The journey of delaware Singapore over the past decade
In March 2011, OpenText organized OpenText Content Days in Singapore. At that time, delaware did not have a presence in South-East Asia but was highly successful with its Enterprise Information Management (EIM) offerings globally. Due to the many successes since the inception (in 2008) of this service line lead by Wim van Eyken and Patrick Andersen in delaware Belgium, OpenText invited delaware to participate in and present at this OpenText event.
During the event, delaware asked AB-InBev (world's largest brewer) to present their successful implementation of an accounts payable solution. Having been involved with the project at AB-InBev then, I was AB-InBev’s delegate presenting the customer case study. We elaborated on our experience with the solution and with delaware as our implementation partner. Little did I know, the presentation was so well-received that later on three Singaporean companies ended up engaging delaware to implement a similar solution.
Christophe Derdeyn speaking at OpenText Content Days Event, Singapore
The event demonstrated that the Singapore market had a healthy demand for these solutions, leading to a decision to incorporate delaware in Singapore, formalising in the second half of 2011.
After returning from the trip, I remained in contact with delaware around their Singapore start-up. Somewhere late August 2011, Wim and Jan Vets (delaware partners focused on growing Asia) took me out for dinner – right before dessert, they "popped the question" – inviting me to join them in putting delaware on the map in Singapore. As I have always loved to be exposed to different cultures, I was very excited with the prospect and immediately called my wife. After a short conferral, we agreed to take the leap and by December my family moved, off to an incredible adventure in the most incredible of cities: Singapore.
Left to right (Wim Van Eyken, Christophe Derdeyn, Jan Vets)
The three initial contracts delaware had signed to implement an Accounts Payable Optimization/Invoice Management started just when I arrived in Singapore in December that year.
The first year proved to be quite a steep curve – different parts of the world have different ways of doing things, and Singapore was no different. Initially, the base for the operations of delaware was the Executive Lounge of the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel, where our consultants stayed and gathered when not at our customers' offices.
Executive Lounge at Peninsula Excelsior Hotel, Singapore
With the projects running, we strengthened our relations with local SAP and OpenText and went in joint pursuit of new engagements across the region, focusing on Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Expansion to Malaysia and The Philippines
By mid-2012, we had hired three local consultants, delivered the first of our three maiden projects successfully and built a name for ourselves with both SAP and OpenText, who enjoyed relying on us due to our joint successes. I've noticed over time that it is always true that success breeds success – doing things right is something that has its unique flavour, liked by many. We soared!
Left: Office along Telok Ayer
Right: People of delaware in the early days
Our first office was located close to Amoy Food Center, an area bustling with eateries and life. Many evenings, the teams ended their day bonding over food and drinks. The projects had their challenges – mainly due to cultural differences of our foreign consultants - Europeans without experience working in Asia do face a steep learning curve, but success in sales and delivery luckily remained steadfast.
Our efforts around accelerating the go-to-market were successful, and by late 2012 we had several new Accounts Payable engagements lined up and made inroads in selling another EIM solution, xECM, to several customers in Malaysia.
By 2013, the team had grown to about ten people of 6 different nationalities locally, and several new projects started. We kicked off with an AP implementation for two leading telecom companies from the Philippines and an xECM engagement for a major Malaysian oil and gas company. We continued to grow and build on our successes, resulting in several multi-million dollar engagements. SAP and OpenText recognized delaware's success in the market and continued to propel us further.
By 2014, we had three large engagements running in parallel, aside from a series of smaller ones, supported by a team of close to 20 local consultants and quite some people from abroad. We had the first foray into the output management market – a new niche solution related to our Enterprise Content Management experience, but focus on document composition rather than Document Management. Aside from our typical engagements, we worked closely with SAP and OpenText within the context of SAP's strategic focus on the insurance market. Within insurance, compliance is crucial, and many documents need to be composed – these engagements were the most complex and sizeable projects delaware Singapore had ever chased, estimated each to take several years to complete. Given our successes in the Malaysian and Philippines markets, we opened up two satellite entities to serve our local customers in these respective countries. In 2015 we were invited to help one of the Philippines' largest food conglomerates with their Accounts Payable optimization – a project to optimise an account payable flow of 1.5 million invoices per year.
