The emissary: innovative Chinese and Japanese market solutions - Yufeng Tan
Every major corporation faces challenges in standardising their internal rules and lines of communication. Yufeng Tan reveals how his company, IntaSect Communications, is pioneering new IT solutions to break down the barriers between idea and implementation across the East Asian corporate landscape.
When talking to Yufeng Tan, founder of the Japanese company IntaSect Communications, the last thing you expect him to raise is his Irish citizenship.
"Maybe I should dye my hair, you know? Old Tan," he laughs. Yet it touches on a subject - a firmly internationalist streak - that has run through Tan's career like a seam through rock.
It's apparent in his company name, evoking as it does themes of collaboration suggested by his Australian-born wife, whose roots in Belfast explain the chief executive's surprising affinity with the Emerald Isle. It's also evidenced in the daily operations of IntaSect, bestriding as it does the Sea of Japan with offices in Tokyo and Osaka, and in China, Chengdu, Shanghai, Gaungzhou and Beijing. Having immigrated to Japan in the 1980s, Tan navigates the cultural landscapes of both countries with enviable ease.
He freely admits that the route to IntaSect being considered an important cultural link between the two countries was circuitous at best.
"First, in order to be a bridge, I had to survive," he says. "I founded my company in Japan in 2000, and I set up my Chengdu office in 2002. It was hard in those days, but the skill set of my company in China was gradually expanding. Yet, after the first five years, I began to realise that the bridge should be my work; it should be my strength."
Although IntaSect boasts considerable expertise in a number of fields, including systems development, consulting and internet advertising, the core of its success lies in its championing of business process-management (BPM) solutions. Based on a management theory conceived by an Israeli business consultant in 1984, its basic tenet involves the connection of all processes and rules within a business through IT solutions, thereby streamlining internal communication. Originally, it was mostly applied to simplify production automation schedules for manufacturers. However, when Tan founded IntaSect in 2000, he quickly realised the value in applying the principles of BPM to other industries.
"In any company, everything is not bound by only one person. Normally, it would be done by a team," explains Tan. "For example, if you want to acquire a new computer, first you have to say to your boss, 'I want to buy a computer'. Well, maybe your boss has the authority to say, 'Okay, if it is under €1,000, I can do that'. However, if it's over €1,000, maybe your boss has to say, 'Okay, I'll have to ask my own superior to about that'.
The problem is that, if your boss changes, your new superior may not know his authority is €1,000. If that business has access to a BPM software platform, you will avoid this sort of confusion."
In 2010, IntaSect became the agent for CORDYS, a BPM platform originally conceived in the Netherlands. The impact on the company's profile in the Sino-Japanese marketplace was profound.
"Of course, there are many BPM platforms," says Tan. "Many companies have BPM solutions, but we have a core competence in this business. We can do the POC (proof of concept) process in a very short time. CORDYS product is excellent, and we have very good team across Japan and China as well.
"The reason is that with our CORDYS solution, we have a very short POC stage. Normally, we only need one week to do POC, which will be very difficult for other companies. What we can show to our clients is not a PPT solution, but a process that can solve the problem for our clients. Instead, we demonstrate our solution's ability to solve the client's problems in real time."
In Japan, the demand for BPM solutions has risen significantly amid the implementation of the 'My Number' law. The new legislation allocates a unique identification number to all Japanese citizens, thereby streamlining the exchange of information regarding individuals between government institutions. The biggest implication the law has for the private sector lies in how these numbers will
be stored by businesses for tax purposes.
"My Number," says Tan, "is very sensitive, private information. If this information was leaked to someone else, the individual or company responsible for storing that information will be punished. The strictest punishment that can be imposed on any individual misusing that data is a prison sentence of up to four years, and a fine of up to two million yen. Therefore, every company that has my number should store it very safely. For the small company, it's very easy to store the numbers for a workforce of five or ten, but for a company that employs 100 people or 500 people, the task becomes more difficult."
Using a combination of the CORDYS platform, the company's sophisticated electronic signature service, IntaSect is enabling clients up and down Japan to integrate the acquisition and storage of their employees' identification numbers into their hiring and redundancy procedures. "So in that case," says Tan, "you can comply with the law to work on this thing, and you can let most of the process be visible and easy to follow."
A significant share of IntaSect's business involves providing similar BPM solutions to Japanese companies operating on the Chinese mainland. The vision of the People's Republic as a bottomless exports market for these clients is belied by the harsh realities that such expatriate businesses face by working in China. "It's not down to technical reasons; it's cultural," Tan says. "Normally, working in both countries is hard - more so in the current political climate. The advantage I have is that I've lived and worked in Japan for about 30 years, but I was born in China. Therefore, I can easily understand the cultural differences between the two. So in that case, IntaSect has a great advantage over its competitors.
"We have about 600 people working for us in China," Tan explains. "We work with several very big Japanese clients in the country, including Toyota and Mitsubishi. For the pure Chinese company however, normally it's very difficult to work with these businesses, as in most cases they don't understand Japanese working practices. Yet we can understand them very easily, since we've been deeply immersed in Japanese culture. At the same time, we are succeeding in attracting local Chinese customers.
A few big Chinese companies, after we worked with them, said 'Okay, your working style is very good, and CORDYS is very good'."
IntaSect's considerable reputation as a trustworthy business partner for companies from both nations is embodied in its recently concluded deal with Baidu.
Tan's company is now the premier agent for Japanese companies that want to advertise on China's go-to search engine. "This arrangement has been very successful because we have the experience in working with corporations from both nations, and because we work very hard in order to maintain the high quality of our internet advertising," he says.
Putting down roots
It is the same disciplined work ethic that pushed Tan into founding IntaSect. "I got my PhD in 1993, at Osaka University," he says. "At that time, I never thought I was capable of being a CEO of a company. I was crazy about programming. I could sit down, find a desk and work for 20 hours." It's not difficult to see that same focus allowing IntaSect to succeed in its ambitions to begin selling to markets across Europe and North America.
Above all, Tan's successes have derived from a justifiable confidence that the work his company does in providing simple solutions to complex problems transcends national differences. "Ultimately, I'm just trying to ask everybody to understand one another," he says. "You don't have to agree with each other, but they have to understand each other, and begin to comprehend why differences exist."