eLearning specialists Atlas Knowledge have been working internationally for more than twenty years. Kevin Short explains how exporting has helped grow the business.
This 'Around the World in 80 Trades' feature coincides with the annual HSBC Scottish Export Awards in association with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is being held on 22 March in Glasgow. For information on the event, to nominate or to buy tickets, click here.
What does your company do?
Atlas Knowledge is a provider of digital learning solutions to safety critical industries worldwide, serving the learning and compliance needs of standards bodies, regulators and more than 1,700 corporate customers, including 6 of the top 10 largest energy companies in the world.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
Atlas Knowledge was founded in Aberdeen in 1995 to provide eLearning services to the UK and international oil and gas industries.
How long has the company been exporting?
Since we started trading, so for over 20 years.
What do you currently export, and where to?
Atlas’ learning and competency management systems and portfolio of over 1,000 eLearning courses are accessed across 116 countries, online and through our Global Partner Network of over 100 resellers and training centres. We have in-country support through our teams in India and Kuala Lumpur.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
We were motivated by our existing UK-based clients with operations abroad requiring regional and site-specific training. We saw a gap in the market with new overseas clients requiring training delivery to be provided, due to no suitability qualified suppliers being available locally.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
New technologies have certainly eased the process; the expansion of internet served areas, email, file transfer and video conferencing makes doing business much easier. eLearning is an online delivery format so there are few geographic restrictions. Now with mobile devices, our learners can access our services on the move, wherever they are in the world.
And the most challenging part?
Localisation is not an exact science and keeping everyone happy is a challenge. On larger ongoing projects in the US and Australia, time difference was challenging.
Meeting out-with standard operating hours etc. Being remote can make it difficult to read the client and pick up subtleties which you would sense in person.
On location international filming/media trips are costly and logistically complex to organise.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Within the international oil and gas market, the majority of the companies we work with have English as their operating language so there are rarely issues communicating with clients.
Cultural variances can cause issues. We have experienced a situation with a multimedia developer sending image files to a client in Qatar that would have been a criminal offence if discovered. Hand gestures used to direct a film shot offshore in Dubai, although acceptable in the UK, were considered offensive.
Government restrictions have also been a hinderance. We have had client instructions for film shoots in Tunisia and then not been able to take camera equipment into the country. We had to meet a French speaking camera crew with old equipment before the shoot.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
In the Middle East we have local sponsors we conduct business through. This is a prerequisite for an overseas supplier to carry out work in country.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Certainly, in our sector, the UK is seen as having high standards and these are desired by other countries around the world. Technology has made it easier and safer to operate across borders. Time difference can be an advantage as well as a restriction – a project can essentially progress 24 hours a day with simulated operations across time zones.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
We are looking to develop our Global Partner Network to increase the number of in-country resellers we currently work with.
We will continue to work with standards bodies to develop internationally and cross industry standards that can be digitalised, delivered online and remotely invigilated.
Accredit our products with internationally recognised certifications and qualifications.
We plan to offer localised versions of our products in the most used languages within that geographical area.
In addition to corporate companies, we want to make our online products and services available to individuals around the world. We plan to do this through driving international traffic to our website.