Back to basics

The Middle East's network infrastructure market has enjoyed a boom in recent years leading to a dearth of skilled staff in the region. Ronan Shields speaks to leading industry figures to investigate.

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By  Administrator Published  April 1, 2007

As the Middle East advances towards market liberalisation, entrepreneurs and multi-national corporations are converging on the region to take advantage of the growing commercial opportunities posed by its ‘emerging' markets.

The ensuing boom in the Middle East's construction market has had a knock-on effect for the region's network and system integration industry as both sectors scurry to meet the growing demand for IT infrastructure.

The apparent overnight boom of the industry has resulted in a reported shortage of skilled staff across many sections of the IT sector. However, pundits highlight that cable infrastructure installation and maintenance is a worryingly undervalued segment of the industry.

The phenomenon of contractors cutting corners in the deployment of IT infrastructure is well documented with regional professionals expressing dismay at the levels of expertise in the Middle East.

Andrew Stevens, managing director of CableNet Training, one of the UK's biggest independent training providers of infrastructure technology, warns that systems integrators and construction companies underestimate this segment of the market at their peril.

"The core element of an efficient cable infrastructure system is ensuring that it is designed and installed correctly. What we do is train staff to design a network cable infrastructure, how to install, maintain and how to package it to a customer," comments Stevens.

In addition, CableNet Training has undertaken a regional marketing strategy of marketing its services through distribution channels by teaming up with cabling and fibre optic firm Mayflex, and claims that a highly skilled engineering team is a saleable asset.

The company forecasts the regional market potential for its services is so large it plans to open an office in Dubai's Knowledge Village after receiving positive feedback at last year's GITEX in Dubai.

"We highlight to our partners that cable infrastructure is now the fourth utility, similar to water and electricity, and it must be installed to the same high standards as any of the other utilities," says Stevens.

"At present cable infrastructure is installed almost as an afterthought. In this day and age if an office network goes down most businesses will grind to a standstill, and I can guarantee you that when this happens the vast majority of the time it will be caused by poor network installation."

However, he does highlight that system integrators are increasingly realising the need for them to invest heavily in the skillset of their staff to meet this requirement.

"Currently we are working closely with a lot of cable manufacturers, consultancies and end users to emphasise the level of workmanship required to operate in an efficient manner."

Kandasamy Ganesan, networking consultant of e-sharp and district chair for Building Industry Consultation Services International (BICSI), asserts that the increase in speacialised IT-infrastructure engineers has led to a growing maturity in the Middle East market.

"End users are beginning to demand higher standards from their system integrators as the emergence of IT consultants in the region is increasing levels of awareness," he says.

Stevens also indicates that the trend is in contrast to the interests of construction companies eager to capitalise on the growing demand for office space in the region.

"The first instinct of most construction companies is to minimise cost and this is the biggest challenge we face in expanding our business.

"I cannot emphasise how incredibly shortsighted a policy this is," he adds. "Our marketing activities highlight how this is a long-term investment that will enhance the brand-equity of companies who take advantage of our services."

Stevens also cites research asserting that re-installing a flawed cable networking infrastructure costs three times more than contracting a highly trained professional to originally carry out the job.

Ganesan also notes that supply has not necessarily met demand. "The dynamic nature of the market here, combined with a comparative lack of training opportunities in the region has led to many engineers to receive their training on the job."

The high levels of staff turnover in the Middle East's IT infrastructure sector has led to many companies to adopt a reluctant attitude towards investing in the skillset of their staff claim critics. Ganesan highlights the potential benefits for every strata of the market if IT infrastructure companies invested more heavily in the skillset of their staff more actively.

"By promoting a culture of learning among their staff, IT companies can skirt many of the problems that they are currently encountering such as staff retention and the subsequent skills gap," explains Ganesan.

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