IT travels in China
But won’t be imported
WHEN Miles Kubheka, marketing director at nVisionIT, was asked to travel to China with the Department of Trade & Industry to explore South African exporting opportunities for the company, he was rightly sceptical. “You want me to sell rice to the Chinese?”
nVisionIT is a Microsoft custom developer and integrator, with 50 staff and a turnover of R30m. The IT company was the only one in the 100-strong delegation in a range of industries in the DTI trade visit at the time of the Beijing Olympics. It was undertaken to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the SA-China bi-lateral trade pact.
Says Kubheka: “It’s very difficult to sell information technology – particularly nVisionIT’s brand of IT – to the Chinese. For starters, they don’t respect intellectual property rights at all: packaged products are a waste of time. You’ll be ripped off. But I decided to stay open-minded and went on the trip. Even if I didn’t sell anything at least I could learn from China.”
Kubheka was particularly impressed with the speed at which things happen in China, which he discovered by accident. First, a broken laptop in Hong Kong forced him to procure the services of a “downtown” outfit to fix things. He risked voiding his warranty. Going the official route would have cost him two weeks and as SA’s only IT representative, appearing without a computer would hardly be auspicious. However, an overnight overhaul in one of Hong Kong’s thousands of techie shops fixed the problem. (The laptop is still working; no word about its warranty.)
Then at the end of one trade show – the delegation exhibited in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing over a two-week period – all of the nVisionIT stand’s material was trashed, including banners and brochures. “In the end I had reprinted everything and got it back the same day before 5pm. In SA it was a threeweek process to get the stuff made, with numerous mistakes. It was also a third of the cost. In fact, next time I’d have everything made over there and not have to lug all the material from SA,” says Kubheka.
The exhibitions themselves proved insightful. “You get three types of people attending. The first I’d like to call the grannies. All they do is pick up brochures and flyers. I can only imagine those old ladies then go and recycle them for profit. When you run out of promotional material on the first day you learn to spot them quickly. Apart from the grannies the place crawls with import/ export agencies. The Chinese sell to you, not you to them.”
The SA delegate who had by far the most success was an African curio seller – beadwork and bangles. The only others who made headway with SA export contracts were the minerals and resources companies, says Kubheka. “To sell software into China you have to be very niche – perhaps high-end mining software will find buyers.
“While trawling the web looking for solutions to a faulty piece of equipment I bought (many others in the delegation also found iPhones bought there wouldn’t last more than three days) I stumbled upon a web assistant. It starts out as a bot (automated web robot), but your problem can then be escalated and a human can then operate as your web assistant.”
Kubheka says nVisionIT has already started to develop similar technology for the SA market. “It wasn’t all one-way business.”
Selling rice to the Chinese. Miles Kubheka