German firm boosts Asia-wide presence

GERMAN software company Software AG plans to boost its professional services offerings in Asia, according to one of the company's top board members.

But the company will also continue to push its products and concentrate on finding the best route into the China market, Software AG board member Roman Neumeister said during a recent visit to Hong Kong.

Software AG, which got Cathay Pacific as its first customer in Hong Kong back in 1974, had so far concentrated most of its efforts in the territory on product marketing, although only one third of the company was product-related on a global scale, Mr Neumeister said.

'[The company has] missed the opportunity to deal with customer problems and professional services,' he said.

Software AG's professional services include business consultancy, application development, technical services and training. The company has already started with training and technical services in Hong Kong, and has decided to bring out application development and business consultancy to Asia.

The company is one of the world's biggest independent vendors of application development and database management software, and has worldwide revenues exceeding US$500 million.

It provides enterprise-scale open computing solutions all the way from desktop systems to mainframes.

Software AG's regional headquarters is in Hong Kong and it also has direct operations in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Its regional expansion plans include Indonesia, Thailand, India and China.

In July, Software AG opened its Asian Language Support Centre in Singapore. A regional support centre is also planned for Singapore, and an application development centre for the region will be set up in the Philippines.

In Hong Kong, the company had staffed a financial systems group in the expectation of further investments to be made in the banking sector, Mr Neumeister said.

'We have started to localise our software, specifically to bring it to China,' he said.

Software AG's mainframe products support most Asian languages. Local support for UNIX and PC products had begun and would continue rapidly, according to Mr Neumeister.

'We have not made up our mind on what to do specifically with China. It is, of course, a topic of interest on the agenda.' Software AG's typical sales model was to operate direct sales channels in any given market, he said, adding, that extra thought was needed regarding how best to enter the huge China market, while still remaining focused.

'We cannot approach the market with our whole portfolio just from the very beginning,' he said.

'The biggest opportunity [in China] might be in the database area because China, more than other places has to deal with high volume.' Software AG's experience with the public sector industry, which traditionally dealt with high volumes, made it ideally suited to operate in China, he said.

The firm will also focus on helping its customers along a 'risk-free' migration path from mainframe to client-server computing, he said.

'Over the next three years we have to achieve a situation where we do 50 per cent [of our business] still in the mainframe market - because we still believe in the mainframe - and the rest in the open systems market,' he said.

The company still had a great deal of confidence in mainframes because they were used for the many mission critical applications run by customers.

'But we don't stop our customers from moving away from mainframes. We just help them define what they need,' Mr Neumeister said.