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IBM CSC Cambodia: an experience of a lifetime

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Klaus Johannes Rusch, Web Effectiveness Manager and Senior IT architect based in Vienna, Austria, recently took on an IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) assignment in Cambodia.

The CSC program was launched in 2008 by Sam Palmisano to provide skills, talent, and capabilities to communities in emerging market countries while helping IBMers gain valuable experience and skills for working in a global environment.


About Cambodia

Cambodia, a descendant of the ancient Angkor Empire, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia with approx. 15 million people, more than half of them younger than 25 years old.

During the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives, and many still bear mental scars. The economy and the education system were destroyed and are being rebuilt, with agriculture, garment production and tourism being the main economic drivers.

Despite strong growth in recent years, about one third of the population lives below the poverty line, and quality healthcare is not universally available. Outside of the major cities, many households don’t have access to power lines and running water. In contrast, Cambodia has modernized telecommunication networks; 3G mobile and Wi-Fi connections are available even in the most rural areas.

Klaus’ assignment took him to Phnom Penh. The capital of Cambodia has an international community of business owners and aid workers and offers an abundance of restaurants and hotels, the National Museum and the Royal Palace with the famous silver pagoda, colonial style buildings including the Foreign Correspondents Club and the main post office, as well as colorful and vibrant markets. Nevertheless many tourists only visit Siem Reap and the famous temples of Angkor in the northern part of the country.

IBM in Cambodia

IBM currently serves the growing Cambodian market from Vietnam, with support from specialists in the ASEAN region and through local business partners. A territory sales representative is the one and only IBM employee in Cambodia.

Vo Tan Long, the Country General Manager of IBM Vietnam, hosted a dinner reception for the team one night and pointed out the importance of showing what IBM can do locally.

The CSC team and assignment

Klaus was part of a nine-person team from eight different countries and various business areas, which provided consulting services and training to local organizations. Coincidentally, one of his colleagues in Cambodia was Renata Lima from the Global Web Production Services center in Brazil. “We had worked together remotely for many years, and it was great to finally meet in person”, Klaus said.

Tisabamokkha, the name for the first CSC team to visit Cambodia, was derived from a folktale about cooperating, caring and giving back, which nicely matches the spirit of the CSC. Helping people to help themselves and bringing sustainable improvements to their lives requires more than offering a helping hand during an assignment. It requires building capacity so that after the volunteers leave the work will continue by providing not just the skills and knowledge, but also motivation and confidence.

At HRINC, Cambodia’s leading HR recruitment, consulting and outsourcing firm, Klaus’ task was to assess the current IT environment and to train developers on web security and application development. Following a discussion with the managing director, the scope of work grew to include soft skill training and a management round-table. The company had grown from a three-person startup to a respected business with 120 staff in just a few years and clearly was starting to feel some growing pains.
The first workshop on teamwork, communication and conflict management turned out to be hugely popular: not only the IT team of eight, but a total of twenty-nine people from all parts of the business showed up!

The web developers received training sessions on web security, usability and design, application development methodologies, version control and testing. Seeing the hack with a photo of “Mr. Klaus” suddenly appearing on their company website prompted them to quickly fix the security exposures that the infrastructure assessment had revealed. The company is now looking into IBM Rational AppScan for automated security testing and considering LotusLive Notes for mail and collaboration.

The whole leadership team also participated in a half-day round-table about leadership, management styles, empowerment and delegation, and coaching.

Last but not least, HRINC also supports a social initiative for elderly care. To apply the learning from the trainings in a real-world scenario, the staff created a new bi-lingual website for the Cambodia Retirement Village (CRV) in just two weeks. IBM team members also arranged a trip to the retirement home in the Prey Venh province, where they met the villagers and helped installing security lights at the facility.

At the end of the month, the clients were very impressed with the breadth and depth of what IBM had to offer and expressed their gratitude to the team for spending time in Cambodia and helping their organizations.

Lessons Learned

The CSC pre-work with weekly team calls and online lectures on various topics such as consulting techniques, international aid programs, cross-cultural communication, and media relations, provides an excellent foundation for working abroad. “After many years in an international environment I was surprised by how much I learned about cross-cultural communication, for example the importance of pauses or how intonation doesn’t convey meaning in some languages”, said Klaus. “And who would have thought that looking someone straight in the eye is considered hostile and impolite? It definitely is in Cambodia.”

What impressed Klaus most was the people: “Every single person we met was positive and cheerful, whether it was the poor families at the floating villages, the cookshop people living on our street, or the elderly people in the retirement home. The other thing is the remarkable patience and the seeming abundance of time. While the cities are generally busier, even there, people don't seem rushed or stressed out, and consciously doing nothing for a little while is perfectly fine.”

For the IBM team members the assignment was also an opportunity to leverage their connections and make new friends. Every evening the IBMers would gather at their quarters to review the day and exchange ideas on how to proceed. With only four weeks in country, adaptability, using one’s networks effectively and tapping into the amazing wealth of information available internally are essential for success.

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