Delivery mechanism

The Middle East channel is waking up to the sales opportunities surrounding the growing demand for push email solutions. Mobile device vendors are marking their channel territory as they look to develop the winning route-to-market that will allow them to dominate a sector destined for stellar growth. Stuart Wilson reports.

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By  Published  October 31, 2006

The idea of 'always-on' connectivity, zero downtime and maximum application availability may leave some stressed out executives fearing for their health.

However, for many highflying executives in the Middle East the deployment of mobility solutions — including push e-mail — cannot come soon enough.

Device vendors, network operators, systems integrators and value-added resellers are gearing up to meet the massive demand anticipated in the Middle East.

Channel ecosystems are being formed and order pipelines are already impressive as major vendors such as Blackberry, i-mate, Motorola, Nokia and Palm look for a slice of the action.

For device giant Nokia, getting customers interested in push e-mail solutions is the easy part, according to regional enterprise sales manager Joe Devassy.

“Right now, if I go to a party and I meet an IT manager and I start using the push e-mail service you can pretty much guarantee that he will want it.

It is as simple as that.

We have a massive end-user awareness campaign scheduled for this month and expect most customers we meet to want the solution.

The current conversion rate from pilot scheme to full installation is 95%.”

Other device vendors operating in the market mirror Nokia's optimism.

40- strong Emitac Mobile Services (EMS) plans to bring Blackberry to the market in a big way.

Abdul Karim Sawan, director of engineering and architecture for Blackberry at EMS, explained: “We play the role of the vendor in the region and represent Blackberry and RIM.

Our mission is to take the carriers from having no Blackberry skills to a position where they can offer it to customers.

Covering the Middle East and North Africa for Blackberry, EMS describes itself as a preferred partner for the mobility solutions vendor in the region.

Having already struck an agreement with Etisalat in the UAE, more deals with regional carriers are already in the pipeline.

“We are slowly approaching all the operators in the region,” continued Sawan.

“BlackBerry does not have much presence outside the UAE at present but we are working on it because there is huge demand.

This is a market that has been waiting for BlackBerry.”

Valentijn Van Der Meijden, director of product marketing at EMS, added: “It is not easy to give a straight answer on the timeline for new carriers to start offering the service.

It depends on how large the deployment of staff is that a carrier commits.

We can have a solution up and running with a carrier four months after a contract has been signed - and we've signed contracts other than Etisalat although I cannot tell you about them yet.”


Routes to market

While the device vendors are all promoting similar push e-mail solutions they are, at present, looking to develop very different routes to market.

While Nokia and i-mate are working hard to develop a partner base of systems integrators and VARs, EMS is concentrating its market development efforts on the operators themselves.

Other players such as Motorola are turning to their own internal network services division to promote enterprise mobility solutions in the Middle East market.

i-mate is also leveraging its close partnership with Microsoft to help build momentum for its push e-mail solution in the Middle East.

Jack Craine, global sales director at imate, added: “Through our strong alignment with Microsoft we have dovetailed into their campaign as they migrate customers to Exchange 2003 Service Pack Two, which heralds a new opportunity for their customers to benefit from a fully extended mobility solution with push e-mail.

We are working closely with Microsoft to identify those customers in the region.”

“The training, education and implementation that end-users need is delivered through VAR and systems integrator partners.

There are approximately a dozen channel partners that we are working through at the moment but many of those are still subject to non-disclosure agreements,” he added.

One vendor that is prepared to name its current channel partners is Nokia.

Devassy has a long history of working in the channel and this has obviously benefited Nokia in its development of a robust route-to-market for mobility solutions.

“The mobility solutions distributor handling logistics, fulfilment and inventory is Redington,” said Devassy.

“We then have customer-facing partners that are highly trained in deploying mobility solutions.

In the UAE we are currently working with Emirates Computers, Al Futtaim Technologies and Solutions Middle East.”

Skill sets

For all the device vendors selling mobility solutions, ensuring that channel partners have the right skills and expertise is an imperative.

Unlike many other IT solutions, push e-mail and mobility solutions tend to follow a topdown adoption within an organisation.

Devassy, fresh from a trip to Saudi Arabia to meet the CEO of a 20,000 strong organisation evaluating a push email solution, explained: “You have to make sure the right resource is in place for each project because it is easy to upset customers with the wrong proof of concept.

In this situation you are always dealing with the top management because the way mobility flows, it starts from the apex of the organisation.”

Device vendor Palm, which now has a master distribution agreement with ITE Distribution in place in the Middle East, also believes that selling skills are a vital part of the mobility solution sale.

Tim Mahne, Palm Europe's head of master distribution, said: “The channel needs to develop skills that encompass a total package and not just individual elements and this includes a service contract.

Customers want to know that they have support 24x7 to ensure that their business is fully supported.”

Channel partners also need to understand the technology underpinning the variety of push e-mail offerings available in the market.

Many large organisations prefer to adopt a 'behind the firewall' approach whereby they retain full control of the system, relying on operators for nothing more than connectivity.

The alternative operatorled model, which involves the carrier performing the actual push of the emails to devices, can leave large enterprises feeling that their network security has been compromised in some way.

For all the device vendors in the Middle East market, promoting the security aspects of their solution is vital.

Sawan at EMS added: “Customers are demanding secure solutions and behind the firewall they can manage and control it.

When executives carry a Blackberry they carry confidential information on it so you need to have the capability to manage the device remotely and also wipe it if necessary.”

Security focus

I-mate is also keen to stress the integral security that forms part of its mobility solutions offering.

