Working across borders is something most of us do every day. We collaborate with colleagues around the globe, and we court customers a world away. The AV industry in particular has a borderless mindset. After all, it’s not uncommon for large customers to have a presence in dozens of countries.
Operating a global digital signage network once it’s set up can be quite straightforward. But the act of creating a global deployment is a complex undertaking with variables and challenges that, if not anticipated ahead of time, can wreak havoc on the deployment schedule and blow the budget in no time.
Major Global Challenges
Anticipating and managing through potential pitfalls and challenges makes all the difference when it comes to successfully deployed global projects. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common challenges and how to avoid them.
Shipping to International Destinations
If you’ve ever shipped a holiday gift to a friend or relative overseas, you know that shipping items internationally can be tricky. Now, multiply that complexity by the number of products being shipped and the number of international destinations. Then layer on top of that the relevant customs fees, duties and the calculation of taxes at the destination municipality — you now have a real challenge on your hands.
What’s more, any missteps or misrepresentations could result in significant delay, or even having the shipment returned to the sender. Onsite work can’t begin until the equipment is delivered, so ensuring timely delivery is essential to a project’s success.
Country-Specific Requirements for Hardware Procurement
As a general rule, countries like to protect the financial health of business entities within their borders. This means you can’t simply ship everything to the job site and send your team to complete the installation. It’s not uncommon for countries to require you to contract with local businesses to purchase hardware for the installation. While you can typically hire local labor to complete the work, hardware will usually need to be purchased from a local distributor — which, of course, means giving them a few points of margin for their trouble — and from there they deliver to the site for installation.
On principle, this makes good business sense for the country where the work is being done. It’s reasonable for that particular country to support local businesses, but the practice increases the cost and complexity of the project.
Working with Landlords and Building Management
So you’ve spent months negotiating an international deal and you finally have all the stakeholders on board, budget approved and a PO in place. Under normal circumstances the hard work is behind you, but you’d be wrong to think that you’re in the home stretch. Once you have client approval on that project, you’ll quickly learn the complexity of working with local landlords and building managers.
Rather than wait until the deal is in place, have the client reach out to whomever manages the building ahead of time and invest in this relationship — this will set your project up for success, and having these key stakeholders on your side from the beginning may come in handy down the road if and when you encounter some of the situations described below.
Contracting with Country-Specific IT Support
This is where things really get interesting and drawn out. Depending on the municipality, sometimes using local IT staff is required. Even when it’s not, chances are it’s not cost-effective to fly a crew thousands of miles to complete an installation. Additionally, your IT needs will extend beyond the initial deployment to include ongoing support and maintenance. So it’s advantageous to have local IT support to help whenever onsite work is needed.
That said, working with local staffers can (and often does) lead to lengthy delays. Not having close proximity to these vendors may lead to games of “telephone” during which phone calls are made and messages are exchanged, often with delays of days or even weeks in between. Throw in the added complexity of third-party organizations who contract out the work, and it can be nearly impossible to get a timely response to even the simplest of requests.
Once the work (finally) gets underway, additional roadblocks may appear unexpectedly. I’m reminded of a situation that transpired with a job in Spain not long ago. We jumped through all the hoops to line up an independent, local contractor to complete the installation, which included hanging screens and running wires overhead. This particular installation took place in a major metropolitan area where public transportation was the only viable way to get around. And because the contractor had taken the bus to the job site, he only brought some essential tools and a small four-foot ladder because that’s all he could carry with him on the bus.
Whether he thought a short ladder would do the trick, or if he expected the facility would already have taller ladders onsite, is beside the point — what it meant is the work was not completed on the first visit, and so began the extended process of scheduling a return visit and arranging to have ladders and any other bulky equipment waiting for him when he arrived.
In hindsight, the whole situation was a bit humorous, but at the time it caused unnecessary, frustrating delays. Lesson learned — it’s now part of our SOP to proactively share a full equipment list (including tools the installer may not think to bring) with the vendor well in advance to avoid situations like these.
Onboarding and Training Local Staff
Getting a project up and running is typically not the end game — in some respects, the work is just beginning. Now comes the all-important step of onboarding the client’s local staff, whether that’s a simple tutorial of basic troubleshooting, or a more in-depth primer on updating and managing content if the client chooses to manage that aspect locally. This can be done remotely via videoconference and provides a reasonable solution to get local staff trained. All too often, the onsite tech is not going to be capable of training a client on anything but what they just installed and how it is wired.
Working internationally is often a goal of any growing business. Looking back on the early days, we were enticed by the prospect of scaling clients globally — not just for the revenue potential, but for the prestige that comes with running a global operation. We eventually grew our global business and today, we do work with hundreds of companies in dozens of countries. But accomplishing this was far more complicated than we anticipated. The challenges outlined above — and countless others not listed — were hard-earned lessons we learned along the way about global operations. I share them with you not to deter you or detract from the allure of international work, but to encourage those of us in the industry to not underestimate the global challenges of working across borders.
Darryl Kuder is president, Red Dot Digital Media.
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