On a mission to computerise the state of Sarawak

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Andre Suharto, Comserv
Andre Suharto, Managing Director of Comserv

Sarawak based Comserv is one of the two largest private information & communication technology (ICT) companies in the state. It was incorporated in 1985 as a joint venture between Australian and Malaysian businessmen. Today, it is a member of the Rimbunan Hijau conglomerate and focuses on a wide range of ICT services including SAP implementation and network infrastructure. Inside Investor talked to Andre Suharto, Comserv’s managing Director, about the prospects of the company.

Q: Where would you rank your company within the ICT sector in Sarawak in terms of size and significance?

A: In the private sector we are one of the top two in terms of size as well as significance. A lot of businesses currently want to computerise their organisations to increase efficiency, to reengineer some of their business processes so that they can have higher productivity at minimum cost. They are using either SAP solutions or our own customised solutions depending on the industry we are penetrating. We are quite significant in that respect.

Q: What has been the largest project you were working on lately?

A: I cannot mention the name of the customer, but it involved a corporation with many subsidiary companies, and we implemented SAP solutions over eighteen months. Another project was the implementation of a log tracking system for the government. That involved not only ready-made solutions that were developed by us, but also setting up the infrastructure across Sarawak at all the locations where the Sarawak Forestry Corporation and Department of Forest offices are located.

A: What are the current projects?

Q: We are involved in a project with a local conglomerate. While I cannot mention the name of the customer for confidentiality reasons, they are into property and own one of the major shopping complexes in Kuching. They are also into oil palm plantations, hotels, manufacturing of furniture, and shipping. We are computerising their business with SAP solutions now. In fact they have outsourced the operation of their IT department to us by a managed services contract. We are providing email, antivirus, intrusion detection, firewalls, structured cabling, telephone systems, and we are also providing help desk support for the staff on a daily basis. After one year, they now have confidence in us and we became their trusted advisor. They are now replacing their accounting system with SAP.

Q: Is IT outsourcing a growing business in Sarawak?

A: It is coming along slowly. The problem with many customers is that they have recruited IT staff who very often report to the accounting or finance manager where the domain knowledge of these persons very often lies outside the IT landscape. These people are always in a dilemma: If IT staff recommends to them to take this or that approach, they are not in the position to evaluate the effectiveness of the recommended approach which leads to an impasse. The IT staff eventually realise that they don’t have anybody in the company who knows the industry. In the end, development of the IT staff in the company becomes mundane and stagnant resulting in IT staff turnover. When new IT staff is recruited, the whole cycle is repeated. We would like to suggest to these companies: Since IT is not your core business, why don’t you outsource it to the expert and focus on your core business? And we can guarantee the company a certain amount of uptime so that they can have peace of mind. Local companies are slowly buying this concept, especially the bigger corporations.

Q: As somebody who knows the industry very well, how do you assess the IT infrastructure in Sarawak?

A: It’s very bad. If I would have to rank the broadband penetration between 0 and 100, I would say it’s still below 50 per cent in the private sector as a whole in the state. As an example: Most of the broadband access in Sarawak comes through the Telecom, this means you have only one player where broadband is still dependent on the use out of streamyx technology which does not give the customers the kind of speed that one would get if the broadband infrastructure uses fibre optic from end to end. I was informed that the new UniFi lines was initially targeted to be available in certain parts of Kuching by this year. But this has now been postponed to next year for some reasons.

Q: How about IT literacy in Sarawak compared to the national level?

A: When you talk about IT literacy in the sense of using email or the social media, then it’s fine and quite on par with the rest of the country. When you talk about IT literacy for the private sector businesses or at CEO level, it is quite low. Businesses are not that exposed to the availability of IT that they could actually implement. Knowledge is still lacking, especially at businesses that are owned by the older generations. Now their children are trying to step in, they have graduated overseas and are very technology savvy, but their hands are tied because their fathers say you don’t know enough about the business to talk about computerisation. Perhaps the Sarawak government can assist the private SMEs to take a quantum leap in IT by providing soft loans or grants for technology adoption.

Q: Who are your biggest commercial customers?

A: Listed companies and progressive companies, basically. I can’t name them for confidentiality reasons.

Q: What about the government agencies that you work with?

A: We have the SME Corporation and MATRADE as well as the Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation.

Q: Where do you get your qualified personnel from?

A: Qualified and experienced staff is very difficult to recruit. In fact, when I got my people on board, none of them had any prior SAP experience. So I had to train them. Getting the right skills is a problem in Sarawak. And after they have been trained, I have to ensure that I retain them. However, salary alone is not the only criteria why a staff member resigns. This means the selection process is very important. And I have to invest into training them as well.