Office at 17 Hong Kong Street
Our insurance projects with a large Taiwanese Life Insurer and a Singaporean General insurance company commenced in 2015. By then, we grew to 35 people, a team that was however stretched quite thin across our various engagements. We faced challenges attracting the experience and talent and had to lean heavily on our consultants base. Notwithstanding the challenges, 2015 ended excellently: We added over ten new customers, nearly doubled in size in terms of headcount, revenue and profits and adopted a new, larger office.
In 2016, we did an offsite where we brought together the entire regional team and had a wonderful time. It felt like the sky was the limit, there was electricity in the air. Stradling three countries and trying to lead and find leadership for all required me to live out of a suitcase. It amounted to over 120 flights that year, many of which red-eyes or over-nights, with just a few nights in Singapore. When I look back at this today, I can hardly imagine how I managed, but I did, riding the moment's energy. I enjoyed the support of several trusted people, both in my local team and in the broader delaware organization.
Having risen so far & so fast, delaware was invited to share "the early years" at the Annual Belgium Luxemburg Business Groups' Gala (now Belgium Luxemburg Chamber of Commerce - BLCC), an invitation I was honoured to accept. delaware was and remains an active supporter of the BLCC who supports and drives business development for BeLUX companies in Asia.
Christophe Derdeyn speaking at BLCC (then BLBG) Annual Gala 2016
That same day, 6th June 2016, we got a call about one of our insurance projects, a highly complex and political engagement which we executed together with five other companies. The project was deemed to be in dire straits, and we were asked to step up our efforts significantly, much like all the other streams in this engagement.
Already strung for talent and hands, the additional demand led to a situation where all resources of delaware Singapore became as good as solely focused on the two large insurance engagements, something which severely hampered our ability to further develop our go-to-market. It took a harrowing 1.5 years in which I became deeply involved in getting the engagements to deliver the intended outcomes. True to our, then, credo that "delaware always delivers", we saw the projects through albeit at quite an expense. Most of us worked 350 to 400-hours months for over half a year, stretched to breaking but committed to seeing things through. This level of stress for such a prolonged duration came at a price, regretfully: Some within the teams faced challenges, burn-outs, family problems, or got discouraged. One after the other decided to leave the organization as they could no longer cope with the work rhythm.
Being entirely engaged on these two projects I tried to shield delaware Singapore’s large engagements in the Singapore public sector from the fallout. With a resource crunch and our commitment to meet the insurance engagements, inevitably, some other engagements suffered – the cascade was a fact. We ran into delays and even if we attempted, we didn't always manage to deliver toward the customer's timelines.
In 2016, we continued to grow – notwithstanding the issues and some people leaving – and we closed some of our resource gaps through support from other entities abroad. Given the disparity between the associated overheads in Europe and Asia, however, cost soared. We committed to deliver but in the insurance engagements had to do so at a loss.
As a consequence of the singular focus on these projects, by the end of 2017, delaware Singapore ended up in a situation where it had only half of the staff strength it had just a year prior and a depleted pipeline. In addition, substantial sums were spent to conclud the insurance engagements. We had to restart developing the local market.
Concluding the insurance projects with success resulted in additional work, a positive sign our efforts had been appreciated, and we serve them till today. However, we lacked magnitude of work required to reconnect with growth… so we were essentially back to square one, but this time with a backlog to catch-up.
Onwards and upwards
Once the dust settled by the tail end of 2017, the way forward for delaware APAC was elaborately discussed. Within the delaware group, we decided that strengthening the local leadership for each country operation in South-East Asia would be essential to avoid a recurrence of our woes. Aside from that, we needed to diversify our offering in Singapore and refocus Malaysia.
We started a search for leadership within the three countries, and a new offering, Core ERP, was introduced in Singapore, next to our existing EIM offering.
