Besides chalking up domain expertise, IT skills or even research expertise in areas like biomedical engineering, Asia would do well to develop its language skills--English or otherwise.
In its 2006 regional survey of what companies in Asia look for when they select their outsourcing destinations, KPMG found that language does matter. More than 50 percent of the respondents strongly felt that their outsourcing requirements were dictated by language or culture.
The survey reported that when it came to call centers and technical helpdesks, "customer support must be extended to Australian-accented English for companies in Australia, Japanese for companies in Japan, Korean for those in Korea, Cantonese in Hong Kong, and Mandarin in Taiwan and China".
KPMG also found that with English as the main language used in outsourcing activities in India, Australian companies were more likely to outsource to India than to the Philippines, which compared to the former has less outsourcing experience. This comes as no surprise since companies, after all, must be reassured that their customers will have no problems communicating with the outsourcing services provider's staff.
I'm sure language is a key requirement not only in outsourcing. Having the ability to speak a common language is critical in any business communication, and it is one area that Asian businesses can focus on as a competitive advantage. Whether it is to serve an English- or Asian language-speaking market, aim for fluency and do not underestimate the negative impact language barriers can have on service delivery.
But if nothing else, avoiding embarrassing language misunderstandings is incentive enough. Any humorous language or cultural misunderstandings to share?