According to Lee, the universal objective of R&D for ERP technology providers like iContro, is to explore and develop new business technologies to continuously improve customers’ competitive advantage.

So, it isn’t just a vendor-customer relationship that propels the business forward, but a close partnership and in-depth collaboration to meet mutual business goals. “Our clients have been growing with us since our inception two decades ago, with some of them becoming large enterprises, both locally and internationally,” Lee shared.

Because of iContro’s unique position in the local ERP market as not just a solution vendor but a business partner, Lee has discerned the following trends: 1. Automation is no longer an option 2. Increased adoption of ERP because of SME vertical expansion and 3. Large enterprises are right-sizing their ERP investments particularly from the cost perspective.

The need to fully automate has become highly critical, and iContro’s new acquisitions are actually companies that haven’t been able to successfully implemented ERP to their manufacturing activities.

“Due to Asia’s complicated and diverse way of operating, automating manufacturing activities has been an uphill task. But it is one of our key competencies.”

The 22 year old company’s R&D focus has primarily been on manufacturing solutions for both discrete and process-based industries, and over the years they have gained the experience to enable optimum manufacturing environments for both extended cost controls as well as higher production volume and market expansion.

Lee also foresees increased ERP adoption among SMEs due to them expanding their size and capabilities. “Generally, during depressed market times, champions among the SME segment will be born because they are focused, small, agile and aggressive!” he said.

Future plans and Mintech

With office presence in Singapore an Sri Lanka, the future is bright and iContro already has put in place, plans to expand to India and China. A Chinese language version of its ERP solution is due out in 2019.

In preparation for the future, Lee has also coined the name for the manufacturing version to Fintech. Instead of technologies for the financial sector (Fintech), Mintech is about technologies for the manufacturing sector, and it comprises of Industrial Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

iContro’s research and development revolves around business intelligence, machine intelligence and mobility solutions.

With huge emphasis on AI and automation, Lee predicts future manufacturing to be based on outsourced models, and the use of smaller factories that are purpose-specific and component-focused.

Companies would find themselves having to answer critical questions like where to manufacture components and who to outsource the job to, depending on manufacturer commitments and the nature of products they already make.

“The future of manufacturing involves critical decision-making and because of the volume and speed of data that comes in; automatic decision-making; which may be costly if not done carefully,” Lee opined.

In essence, the ERP system would be the main machine that brings all the required information together to derive the insights that answer these questions companies need to answer very soon.