For Singapore, various leadership candidates came and went until one good day in May 2018. I ended up talking to a lady, Pei Lin Yeo, in a coffee shop at Raffles City. Pei Lin was (and remains until today) uncharacteristically outspoken. She had an extensive career working in the ERP space and clearly a heart for people. From our discussion it quickly became clear she wanted to live the same values and culture as we do in delaware: Care, Commitment, Entrepreneurship, Team Spirit, Respect. She and I were of similar minds and would be an excellent asset for delaware and someone I could level with, allowing us to distribute the duties in managing the oncoming challenges and rebooting the business.
delaware Singapore partners. Left to right: Pei Lin Yeo, Zhi Wei Goh, Christophe Derdeyn
Together, we restructured and decided that the regional entities follow the general delaware group model – one country, one entity. We sought and found local management for Malaysia and the Philippines offices. On the 1st of January 2019, under the new leadership of us three local partners, focusing on Enterprise Information Management and SAP ERP Cloud, delaware Singapore (DSG) was formed.
Since most of the recurring businesses were ECM projects Zhi Wei took it on him to set delivery straight. After all, he had been in Public sector engagements for many years. Under his leadership, the engagements flourished, solid and cohesive teams were formed that performed admirably under quite difficult conditions. Excellence in delivery resulted in significant extension of our scope of services, thanks to the appreciation of our teams. In parallel, we reconnected with our partners and the market to prepare for recovering our lost momentum.
In mid-2019, when another office move was needed, the task force found an exciting office in the outskirts of the business district. It was an entirely lived-out office space in a light industrial building but offered great potential. Inputs from everyone were gathered and incorporated into a custom design aimed to create an ideal co-working space that would also allow people to unwind. The space eventually sported a diverse seating arrangement, relaxation options such as a pool table, a computer games corner, and plenty of meeting rooms.
Office space revamp: before and after
Just while 2020 was taking off with a healthy outlook, the pandemic hit. The world held its breath, and we saw many of our potential project opportunities halted.
However, thanks to the excellent work on the EIM front we were able face this new challenge. The EIM teams continued to deliver and even managed to go-live for a few of our more extensive engagements during these unusual circumstances. Thanks to their exceptional delivery, our customers were delighted and relied on us to support them with additional initiatives related to the pandemic under the umbrella of governmental actions. Their efforts sustained us over 2020.
Through the combined efforts of everyone in delaware, in Singapore and abroad, we weathered the storm. While we saw a dip in business in 2020, we delivered well on our existing projects and managed to limit the disruption. Many people enabled themselves on new solutions or completed certifications to support our future go-to-market.
By October 2020, the economy resumed, and the pipeline of projects slowly picked up and then surged. A positive vibe filled the office, and the team size picked up to the level of 2015 and people looking forward with excitement!
In 2021, the signs of recovery in the market were clear. We saw our earlier efforts to gain traction in the ERP market finally bore fruit. We took on a significant ERP engagement and both the EIM and SAP teams became quite busy from Q2 2021 onwards. We had again grown to our previous peak in 2016, and our pipeline of projects multiplied on all fronts to heights never achieved before thanks to the relentless efforts of our newly minted business development team: sales representatives, account managers, solution leads and our marketing team.
Perhaps, to close off, some personal reflection on my ten years in delaware Singapore: I have known moments of absolute joy, camaraderie and pride, and I've seen the strength of people coming together doing extraordinary things. As the optimist I am, I've nearly always seen the future as bright. However, it is also true that we often look back at a successful organization and overlook the road it has taken to get where it is – overcoming the inevitable pitfalls and challenges in any road one walks.
Your plan vs Reality
I've known frustration and even despair, and I've come to understand how true it is that one grows the most, discovers the most about oneself and other people when under duress.
I've had the pleasure to enjoy genuine support during a time of need and the pain of seeing people suffer and fail.
I am not a person that lives by regrets – if we look back and learn from our mistakes, we pick up things where we left off and continue to trust in people,- I believe that from the darkest moments one can regain the light.
I appreciate the efforts of all the people who were part of my journey, the dedication, the shared laughter and understanding – the ones who are still with me but most certainly also the ones that have moved on. The time we shared was precious, and I thank you for that.
I know that today, thanks to the things I learned about myself and about how things should be done, delaware Singapore is in a much better place than it has ever been before. New people with complementary skillsets have joined us, we have gained many insights and we are stronger, more resilient, better prepared and more cohesive.
The future is bright!
I now look forward to achieving so much more with the #peopleofdelaware!