Local developers receive Blue Chip boost

Microsoft opens a support centre for local software engineers while Big Blue witnesses rapid growth for its own facility.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  March 7, 2004

|~|tantawy1.jpg|~|“Our software development centre in Cairo with more than 200 developers is expanding at the rate of 40% each year,” says Dr Ahmed Tantawy, technical director at IBM Middle East. |~|Microsoft has opened a Developer Support Centre (DSC) in Egypt to serve the needs of its growing developer base in the Middle East & Africa and encourage others to adopt Visual Studio.net as their platform of choice. The facility, which is based in Cairo’s Smart Village, offers onsite technical support for developers across the vendor’s various platforms, plus online guidance and support through 13 local offices. By investing in a local DSC, the Redmond giant hopes to tap into the region’s flourishing developer community and leverage its lower human resources costs and localisation capabilities. “The software development business in the Middle East is really healthy. There are 5500 independent software vendors (ISVs), 11,000 software developers and 14,000 students undertaking courses in software development in the region,” says Nasser Khan Ghazi, .Net & platforms director, Microsoft Middle East & Africa. “As the software industry grows, so does the need for Microsoft to provide more support to our developer community. By improving the levels of support available locally we believe we can help create a regional software industry that can really compete on an international level,” he explains. Microsoft is not alone in encouraging local development and IBM has run a developer centre out of Cairo for some time. Recently, the vendor has ramped up its efforts at the facility and has seen significant growth as result. “We have a full-fledged software development centre in Cairo with more than 200 developers and are expanding at the rate of 40% each year,” says Dr Ahmed Tantawy, technical director at IBM Middle East. However, while both Microsoft and IBM’s development centres signal a growing interest in the skills local developers have to offer, neither facility is producing total applications. Key to this trend is the prohibitively high development costs of such solutions compared to custom application development (CAD), and the fact that the Middle East is often seen as lacking maturity when it comes to intellectual property and other factors associated with creating complete software packages. “The specific software development skills do not exist here. There’s a whole matrix of software export laws, source code patents, intellectual property rights, marketing expertise, R&D initiatives, venture capital funding, technical issues and market needs, as well as cost of labour, which the developers here have [yet] to understand and address,” says Dr Tantawy. As a result, the focus within the Middle East for Blue Chip developers is on components for larger applications and customisation for the local market, while local ISVs alone build solutions for the region’s businesses. “The smaller ISV’s are targeting the local SME segment which is very price sensitive… [Also,] regional developers can maintain the edge in terms of local pricing, support and Arabised applications as they understand the local market better,” says Torben Pedersen, senior analyst, IDC Middle East & North Africa. “For example, we estimate that UAE revenues from CAD, will reach US$14.8 million by 2007,” he adds. Despite the Middle East’s gloomy outlook in terms of exporting homegrown software and competing with the likes of India, which recorded software exports worth US$9.5 billion in 2003 alone, there are some rays of light. For instance, the emergence of competency centres within the Middle East is providing local ISVs with access to the tools they need to build standardised solutions, while a historically narrow development focus can be translated into niche success. For example, Jordan-born Info2Cell homed in on mobile solutions and wireless application protocol (WAP) and was eventually acquired by Acotel, while e-learning developer Integrated Technology Group has started shipping its applications to the US. Furthermore, Ghazi suggests that if the region can learn to utilise its resources correctly then there is no reason why it cannot compete on the global software stage and stand proud with ISVs from either the US or India. “The region is blessed with tremendous human capital. We feel that as developed markets look to outsource development and services to places outside the US, it’s the right time for the Middle East to seek a share of this business,” he says.||**||

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