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HK firm creates idea melting pot for 4,000 employees

o Carol Ko
15.01.2014 kl 22:22 | Computerworld Hong Kong

Hong Kong-based apparel manufacturer Esquel Group has recently rolled out Yammer to 4,000 plus employees across Asia for better engagement, collaboration and innovation within the Group.


Hong Kong-based apparel manufacturer Esquel Group has recently rolled out Yammer to 4,000 plus employees across Asia for better engagement, collaboration and innovation within the Group.

Esquel is a high-end cotton shirts producer for brands including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Nike. Its 100 million annual production throughput is supported by a unique vertical supply chain from cotton farming, spinning, weaving & knitting, apparel making, accessories & packaging, to retail and direct distribution.

Today, China forms Esquel's production base, but the company also runs several factories in Vietnam, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Mauritius, and a handful of merchandising offices in the US and Western Europe.

Within and across these widespread production facilities, a lot of important upstream and downstream communications are bound to occur. "In our business, any single mistake made along the communication path can produce a wrong shirt," said Wilkie Wong, CFO (Hong Kong and Overseas), accounts and IT, Esquel. "Clarity and transparency in communication are essential for us to produce the right products for our customers."

Use of new tools help retain young talent

Wong said the use of modern social and productivity tools can enhance team collaboration, increase productivity, attract young talent and facilitate knowledge sharing and innovation.

To retain young talents, Esquel's CFO said it is essential to create a liberal environment to help get fresh ideas across to the management. "The younger workers tend to be more vocal and want more instant feedback. We want to create a less hierarchical work environment to attract and retain young talents -- not just retaining them, but getting them to share with us their thoughts," Wong said.

Two years ago, Esquel began a pilot deployment of Yammer to about 100 users. After Yammer's acquisition by Microsoft in June 2012, Esquel continued the adoption and its Yammer user base has already surpassed 4,000.

"We chose Yammer because it is a well-proven enterprise-grade social network, with over 200,000 organizations currently using it," said Andrew Ling, group director, IT, of Esquel Group. "I am so glad Microsoft bought Yammer," Wong added.

According to David Hooper, Office division director of Microsoft Hong Kong, 85% of Fortune 500 companies are currently using Yammer, whose user base has reached seven million globally. Besides Esquel, other local customers include Mandarin Oriental and Crown Worldwide Group.

Cost savings

For Esquel, the biggest benefits of using Yammer have been reducing productivity loss through real-time communication; increasing mobility through anywhere access to emails across devices; developing a unified culture by promoting staff collaboration; and reducing hardware administration cost. Altogether, Esquel estimated to achieve US$2 million savings a year.

Regarding IT cost reduction, Ling said Esquel aims to eliminate its 28 email servers and 14 Windows and SP servers, and all desktops. Of course, the application servers still need to reside in-house.

"But we believe a few years down the road, there will be no more desktop in our company," Ling noted. "Instead, the desktops will largely be replaced by the use of more popular devices like tablets and mobile phones. Accordingly, the 'redundant' system administrators will be allocated to focus "more on business alignment."

"Yammer offers rich team collaboration functionality which can drive productivity and innovation anytime, anywhere, and on any device. It also demonstrates its great value in terms of staff engagement for resolving problems, team collaboration for project management and innovation for new product ideas," Ling said.

"With Yammer, our employees can now instantly provide us with constructive feedback and new concepts, helping us break barriers across cultures, geographies and hierarchies to accelerate innovation throughout the organization," Ling added.

Turning complaint into actionable item

This was how Esquel turned a factory staff complaint on Yammer into an actionable item, potentially benefitting thousands of employees.

In October 2011, an Esquel worker in its Gaoming factory posted a compliant on the company's Yammer group criticizing the inefficient manual card charging system (for buying meals), which wasted each worker up to 30 minutes lining up in the queue.

The compliant on Yammer drew a lot of discussion, including some 40+ ideas to solve the card-charging problem generated in two weeks.

"Within just four months we introduced a kiosk solution that enabled automatic IC card recharging. This saved our workers a lot of queuing time," Ling said. "To close the loop, we invited the staff who originally posted the complaint to check out the new solution, and she became very satisfied."

Concerning whether Esquel has put in place any administrator to monitor staff comments made on Yammer, both Wong and Ling said "No," adding that it is important for the company to adopt a relaxed attitude towards it. "Otherwise, nobody will post comments on it [Yammer]," Wong added.

In addition to Yammer, Esquel Group has moved over 7,000 users to Microsoft's Exchange Online in 2013 as part of the Office 365 deployment. By the end of 2014, Esquel Group will also migrate to other platforms under Office 365 including SharePoint Online for knowledge management and Lync Online for web-based conferencing.

According to Esquel's CFO, the biggest benefits that cloud computing brings to the company are the enablement of mobility, collaboration and "always on."

"Of course, cloud is just the technology layer. What benefits you reap from cloud depend very much on what applications you put on top," said Wilkie Wong, CFO (Hong Kong and Overseas), accounts and IT, Esquel.

Moving more to the cloud

"Besides packaged tools like Office 365, we'll continue to explore how much of Esquel's in-house developed applications can be migrated to the cloud," he added.

Concerning cloud security, Wong said the company has two ways to approach the issue.

The first approach is about choosing the right location for data center set up. "Is it safer to deposit your money in the bank or store them at home?" he asked. "I'm not suggesting I don't trust our in-house IT security. But security measures taken at home can't be comparable to those adopted by banks."

The second approach concerns data security. "If the data on the cloud concerns human resources and individual's privacy, we'll be very careful about handing them. But if we're dealing with day-to-day applications, we are not too worried about putting data in the cloud," Wong concluded.

Following the use of RFID in production in 2003, the "technology- focused company" is now checking out the potential of Internet of Things (IOT) implementation. "We thought of installing sensors on fabric carts for easy location in a fabric mill -- currently a big headache for us. Using IOT, we may design a cart-parking solution.

Esquel is also testing the use of automatic-guided vehicle (AGV) inside the factory to help transport goods. Using AGV, one will need only to specify the start and end locations, the AGV will halt upon encountering an obstacle en route and move on when the path ahead is cleared.

The use of 3D printing appears to generate the biggest business value. "Rapid and precise prototyping is key to securing orders and businesses," said Ling. "A while ago we had an innovative idea of producing collar pins and clips using 3D printing initiated by a staff on Yammer. At present, Esquel has installed one 3D printer to mockup product accessories like buttons. According to Ling, the use of 3D printing for product mockup has helped its customers to minimize new metal mold production costs.

Keywords: Internet  Business Issues  
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