Gitex jubilation

In just five days, over 116,000 visitors descended on Dubai’s World Trade Centre for the silver jubilee of the Gulf’s biggest IT exhibition. Now the dust has settled, Sarah Gain reflects on some of the highlights of Gitex 2005.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  October 23, 2005

|~|cro_m.jpg|~||~|Widely acclaimed as one of the top IT exhibitions worldwide, when the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (Gitex) opened its doors to trade visitors on the 25th of September, organisers Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) announced that the show was officially bigger and better than in previous years. According to DWTC, the number of exhibiting companies rose 12% on 2004 figures to 2,724. “Over its 25-year time frame, Gitex has truly matured and grown from a modest one-hall event of 820 square metres to the mega-B2B (business-to-business) platform it is today,” says DWTC director general, Helal Saeed Khalfan Al Marri. “Gitex 2005 is the only premier regional event which provides an ideal platform to network and conduct business for the MEA region, which couples good market potential with divergent growth dynamics,” he adds. The number of countries represented at the exhibition shot up to 61 this year, a 49% growth from 2004, and there were a total of 24 national pavilions, hosting leading IT players from around the globe. The growing international presence at the event underlines not only the increased appreciation of the Middle East as an important IT hub, but also recognises Gitex as an ideal networking platform for the IT industry, according to Al Marri: “The reason for [the strong international presence at the exhibition] is that many firms targeting the Middle East IT market start out at Gitex,” he says. The UK Pavilion played host to more than 50 IT firms seeking to promote their products and solutions to potential clients in the Middle East. Tradefair, the company that helped British firms to participate in the exhibition, says events like Gitex provide foreign companies an ideal foundation from which to globalise their operations. “Tradefair works closely with UK Trade & Investment nationally to assist the development aspirations of the information communication technology (ICT) sector and exploit opportunities in global markets. Tradeshows like Gitex provide us a platform to further enhance these services,” says Catherine Pollard of Tradefair. The Iranian contingency was also out in force this year as Sanaray, a consortium of major Iranian software companies, sifted through 40 applications to select 18 of the best to appear at Gitex. As Sanaray already has an extensive presence in the local market, the corporation was looking to use the tradeshow to extend its reach beyond Iran’s borders. “The show allows us to make contacts in other countries around the region and even globally,” says Fereshteh Farajzadeh, the corporation’s international affairs executive. “The 18 companies that presented their products at Gitex covered a wide range of ICT fields. Some of the companies had been our co-exhibitors at previous exhibitions and they have been very satisfied with the results of their presence,” he adds. Other delegations from around the globe were equally keen to tap the increasing ICT spending power in the Middle East region. With analyst firms such as IDC speculating that the ICT market in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region could be worth around US$13 billion within the next three years, it is a wise move for international companies to attempt to establish a foothold in the region sooner rather than later, according to Mohamed Ali Hasni, director of the Tunisian Trade Office in Dubai. Companies from every continent were eager to forge partnerships with local organisations because, as Hasni points out, “We have now seen the potential for growth in the Middle East. Several of the IT industry’s best-known names also felt the time was right to make their Middle Eastern debut at this year’s Gitex. For example, Lenovo, one of the leading players in the global PC market, made its first public appearance in the region at this year’s show. The company, which acquired IBM’s PC division in May, now claims to be the third-largest computer firm in the world. As such, Imtiaz Ghani, the company’s regional manager for the Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan, believes the exhibition provided the ideal platform for Lenovo to explain to customers how it intends to combine the heritage of IBM with its own manufacturing efficiency and market reach. “Anyone who wanted to know anything about Lenovo, its products and how we plan to bring new competition to the region’s PC market was able to do so at Gitex,” Ghani enthuses. For other vendors, the exhibition was an opportunity to assess demand for their products in the MENA market. “The event helps manufacturers gauge market sentiment before introducing the product on a wider scale,” says DWTC’s Al Marri. Newcomer Tally Solutions, for example, succeeded in generating a significant amount of interest in its array of accounting software solutions, causing the vendor’s managing director, Bharat Goenka, to conclude that the region represents a prime market for expansion. “It was very much a learning curve,” agrees Scott Archibald, vice president of sales for end-to-end supply chain solution distributor, Workz Middle East, which also made its debut at the show. For Gitex veterans, on the other hand, the show was a chance to meet with existing customers and partners, improving established relationships as well as developing new ones. Having taken part in the tradeshow every year since it began, Ali Baghdadi, chief executive and president of distributor Aptec, recognises that demonstrating commitment to customers in this way is vital to maintaining market share. Even for companies well established in the regional market, there’s always room for improvement, he says. “This region now has the investment, innovation, talent and ideas to achieve something special. There is still some way to go, however, and new opportunities for growth are being created every