Helmes has been partners with a Chinese-Estonian joint venture, Post11, for several years. It has been an interesting experience getting to know the Chinese way of looking at things and has had an interesting learning curve for us.
We understand now better some of the basics of what it takes to develop software in cooperation with a Chinese partner.
1. Numbers talk
First, Chinese companies love numbers. When Helmes showed Post11’s Chinese representatives previews of a new web page, they commented that the design was “too plain” and “clean” in their eyes. While our default design aesthetic in the West tends toward websites lacking what we consider “clutter” and also include plenty of white space, they like data-intensive pages and design. Their web page aesthetic is one that resembles a screen seen in stock exchanges.
2. No Google
As there are different cultures in Europe and in China, there is also a different online culture. We are used to Google Chrome or Internet Explorer; we can’t live without them. Chinese organizations don’t use them at all.
Google is forbidden altogether – there’s no use of Google Maps, Google Translate, or any of the other Google services. They also don’t use Android, or iOS or Windows platforms, preferring their own home-grown versions. For example, 360 Secure Browser, a browser created in Beijing, is their most-used Web-crawling app.
You’ll need to find other solutions than Western standards, and it’s essential to integrate them into your thinking when you are developing for the Chinese market.
3. Chinese hardware is mandatory
Besides mandating the use of their own home-grown browsers and software solutions, China also has its own hardware standards. Much of Post11’s services are handled with the help of personal digital assistants, all of which have scanning power. A Chinese requirement for selecting a PDA was that they needed to be manufactured in the country.
A developer needs to find ways to develop applications for these devices, which tend to be very good technically. However, good luck finding an English technical manual, or one in a Western language. We recommend that a local partner does some preparatory work to make it easier for you to understand the gadget.
4. Going through The Great Firewall of China
There is also an issue with connectivity. The Great Firewall of China, a series of legislative actions and technologies used to regulate the Internet domestically, doesn’t let all connections through to the rest of the world; all links must go through a proxy server. How did we manage to dodge that complication?
First, we tried Virtual Private Service (VPS) tunnels for data; it turned out to be too slow and not suitable as a business solution. But our Chinese partners gave us help by describing some of their experiences. We then turned to Microsoft; since we use Microsoft Azure, we were able to put our servers into Microsoft’s safe zone in the Chinese inner data center. That did the trick.
5. They want raw data
The Chinese don’t prioritize optimizing, and they favor raw data. Companies from other countries usually just want to see analyses based on data collection, but the Chinese want to work with it themselves. And, of course, they have enough manpower to process it and very good skills in data analysis to go along with it.
6. Great work ethic, different communication style
The work ethic of the Chinese is superb; it sometimes seems like they are working 24/7. Even when they have finished their portion of the work, they are always available to consult online. When working with Chinese partners, there is a small shakedown period online because they use different communication programs then many Western companies. The Chinese favor DingTalk and WeChat, while we are used to Slack, Teams or Skype. But we quickly get over our technical differences in our joint venture.
When it comes to online or face-to-face meetings, the Chinese are very well prepared, and therefore are easy to work with. In a sit-down meeting, only some of the Chinese can speak English, and everything is translated. But everyone, whether they communicate directly or through a translator, is super ready and prepared.
There are subtle differences in their communication style from Western norms, however. Usually, Chinese workers will say things look good at the start of a meeting but will bring up questions and concerns later during the session. It can sometimes be difficult to get feedback during the meeting. But that is a style you get used to. The Chinese tend to process information quickly and give fast and thorough responses.
Developing software for a Chinese company requires some concessions and give-and-take.
But once the process is in place, everything works well.
Helmes has achieved trusted partner status thanks to hard work and flexibility. This is not your usual customer-developer relationship, but we have grown into one team.
What is Post11?
The establishment of Post11 in 2016 began with the development of the International Operations Department of Estonian Post Group, known on the market under the trademark Omniva. Post11 offers solutions in the growing market of cross-border e-commerce logistics. Estonia Post11, headquartered in Tallinn, gives its partners the benefits of access to the crossroad of Central and Eastern Europe, the Nordics and Russia. Post11 has established partnerships with market-leading players to diversify its global presence and is able to offer services in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, with more to follow. Its capabilities include different components of high-quality logistics services especially valuable for cross-border e-commerce accounts.