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IT for the long haul

Even fisheries are moving into ERP systems, proving that IT works for both traditional and modern SMBs.

Processing and distributing frozen fish products has always been a people-oriented enterprise for Chun Cheng Fishery.

Workers look at the fish and cut it into steak for the US markets by removing the skin and bloodlines, said Ivan Chuang, vice president of Development. Or leave it intact for the Japanese.

But technology will change things. Come next year, the 10-year-old company hopes to smoothen operations through an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation.


Ivan Chuang, vice president of Development, Chun Cheng Fishery.
What steps do you plan to take to ensure IT is better aligned with business goals?
We want to bring IT into the picture to improve our productivity. Right now, our business is very hands-on. With the cost to operate in Singapore getting higher, we also want to be able to compete with Vietnam, Thailand and China. This is possible if we bring in the best in this country like IT resources to help us stay competitive.

Five years ago, people asked: What is IT in this industry? Now, things have changed. We have been looking into bringing IT in for a year now to improve our processing plants. The goal is to manage and organize inventories, accounting and finances better.

Specifically, we are looking into an ERP system, but most are tailored for high-tech industries. Especially in the fishing industry, there are no available products that we can use right away.

We changed our approach and instead started looking for a good IT developer who can build this system for us based on our requirements.

We went through the painful and lengthy process of finding a good and cost-effective developer. The project is slated to start at the beginning of 2005. We expect to finish it in six to eight months.

Is maintaining good corporate governance an IT priority at your organization in 2005?
Yes, it is. That is why we want to develop a system across different departments. The integrity and speed of data is important to us. Our goal is to maintain corporate governance.

What steps do you plan to take in the next 12 months to improve efficiency in your organization?

Technology has little play in what we do. But now, we're trying to change that. My vision is to operate in a different way than our peers in the industry by incorporating some IT. It's a big challenge because it's new. We're like a pioneer.

We realize to compete better, increase our efficiency and productivity, IT must come into play. But IT is a foreign concept to us. For us, you have to see the fish, touch them, everything is hands-on.

However, our first encounter with IT began with e-mail, which has been around for four years. In the past, it was difficult to talk to customers especially if markets are global. In the middle of the night, we had to get up to make and receive phone calls. Now with e-mail, there are no boundaries.

In your industry is maintaining customer data privacy important? What steps are you taking to ensure it?
I don't think so. We don't deal with crucial information--only sales and marketing information. But the data security is something we'll look into when we develop our system. We don't want hackers to come and take all our stuff.

Basically, it's just some data and network type security we're focused on. Not personal information like those in the banking industry. The information we have is not as sensitive as other industries.

"My vision is to operate in a different way than our peers in the industry by incorporating some IT."
What are the drivers behind next year's IT investments?
To be able to compete, and work faster. We are always looking for ways to improve how we do things. We have a system based on Microsoft Access. But we're looking for something more comprehensive that can integrate with the different departments.

What was your organization's annual IT budget forecast for 2004?
I'd like to keep it confidential.

Compared to 2004's IT budget, your 2005 IT budget forecast has…
We have increased it for 2005. Annual budgets are always higher year after year. But especially in 2005 because of the ERP implementation.

To the best of your knowledge, what proportion of your organization's 2004 IT budget were spent on hardware, software and services?
We spent 20 percent on software; 43 percent hardware; 32 percent services; 5 percent training.

What are your organization's top technology projects?
We went through a major hardware upgrade spending a lot of time looking at desktop servers and e-mail requirements and replacing them.

Also, we spent time looking for an ERP provider who'll implement our system next year.

What's your organization's preferred approach to IT deployment and management?
We are leaning towards outsourcing because we have a small department with two people. They spend 80 percent of their time on IT. Our approach is not to fill the IT job. But give that person a perspective of something that he can learn. There's always some new technology for this IT person to keep himself refreshed.

We do the daily maintenance ourselves. And e-mail management is also internal. We only outsource the development side.

Depending on how big the new system will be, we may or may not outsource the running of it. If it requires lots of manpower, I don't want to spend time on it.

What are your organization's top strategic info-security priorities for 2005?
We want to reduce spam. We're getting a lot and it takes up a lot of our resources. Also, to enhance our network security.

Who makes the final decision on IT investments in your organization?
The CEO makes the final decision. The MIS department will make a proposal in the management meeting. After he hears our analysis and opinions, he makes the decision. Typically, for a family-owned company, most decisions are made by the CEO.

Gregory Teo is a freelance journalist based in Singapore.