Q: So how do you retain your staff?

A: So far I have been very fortunate. It’s the way I manage them. There has to be a win-win-situation and that everything I am doing is transparent and is commensurate to the efforts they are putting into the company.

Q: Why did you choose SAP as the business software of choice?

A: Many years ago, we developed accounting software by ourselves until we realised that there is no need to reinvent the wheel because there are ready-made software that can be implemented according to our customers’ needs, is very cost-effective and doesn’t require changes in the source code. SAP is from Germany, and they are very good at it. They offer partners like us interaction through their portal, education, and online training. SAP provides also facilities for marketing and PR materials. They have been the leader in the integrated business software industry for 32 years; it’s a fortune 500 company. Petronas is the biggest SAP user in Malaysia, the civil servants payroll is processed by SAP, the Malaysian Post Office is run on SAP, BMW and Porsche use it, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines have adopted it, and many other companies in the country such as utility providers.

Q: In terms of educating the business community to adopt more IT solutions, what is your strategy?

A: We provide a lot of information material for our key products and services. What we also do is invite corporations to IT seminars and info days, where we touch certain topics and do real-life presentations. We share with them issues faced by people in the same industry, and discuss how they could avoid similar issues in their own company. Those kinds of seminars are actually very helpful, and we do it for free. Customers are quite responsive. We also want to set up roundtables with business owners to address the decision makers directly.

Q: What is the average IT spending of Sarawak companies in percentage of their revenue?

A: Very low, at around one per cent. This includes the entire IT, the soft- and the hardware. To them, IT means they need a PC with Microsoft Office to do Excel spread sheets. That is computerisation to them, mostly for small and medium business owners.

Q: Where do you think the IT business will stand in three years from now in Sarawak?

A: We need to have a strategic plan to address the issues of infrastructure together with the state and federal government who can helps us progress with the hope of achieving 50 to 60 per cent of IT adoption by many companies in the private sector.

Q: What is your personal direction for Comserv?

A: We will capitalise on the focus that the state government has put in SCORE, the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, because I believe investors there will require IT companies to support their computerisation needs.

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[caption id="attachment_2659" align="alignleft" width="186" caption="Andre Suharto, Managing Director of Comserv"][/caption] Sarawak based Comserv is one of the two largest private information & communication technology (ICT) companies in the state. It was incorporated in 1985 as a joint venture between Australian and Malaysian businessmen. Today, it is a member of the Rimbunan Hijau conglomerate and focuses on a wide range of ICT services including SAP implementation and network infrastructure. Inside Investor talked to Andre Suharto, Comserv’s managing Director, about the prospects of the company. Q: Where would you rank your company within the ICT sector in Sarawak in terms of size...

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Andre Suharto, Comserv
Andre Suharto, Managing Director of Comserv

Sarawak based Comserv is one of the two largest private information & communication technology (ICT) companies in the state. It was incorporated in 1985 as a joint venture between Australian and Malaysian businessmen. Today, it is a member of the Rimbunan Hijau conglomerate and focuses on a wide range of ICT services including SAP implementation and network infrastructure. Inside Investor talked to Andre Suharto, Comserv’s managing Director, about the prospects of the company.

Q: Where would you rank your company within the ICT sector in Sarawak in terms of size and significance?

A: In the private sector we are one of the top two in terms of size as well as significance. A lot of businesses currently want to computerise their organisations to increase efficiency, to reengineer some of their business processes so that they can have higher productivity at minimum cost. They are using either SAP solutions or our own customised solutions depending on the industry we are penetrating. We are quite significant in that respect.

Q: What has been the largest project you were working on lately?

A: I cannot mention the name of the customer, but it involved a corporation with many subsidiary companies, and we implemented SAP solutions over eighteen months. Another project was the implementation of a log tracking system for the government. That involved not only ready-made solutions that were developed by us, but also setting up the infrastructure across Sarawak at all the locations where the Sarawak Forestry Corporation and Department of Forest offices are located.

A: What are the current projects?

Q: We are involved in a project with a local conglomerate. While I cannot mention the name of the customer for confidentiality reasons, they are into property and own one of the major shopping complexes in Kuching. They are also into oil palm plantations, hotels, manufacturing of furniture, and shipping. We are computerising their business with SAP solutions now. In fact they have outsourced the operation of their IT department to us by a managed services contract. We are providing email, antivirus, intrusion detection, firewalls, structured cabling, telephone systems, and we are also providing help desk support for the staff on a daily basis. After one year, they now have confidence in us and we became their trusted advisor. They are now replacing their accounting system with SAP.

Q: Is IT outsourcing a growing business in Sarawak?

