At first glance, it looks like any other multinational's back-office operation. The expansive cubicle fields at Dell's Enterprise Command Centre in Xiamen are bright and cacophonous, with hundreds of computer engineers fielding customers' calls. As they do so, cheerful corporate slogans remind them that they 'are the reason people choose Dell' - an exhortation whose inexact Chinese translation (you wo zai, ni fang xin) recalls Mao's famous blessing of his short-lived successor, Huang Guofeng: 'With you handling affairs, I am at ease.' This is the 'first line' of Dell's newest service offering in the world's second-largest computer market, where, despite the company's global market leadership, it still trails Lenovo by a double digit margin - 26.3 per cent market share last year to 7.5 per cent, according to International Data Corp. About 400 computer engineers, each a college graduate with at least two to three years of experience, sort out 78 per cent of customers' problems over the phone. The tougher cases, requiring on-site technical support, are passed back to a group of about 20 technicians, who work in a different environment. Separated from their garrulous colleagues by smoked glass sliding doors, they whisper away in a much smaller, darker room dominated by three large computer screens. A similar array is replicated on each technician's desk, along with a notebook computer. The two flanking screens track weather movements across east Asia, such as typhoons, so supply operations can be adjusted as necessary. Herman Kok, Dell's Xiamen-based technical support director who previously managed call centre operations for PCCW, said the centre could even react to traffic jams. When Dell's Shanghai spare parts centre could not reach a cross-city customer because of traffic conditions, a plane flew in the necessary components from Xiamen so they could be transported from the airport instead. The large centre screen shows a map of China highlighting about 50 cities including Hong Kong where Dell, working with five technical support partners across the mainland and one in the SAR, provides four-hour same day on-site service. Through a series of magnifications, the screen bears down on detailed street maps showing a customer's exact location and the status of the repair job. Last Thursday afternoon, visitors to the centre could see that technical support services had been carried out at a Bossini Enterprises office on Hong Kong Island and at an Allied Signal office in Shanghai. Both jobs were marked in green, indicating that they had been successfully resolved. If not, and too much time ticks by, they turn yellow or, eventually, red. Of the 1,200 such visits tracked by Dell's Enterprise Command Centre each month, Mr Kok estimated that 99.8 per cent were successful. The Xiamen centre, launched last September for mainland customers only, was modelled on a similar facility established in the United States in 2003. Two others operate in Ireland, to serve the European continent, and Japan. In March, a Cantonese-speaking team at the Xiamen operation began to handle customer calls from Hong Kong. Last week, the Hong Kong service was expanded to include round-the-clock support for businesses using higher-end Dell server and storage products. Many Hong Kong companies, most notably Cathay Pacific, HSBC and PCCW, support their local operations with remote back-office facilities or call centres. But for most, 'remote' means no farther than Guangzhou, 180km, or a 90-minute train ride, away. Dell's tether linking Hong Kong to Xiamen illustrates how much more reach such remote operations can achieve as technology defeats distance. In Xiamen, Dell manufactures for the mainland, Hong Kong and Japanese markets. Xiamen also hosts sales and technical support for China and Hong Kong, while the same operations for Japan are split between Kawasaki and Dalian in northeast China. Dell's Hong Kong 'country manager', Antonio Cheung, has to spend about a week each month in ?Xiamen. Servicing Taiwan is more complicated, given its delicate political status. Xiamen hosts technical support for the island, but sales support and manufacturing for Taiwan is still based out of Dell's other - and original - Asia facility in Penang, Malaysia. Dell's customer support centres are a logical and necessary complement to its direct sales strategy, whereby it takes orders from and ships directly to its customers, cutting out the usual distribution network. As a result, Dell can fulfil an order seven days after it is taken. York Li, managing director of Dell's Xiamen customer centre, said that in an industry where deflation and technical innovation were daily phenomena, the ability to deliver last week's prices and technology rather than last month's - combined with a just-in-time supply chain management strategy - gave Dell its defining advantages. 'Our focus is on what the customer wants. Every component in our factory 'belongs' to a customer,' Mr Li said. To see this strategy in action in Xiamen still makes one wonder why - like all good ideas - no one thought of it before.