Webvisions' foresight leads to longevity

newsmaker Investing during recession may be risky, but this, together with good management team, has seen the managed services provider thrive, says CEO.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor
Roger Lim

newsmaker Webvisions has much to be thankful for. Not only is it blessed with a good management team, it also entered the Internet market at a good time. This has resulted in a business that has grown from strength to strength, becoming one of the few Singapore dotcom companies to have endured where many didn't.

This is according to the managed services provider's chief executive officer Roger Lim. In an exclusive interview, he told ZDNet Asia that the dotcom boom in the early 1990s created enough awareness in the enterprise space to ensure continued business opportunities for the company immediately after the bubble burst for the industry.

Besides Webvisions' climb to success, Lim also spoke about its business strategy, the potential of cloud computing, and the increasing importance of security in the marketplace.

Qn: Tell us about Webvisions' history and how it rode out the dotcom bust.
Lim: Webvisions is not my first startup. When we started out in 1996, the industry was nascent with not many companies wanting to put up a Web page online. But we saw U.S. companies doing Web hosting and we decided we could do something along the same lines. Business really only took off in 1999, during the dotcom boom era.

It was at this time that utilizing the Web to reach out to customers became a natural extension for most businesses. Even the mom-and-pop shops and traditional companies were embracing the Internet. Now, everyone who starts a business has to have a Web site, an e-mail address and needs to get online.

Were there any specific measures you had to take to see the company through these tough years?
Like every other company, we drove the cost curve and relied on our good management team and passion to work through the bust years.

More than just hunkering down and riding out the storm, we also went around raising funds from banks. Funding was definitely easier to get in the boom years, but our track record and good relationships with some bankers ensured that we were able to get the funds needed.

With this sum of money, we used it to invest in other markets such as India and Malaysia, followed by China and Hong Kong during the tail-end of the dotcom bust. This move allowed us to capitalize on the upswing once the economy got back on track.

You also had to steer Webvisions through the economic recession of 2009. What measures did you adopt this time?
One of the key decisions the company made was to start cloud hosting services last year. As I have mentioned, investing during recession is not new to us.

Currently, the cloud services we are providing cater to the IT infrastructure set-up such as the servers, the networks and security. In other words, we are not a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model where applications are hosted for end users. Rather, we enable these companies to host their applications in our cloud system.

We have cloud computing centers in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand today, and we're busy getting the Malaysia-based center up and running. We are exploring the idea of having up to five or six such centers by 2010. China and Hong Kong are the two places being considered.

While I don't have a concrete figure for our investments, each data center generally costs half a million dollars to set up.

This, as well as other initiatives, means the company is expected to post approximately 10 percent year-on-year growth In terms of revenue.

With a significant level of investment in cloud computing, what's your take on the technology and its development?
I'd like to begin saying that centralized computing is not a new thing. In fact, the technology already existed back when I was still a university student.

In terms of adoption, I think Asia is the perfect platform because there are less legacy applications to hinder the take-up rate, so companies looking to keep capital expenditure (CAPEX) low during the economic recovery will be able to stretch their dollar leveraging cloud solutions.

Furthermore, multinational companies (MNCs) coming into Asia in search of market share will look to cloud computing to stretch their total cost of ownership (TCO) and grow the company at the same time.

Security is increasingly being talked about in the IT industry. Has it affected your business in any way?
Security threats have always been in existence, but these have gotten more publicity in the past six months.

The way I see it, security is really not about what you apply to your systems or what software to use to safeguard enterprise data. Rather, it is a more wholesome issue which involves everyone in the company being aware of the importance of security in everything they do.

Within Webvisions, we are looking to expand our security team--which at this moment has eight to 10 people globally--in response to market development. But hiring new people will be a challenge as I foresee employment rates returning to pre-recession levels, with more companies competing for the same pool of talent.

Are you concerned that more countries are looking to Internet service providers (ISPs) to filter online content?
Generally, countries that adopt such policies are looking to filter out four areas: pornographic material, illegal gambling, pirated material and politically sensitive content.

Webvisions does not host any of such content, so the impact on our business is minimal, if at all.

On our part, we will remove any inappropriate material if our clients bring this up to our attention. We also don't accept companies that have been known to provide such content. However, we don't actively monitor for such illegal content as it's almost impossible to do so.

As a key regional Internet player, how do you see the Web developing in the near future?
One word: Convergence. Nowadays, you get telephony, movies, music, communications and other rich media content online, and they are increasingly being mashed together. There will also be peripheral devices that will be developed to bring the content to users in a more user-friendly, compact way.

Let me give you an example. Five years ago, we helped host a company to sell their flowers online. Today, there are voice features, e-commerce and customer data being mined on the same Web site. As things get faster and online usability is improved, one thing is certain--the Internet will permeate through everyone and all that we do.

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