The Next Big Thing

Ali Ferling, general manager of Hewlett-Packard Middle East speaks exclusively to CRN about the future for HP and the biggest deal in IT history.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  October 1, 2001

I|~||~||~|Ali Ferling, general manager of Hewlett-Packard Middle East speaks exclusively to CRN about the future for HP and the biggest deal in IT history.

CRN: What can we expect in the near future for HP?

ALI FERLING: We continue, for the next six to eight months, as seperate companies, we compete with them [Compaq], and our objective, for all of our people, is to make our numbers. Whatever happens after six months, nothing will change overnight. Both companies, HP and Compaq, are much too big for that. The volumes that HP has in the Middle East, the investment, is huge, so I think HP is still a safe buy, and in the future, whatever the customer buys will carry the HP logo, so it is an even safer buy.

CRN: HP has invested heavily in the Middle East recently, including the e-store Web site, a call centre, regional offices.

FERLING: Yes—In the past twelve months we have invested in people, we have opened up two new offices, in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia, and we have won a few major businesses, we have won a big Internet data centre in Egypt, the Egypt Cyber Centre (formerly Egynet). In this data centre you see whatever HP has to provide: storage, Intel servers, Unix servers, intergration services from HP, the whole project management offering, financing services. It is an example of the new HP.

CRN: How popular has the e-store Web site been?

FERLING: I don’t have the latest numbers, but in the first month we did about half a million dollars, which was tremendous. The beauty of our set up here, is we basically use the UAE as the workbench—we try things out, and then we roll them out throughout the region. We are just about to start the e-store in Saudi Arabia. Something that we are trying out there is a call centre for the Web site, that will be run by ladies only, which is something very special in Saudi, but we feel we want to pioneer this.

CRN: Are we seeing a shift to improved CRM through call centres, online services and the like?

FERLING: What you mentioned are basically technologies to get closer to customers. There are different ways to do it—we don’t know the magic formula, but we give a choice to customers so they can order directly through the web, the call centre, or they can go to the partners. We can’t say how much we will be doing through which channel in a year’s time, but we see a very positive response to using different channels.

CRN: How much are you focused on services in the Middle East?

FERLING: If we have one point in this region that is very specific, and we don’t have this anywhere else in the world, up until recently, traditional maintenance services were all outsourced to our partners. Now with our new offices in Egypt and Saudi, we are asking what types of services do we want to offer to complement the channel—not to replace the channel, but to complement the channel.
A typical example is mission critical services. In Saudi, HP and Al Faisaliah have a joint agreement in order to provide these types of high end services to customers like the Arab National Bank. Al Faisaliah is the first level support, then they have HP and our system behind them to dial into the system, to start the system running. More and more, HP will go into this high-end type of services. There are a lot of areas where we will definitely position ourselves—we don’t want to do exactly the same as the partners, we want to move into the high end support, especially in the systems side.

||**||II|~||~||~|CRN: Is there still space for partners alongside your service offerings?

FERLING: There is room for partners—for example, Al Faisaliah. It is clearly defined what is the partners role, and what is HP’s role. Where customers want to deal directly with us, because they feel that they can rely on the service level they get with us, in many cases we will use the partners as a delivery mechanism. We are growing the business, because we can sign more contracts and give business back to the partners.
The roles are changing though, we must admit this. In the future model, the partner becomes a sub-supplier for certain services to HP. To deliver these types of services, they have to change. The business model is not just for partners to represent HP in the country. We are in the region now, and in many countries, so saying ‘I have been the only partner here for 20 years’, is not of value as such anymore. The value these partners have is that they know their local environments, they know their customers, and what we see is the good ones are developing very specialised skills. We are willing to help them to become regional experts on these skills. But if they don’t do this, we have shrinking partner budgets, and then you have a problem. The old role of ‘we represent HP’ is not enough anymore.

CRN: What is driving mission critical services in this region?

FERLING: The time is really right for lots of these services to be moving into the region, both for traditional customers and new business. The question is how dependent on your data are you? I am sure our customers understand the cost of losing service to their customers.

CRN: Is the Middle East gaining in importance, have we leveraged the vision of DIC?

FERLING: What we see is Dubai is becoming more and more a hub for logistics, on the sales side we know that you have to be close with your customers physically. I think North Africa is much better off in terms of sales support, being serviced out of Morocco; Southern Africa out of Johannesburg.

CRN: Margins are declining worldwide, but this region is still growing, does HP expect to continue to grow in the region?

FERLING: It all depends how the business of what has happened in New York turns out. As of today, HP looks at the Middle East as a strategic region for growth, and a region where more investment has to come. From my point of view, I am quite optimistic in the future of this region, and especially in the future of HP, there are no plans whatsoever to scale down the operation.||**||

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