Dr. Jon Moss, technology director at i-mate, commented: “Part of our offering is the i-mate Suite, which actually allows a corporation to centrally manage all the devices in their portfolio.

If somebody leaves a device somewhere or loses it then it can be locked, wiped or certain applications can be removed remotely.”

For Devassy at Nokia, security is one of the three pillars of the skill set that a channel partner looking to sell mobility solutions should possess.

“Partners need network integration skills,” he said.

“Unified messaging skills are necessary as is security expertise.

When you talk about mobility solutions, it is basically connecting the IT infrastructure of an organisation to a mobile device.

That means there is a path through the firewall within the organisation and someone therefore needs to understand the security implications of letting executives go around with corporate data on their devices.”

While the first wave of push e-mail adoption is expected to come from the enterprise sector, interest from consumers and prosumers is also expected to rise rapidly.

However, for this sector of the market to hit critical mass, retailers need to pay more attention to the sales opportunity surrounding push e-mail.

Harout Bedrossian, regional product marketing manager for Motorola mobile devices, explained: “Retailers are not embracing push e-mail as much as we would like.

At the moment sales are more down to operators and service providers pushing the concept as opposed to retailers creating demand among consumers.
There is not much awareness at a retail level and many still focus primarily on selling features such as cameras, music players and video capture.”

Agnostic approach

Sales of mobility solutions in the Middle East remain embryonic but the market potential is huge.

With many of the barriers to adoption already dealt with in markets such as the US and Western Europe, device vendors expect the size of the opportunity in this region to grow at an exponential rate.

The demand already exists in the Middle East and the only real constraints are the lack of channel breadth and the readiness of the operators in some countries.

For Mahne at Palm, the future path for sales development in the Middle East is already clearly mapped out.

“The aim now is to expand our market volume and share by delivering on two platforms and developing a localised product offering,” he said.

“We plan to work with Microsoft on educating customers about the potential of push e-mail and also publicise more of our European and US success stories in the Middle East.”

While there are still some potential interoperability barriers and technical obstacles that the market needs to overcome, device vendors and operators appear determined to work together to solve these issues as quickly as possible.

“When you are talking to enterprise customers, you have to position the mobility solution within an open approach,” explained Devassy.

“The Nokia solution has three advantages: it is device agnostic, network agnostic and groupware agnostic.

We realise that we cannot go to an enterprise and say we will only support a Microsoft Exchange solution for a select range of devices.

It has to be an open platform approach.”

The window of opportunity for the channel to move into the mobility solutions space is now.

It is not an easy sell and distributors and resellers need to show vendors and operators that they are serious about building up the necessary in-house skills and resources to ensure that each deployment is a success.

“The demand has always been there and the market has been waiting for these solutions,” concluded Sawan.

“There are six million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide and I see the Middle East as being in a similar situation to Europe four or five years ago.

People have seen these solutions elsewhere in the world and want to see them here as well.”

“You have to make sure the right resource is in place for each project because it is easy to upset customers with the wrong proof of concept”

“The channel needs to develop skills that encompass a total package and not just individual elements and this includes a service contract”

A short history of a leading mobile phone provider

A company that has firmly established itself within the Middle East mobile phone channel is Itsalat International, which acts as wholesaler, distributor and retailer of some of the leading mobile handsets in the world.

The company's president and CEO Abdul Hameed Al-Sunaid talks of how it began.

“Before we started a mobile phone company, we were in the IT business, and then we started on the new company that specialised on mobile phones in Saudi Arabia in 1993.

Finally Saudi moved from the NMT technology to GSM and the market started moving.

At that time it was very important that although we were coming from an IT business and we had our own brand and our agencies imported directly from other agents of products, we wanted a mobile company, that would be successful without being arrogant.

I'll explain to you why.

At that time, Nokia was exclusive, Sony was exclusive, Siemens was exclusive, Ericsson was exclusive, and Motorola was exclusive.

So of all these five companies, which represented 90% of the market, were all exclusive… So we ended up supplying handsets from Sagem, Panafone and others.

Soon we took a 50% market share of the 10% stake that remained of the non-exclusive handset market.

We then started importing phones from Europe in direct competition with the local agents.

We were not arrogant, and we were under a lot of pressure to prove ourselves in order to satisfy our customers in competition with the authorised distributors at that time.

In 1997, with GSM having been introduced in Saudi in 1994, our volume increased substantially.

Volumes increased a lot - we were making US$40-45 million a year, which is huge.

We initially depended on traders out of Europe, and as the business was becoming larger we started our own company in London.

Its main job was to source the product and to look for extra business as they could.

This subsidiary, which is called LITC, was started in 1997 and started sourcing goods for us, and within time it became one of the major players in the UK.

Its turnover is more than US$200 million a year.

Through LITC, which is the re-exporter of mobile phones from the UK, because at that time the UK was the centre of the export of mobile phones globally before Dubai, the company started exporting to Saudi, the UAE, Kuwait, Jordan, I think we re-exported to 34 countries, even to South America.

Through these re-exporting activities we started to know this market, and this is how our gate to the Middle East came from Europe.

So our customers in Jordan, we went there and acquired the majority of this company and converted it to i2.

Our customers in Kuwait, we did the same, we went there and acquired the company and converted it into i2.

So this is in brief how we started, and how things evolved.

And then this is what led to us becoming very successful in London, with companies with one by one appointing us as the second distributor when they broke the exclusive arrangements they had in place.

We became the first choice for international companies in Saudi, and then from Saudi we took them with us to other countries.”

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