THE BLOG

How Going Digital Can Help Your Business Avoid the Pitfalls of International Expansion

05/06/2014 14:37 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

The tech industry is riding on a wave of optimism, as research shows that investment in new technology is growing at its fastest rate since 2006. Business leaders are focussed on growth, rather than on cost reductions and improving business efficiencies. For businesses large and small, this is about expanding into different markets and exploring new opportunities. Businesses are confident and ambitious: 30% of businesses plan to enter new markets in the next 12 months, and 64% within the next two years.

But even global conglomerates can fail in their overseas expansion, as Tesco learned the hard way when it pulled out of its loss-making US business at a cost of £1.8 billion. Walmart in Germany, Mattel in China - international business blunders are plastered across the Internet. And that's before we've even got started on the translation fails: 'Come alive with Pepsi' translates, I'm told, in Mandarin and Cantonese as 'Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead'; the Coors beer tagline 'Turn it loose' becomes in Spanish 'suffers from diarrhoea'; and the 'Jolly Green Giant' is all the more sinister in Arabic as it translates into 'Intimidating Green Monster'. Now that's not going to make children eat their sweetcorn is it?

Retail giants and green giants aside, many expanding businesses encounter serious and costly pitfalls along the way which seriously impact their success, such as:

• Cultural and language barriers

• Currency exchange issues

• A lack of information on partners, suppliers and stockists - or connecting to the wrong ones

• Property concerns and estate management

• Recruitment difficulties and skills retention

• Regulatory issues

• Supply chain issues

Technology plays a huge part in helping businesses to address these issues, avoid problems and create opportunities, and has done so since the first websites and e-commerce platforms were developed. A decade or so on, and the technology landscape has changed again. Research proves that companies investing in important new technologies and managing them well are more profitable than their competitors.

Organisations looking to expand overseas need to ramp up their digital and mobile platforms, and here's why:

Mobile Technology is the obvious one when it comes to a technology which drives business growth, removing geographical restrictions. If you're not ready to open an office, no matter, as staff can work from home whilst you're testing the waters. And if you need to travel to new regions, you're no longer disconnected for days. A Smartphone, tablet or laptop and a wifi connection are all you need to stay in touch.

Applications give growing businesses more opportunity than ever before. The scope of mobile applications is vast, with currency apps such as XE currency, and translation apps available for download at little or no cost. Icanlocalize can put your business in touch with over 1000 freelance translators in 30 different languages. Business applications such as ERP or CRM, workflow apps, email or video applications increase productivity and enable collaboration. Vertical applications focused on, for example, supply chain management help increase efficiencies and minimise supply chain issues. Businesses can also monitor application performance across their networks, so they can keep an eye on how new sites are performing. Applications can also be placed in the cloud, which removes pressure from a corporate network.

Cloud computing is perfectly suited to businesses expanding overseas as it has built-in flexibility. Organisations can select services on a pay-as-you-go basis, helping them to deal with fluctuations in trading. Cloud Computing is also great when it comes to disaster recovery, as the supplier will carry out server maintenance and security updates. It also removes the need for a business to have its own data centre, and its workforce can be dispersed across the globe with access to the same applications and systems based in the cloud.

Social Media Platforms have a significant part to play for businesses moving into new markets. Businesses can research their potential customers by joining community pages, eliciting market sentiment, gaining an understanding of local culture and encouraging feedback on Twitter. The majority of businesses in recent research, when asked what they'd do differently the next time they expand their operations, said they would pay more attention to local culture and regulations. Community social networks are a huge help here. Professional social media platforms help to address recruitment issues, too: 97% of respondents in a recent survey use LinkedIn as a recruiting tool. Overlook its power at your peril!

Unified Communications platforms are also great for, amongst other things, recruitment. My business uses its videoconferencing platforms to interview potential recruits for some of our overseas locations, giving us a good feel for the person's fit for the business, and saving us the air fare. Managed Video Collaboration is also fantastic for creating a cohesive, integrated workforce, sharing your plans for growth and bringing them along on your company journey. New suppliers and partners can join you - most laptops have a simple webcam now - and decision making is faster and negotiations easier when face-to-face. Some platforms integrate with Microsoft Lync or Office 365, incorporating instant messaging and VoIP too, making it easy for you to integrate a new person or new site into your core business.

Data and analytics platforms are bigger and better than ever and give you fast, accurate and affordable access to all kinds of data, helping you to research macro and micro markets and your place within them, and understand risk. There are free tools which help you shape and understand the information your business creates, so you can identify patterns and trends and make accurate forecasts.

Don't let your expanding business let global expansion plans fall by the wayside, or become a costly mistake. Making careful investments in the right technologies, and managing them carefully, will be the key to success.