Many companies struggle with expanding their support operation internationally. Many choose to expand their international operations one country at a time, and the support organization usually ends up reporting to the country manager as part of the overall sales organization. As business grows, the likelihood increases that those teams will grow without much planning, coordination or guidance, resulting in under-utilization of some individuals while others are over-extended, leading to employee frustration and attrition. This distributed model is generally viewed as overly expensive and poorly delivering. Certainly it delivers inconsistently across country borders and greatly depends on the support, good will and understanding of the local managers to succeed.
Companies planning global expansion should consider this situation early on and evaluate the benefits and risks of having multiple local organizations vs. having a single centralized operation:
- Consistent customer experience world-wide can be achieved fairly easily through central management.
- Focus on local market requirements should be built into the organization by taking the time to understand the needs of individual market and developing ways to address them
- Flexible deployment of skills – a central organization can shift people to address urgent problems between customers in multiple countries or regions without extensive coordination and turf wars
- Efficient utilization of resources – reduce the need for multiple facilities, labs, training schedules to address every single need, and focus on a centralized operation to
- Redundancy of skills – local organizations tend to acquire critical skills without giving much thought to their ability to utilize them fully. This leads to situations where highly experienced engineers utilize their skills for only a small fraction of the time and are otherwise kept busy doing other work
- Ability to deploy best practices rapidly – local organizations will tend to shy away from investing in best practices or joining initiatives that do not carry immediate benefits, counting on ‘corporate’ or other resources to deliver tools, information and knowledge
The main exposure in a centralized support organization is the need for local variation in delivery. Having a centralized organization that coordinates closely with the local country teams, focuses on understanding their needs and delivering to it can solve the majority of those problems.
Keys to the success of a centralized support organization are on-going executive support and the ability of the the support reporting chain to gain and maintain it through collaboration and execution.