It’s international consulting or nothing

Bahrain. Ever hear of it? It’s a small island-state in the Persian Gulf that sent the first Arab woman to the Olympics and, very sadly, was also the site of a recent plane crash.

What does this have to do with IT? Some of my prospective clients are meeting there and, like the deranged imbecile that I am, I signed up my team to be part of the vendor show, and I volunteered to give a presentation. My wife called the doctor when I told her.

My company has a service offering that is unique to the airline industry and, since most countries don’t have more than a couple of airlines, that business line relies on international consulting or nothing. The association holding the conference thought it would be fun for people to fly 15 hours to an exotic locale. Reno and Nevada have deserts; I don’t see why we couldn’t have gone there. A friend thinks it’s because Bahrain has, apparently, fabulous duty free.

Despite jetlag, international IT is here to stay. It was obvious this was happening before the Internet. And Canadians had better think globally instead of just complaining about the Americans and dreaming about what it would be like to work in France or Britain. But what do you do to prepare to meet with and secure international clients? Here’s what I’m going to do to prepare for Bahrain:

– Keep my negative views about American politics and culture to myself since most of the delegates will be ‘mericans, eh. They outnumber us 10 to one, and they have nuclear weapons.

– Be proud of being Canadian by way of poking fun at Canadian politics, culture and – more importantly – our country’s business environment. For example, I met recently with a European CEO of a Canadian company. Her experiences led her to conclude that, when seeking investment money from Canadian sources, you will be asked why you are starting the business, not how you will enact your business plan.

– Stay focused on not letting geographic issues become barriers to success.

– Listen harder, because the way our team has solved problems for clients in the past may not work for clients of the future.

– Stick to basic business issues.

All institutions, those that are neither government nor non-profit, are in business to return value to the shareholders. It’s an old story and arguably has led to some outstandingly unethical decisions (e.g. the Ford Pinto and marketing to children by the tobacco industry). Nevertheless, have you noticed that people want computers to actually either make them a heap of money or to save them a lot of money? Strangely even the most monolithic companies ask, “What has the IT department done for me lately?”

Therefore I must distract the prospects, keeping them from wondering if a bunch of back-woods Canadians can actually do the work. I must show them how the services we offer will actually reduce cost or increase revenue. If they show interest, then the support hurdle has to be dealt with.

“How do we support the system after you’ve been paid and go back to your igloo?” The answer to this is local support. My plan is to create alliances with local IT providers. For example, if I had a system in Italy I’d go shopping for an Italian support group that the client approved and I could trust.

We have to realize that because we live in a country with a small population and economy we have to try harder to be recognized as true innovators, not just polite Canadians.

I’ll keep you posted.

Ford is an international consultant from Vancouver with no sense of time or space. He can be reached at