By: Emma Livingston, Staff Writer
FoxConn Technology Group and SAP SE: Two companies that seem to have very little in common aside from their association with the technology sector. FoxConn is largely a contract manufacturer that makes iPhones and iPads for Apple, computers for HP, Xbox One for Microsoft, the Play Station 4 for Microsoft, along with many others. They are the tenth largest employer in the world with 1.2 million workers. SAP, on the other hand, is a much smaller operation with 75,000 workers worldwide, but just as large an international presence with regional offices in 130 countries. While FoxConn builds hardware, SAP creates software that helps businesses better analyze and utilize data.
As different as they seem, however, there are a few key similarities. First, both of these are B2B businesses, working at opposite ends of the B2B spectrum. Second, both companies have a large presence in the Czech Republic. FoxConn has two large factories here and is the second largest exporter in the country. SAP has three offices here and Prague is the location of its European Shared Services Center. Finally, both companies were visited by the T-Bird module abroad students in Prague in the past two weeks.
We visited the FoxConn factory in Kutna Hora on April 22. At the moment, this plant has an exclusive contract with HP to make computers and servers. The tour of the factory itself was fairly dull. As John Gallagher, operations manager for the plant told us, only around 1% of the work in this factory is automated. So we didn’t get to see cool machines. We mostly just saw workers quietly using screwdrivers at their individual workstations to put small parts together. However, Mr. Gallagher’s presentation was informative and entertaining. He is a native of Scotland who has spent the last 15 years working in the Czech Republic for FoxConn, a Taiwanese company. Besides his expertise in factory operations gained over his long career, he also has valuable insights into working cross-culturally. For example, he said he ran into cultural differences when the factory at Kutna Hora was first established and a Chinese team came over to help the Czechs with the setup. He said the mentality of the Chinese was: “Make it happen. And use more people to make it happen. In Europe, we’re more wait and see, let’s think about what we’re doing. And we’ll take a little bit longer. So on one side it frustrates us and on one side it frustrated the Chinese team. But that’s the challenge.”
At SAP’s European Shared Services Center in Prague, we did not even bother touring the workspace, since watching people type on computers is even less entertaining than watching people put parts of machines together. What we did instead was listen to an epic presentation (over 2.5 hours!) by Zdenek Panec, a salesman who has spent over 15 years selling SAP services to businesses all over the Czech Republic. His topic was the importance of Big Data, which tied in nicely to Professor Sainam’s business analytics class. Mr. Panec’s three main points were 1) “Big Data” refers to the explosion in the volume, velocity, and variety of data available to be analyzed. 2) Big data management is a strategy, not a technology solution, and thus big data is a management topic, not an IT topic. 3) Companies should spend resources to improve their data management capabilities.
Company visits like these two have been an integral part of the Prague module abroad. During our seven weeks here we have been on seven company visits and these have served to compliment and broaden our understanding of the concepts we are learning in class. I believe that instead of delegating these visits to modules abroad and Winterims, Thunderbird administration and professors should explore expanded opportunities for students to visit companies in the Phoenix area to supplement our classroom knowledge. Optional company visits would be an excellent, low-cost addition to our education as students of global management.