A: It is coming along slowly. The problem with many customers is that they have recruited IT staff who very often report to the accounting or finance manager where the domain knowledge of these persons very often lies outside the IT landscape. These people are always in a dilemma: If IT staff recommends to them to take this or that approach, they are not in the position to evaluate the effectiveness of the recommended approach which leads to an impasse. The IT staff eventually realise that they don’t have anybody in the company who knows the industry. In the end, development of the IT staff in the company becomes mundane and stagnant resulting in IT staff turnover. When new IT staff is recruited, the whole cycle is repeated. We would like to suggest to these companies: Since IT is not your core business, why don’t you outsource it to the expert and focus on your core business? And we can guarantee the company a certain amount of uptime so that they can have peace of mind. Local companies are slowly buying this concept, especially the bigger corporations.

Q: As somebody who knows the industry very well, how do you assess the IT infrastructure in Sarawak?

A: It’s very bad. If I would have to rank the broadband penetration between 0 and 100, I would say it’s still below 50 per cent in the private sector as a whole in the state. As an example: Most of the broadband access in Sarawak comes through the Telecom, this means you have only one player where broadband is still dependent on the use out of streamyx technology which does not give the customers the kind of speed that one would get if the broadband infrastructure uses fibre optic from end to end. I was informed that the new UniFi lines was initially targeted to be available in certain parts of Kuching by this year. But this has now been postponed to next year for some reasons.

Q: How about IT literacy in Sarawak compared to the national level?

A: When you talk about IT literacy in the sense of using email or the social media, then it’s fine and quite on par with the rest of the country. When you talk about IT literacy for the private sector businesses or at CEO level, it is quite low. Businesses are not that exposed to the availability of IT that they could actually implement. Knowledge is still lacking, especially at businesses that are owned by the older generations. Now their children are trying to step in, they have graduated overseas and are very technology savvy, but their hands are tied because their fathers say you don’t know enough about the business to talk about computerisation. Perhaps the Sarawak government can assist the private SMEs to take a quantum leap in IT by providing soft loans or grants for technology adoption.

Q: Who are your biggest commercial customers?

A: Listed companies and progressive companies, basically. I can’t name them for confidentiality reasons.

Q: What about the government agencies that you work with?

A: We have the SME Corporation and MATRADE as well as the Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation.

Q: Where do you get your qualified personnel from?

A: Qualified and experienced staff is very difficult to recruit. In fact, when I got my people on board, none of them had any prior SAP experience. So I had to train them. Getting the right skills is a problem in Sarawak. And after they have been trained, I have to ensure that I retain them. However, salary alone is not the only criteria why a staff member resigns. This means the selection process is very important. And I have to invest into training them as well.

Q: So how do you retain your staff?

A: So far I have been very fortunate. It’s the way I manage them. There has to be a win-win-situation and that everything I am doing is transparent and is commensurate to the efforts they are putting into the company.

Q: Why did you choose SAP as the business software of choice?

A: Many years ago, we developed accounting software by ourselves until we realised that there is no need to reinvent the wheel because there are ready-made software that can be implemented according to our customers’ needs, is very cost-effective and doesn’t require changes in the source code. SAP is from Germany, and they are very good at it. They offer partners like us interaction through their portal, education, and online training. SAP provides also facilities for marketing and PR materials. They have been the leader in the integrated business software industry for 32 years; it’s a fortune 500 company. Petronas is the biggest SAP user in Malaysia, the civil servants payroll is processed by SAP, the Malaysian Post Office is run on SAP, BMW and Porsche use it, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines have adopted it, and many other companies in the country such as utility providers.

Q: In terms of educating the business community to adopt more IT solutions, what is your strategy?

A: We provide a lot of information material for our key products and services. What we also do is invite corporations to IT seminars and info days, where we touch certain topics and do real-life presentations. We share with them issues faced by people in the same industry, and discuss how they could avoid similar issues in their own company. Those kinds of seminars are actually very helpful, and we do it for free. Customers are quite responsive. We also want to set up roundtables with business owners to address the decision makers directly.

Q: What is the average IT spending of Sarawak companies in percentage of their revenue?

A: Very low, at around one per cent. This includes the entire IT, the soft- and the hardware. To them, IT means they need a PC with Microsoft Office to do Excel spread sheets. That is computerisation to them, mostly for small and medium business owners.

Q: Where do you think the IT business will stand in three years from now in Sarawak?

A: We need to have a strategic plan to address the issues of infrastructure together with the state and federal government who can helps us progress with the hope of achieving 50 to 60 per cent of IT adoption by many companies in the private sector.

Q: What is your personal direction for Comserv?

A: We will capitalise on the focus that the state government has put in SCORE, the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, because I believe investors there will require IT companies to support their computerisation needs.

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