day.” On the product side, Gitex 2005 saw providers of storage media, security systems, office automation, and biometric identification systems vying to show off their recent breakthroughs. Vendors offering mobile communication systems, voice over IP, satellite communications and broadcasting technologies jostled for the limelight with specialists in IT services, consulting, e-government and financial services solutions. Among the main attractions were the latest developments in tablet computing, slim and thin notebooks, stamp-sized flash memory cards with capacity up to 3GB, real-time antivirus and security software, graphic cards and next-generation IP telephony platforms. “Gitex acts as an ideal platform where products can be launched immediately after the design-stage,” DWTC’s Al Marri says. A great example of this is chip vendor Intel promoting the benefits of WiMax, by carrying out a pioneering demonstration of the solution in the region. The vendor connected its own show booth with those of Cisco and Redline in co-operation with Dubai Internet City to prove the speed and efficiency of wireless broadband. As the first generation of WiMax products are still undergoing testing, Intel’s regional director, Aysegül Ildeniz, says she believes WiMax will initially be adopted by the energy and education sectors. Meanwhile there has been interest in installing WiMax base stations from regional telcos such as Etisalat and Saudi Telecommunications Company. Ali Ghanim Hadi, a senior sales executive with Etisalat says the operator is interested in “anything that makes internet access faster.” Also demonstrating technologies intended to improve the efficiency of business practices was 3i Infotech, which demonstrated its “micro-verticalised” enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. The solution, Orion Advantage, which targets the process manufacturing industry vertical, aims to meet the specific business requirements of organisations involved in the micro-verticals of the chemicals, consumer packaged goods, food & beverage, and pharmaceuticals sectors. According to 3i’s executive director and president, Hari Padmanabhan, the packaged solution includes supply chain, warehouse and customer relationship management modules to provide as much out-of-the-box functionality as possible. “The processes in our solution have been gathered and validated from our vast experience of these industries,” explains Padmanabhan. After years of development, IBM announced that radio tagging is now ready to be rolled out across the Middle East market. With the middleware and industry applications now available, the vendor believes radio frequency identification (RFID) solutions will find widespread support among organisations in the Middle East. Looking to target the shipping and retail industries in the region, IBM chose to use Gitex as a platform to educate players in these market segments about the potential business benefits of RFID. “The key to [signing deals] is taking time to talk to a company and really discuss what they’re looking for and what their needs from a technology are,” according to Mourad Zohny, BPO manager for IBM’s Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan division. It seems this customer-centric approach may also have paid off for other vendors, as many were able to announce signings with prestigious customers such as governmental organisations, manufacturers and regional enterprise stalwarts. Using the tradeshow as a platform for announcements of this kind not only brings publicity but can also pave the way for even more deals according to Pierre-Alain Cadillon, Alcatel’s country manager for the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. “By announcing our success at Gitex we are able to prove to customers that our solutions really are being chosen by some high-profile end users in the region,” he explains. Alcatel announced a deal with the UAE’s Ministry of Education to install an IP communication server and provide training to teachers at the Higher Colleges of Technology. Belgian display company, Barco, is also hoping that its Gitex announcement will lead to more projects in the future. The company revealed that it is providing Saudi Aramco Oil Supply Planning and Scheduling Department with surveillance screens for the largest utility control room ever to be used in the hydrocarbon power industry. The 200-metre square control room contains 150 separate screens that use digital light processing technology. Barco’s international sales manager, Paolo Bravin, says increased security requirements are driving demand for this type of system as it has applications in areas such as car parks or airport luggage handling zones. “We see an upward trend — there are lots of people who want to invest,” he confirms. Another first came with Cisco’s announcement that, together with systems integrator GBM/UCMC, it had won a contract to deploy a 10 Gigabit Ethernet data centre network for the Emirates Group at its Dubai headquarters. The deal represents the first time the Group has leased IT equipment from a vendor. Under the agreement both Cisco and GBM will assist the Emirates Group in the consolidation of its server farms and decrease reliance on ATM-based networks. “We will now be able to meet the transporting demand with regards to day-to-day reservations and booking data from more than 80 of the airline’s offices,” enthuses Nigel Hopkins, executive VP of service delivery at the Emirates Group. While these announcements and many more all made the headlines, one particular announcement was notable for its absence. As everyone else tried to outdo one another with deal after deal and success story after success story, arguably one of the most keenly anticipated announcements never came — that of who is to be the UAE’s second telecom operator. In an announcement issued last month, just prior to Gitex, Etisalat claimed to welcome the emergence of competition, accepting that competition was necessary if the UAE is to be able to achieve entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This statement of support by the incumbent had caused many industry experts to expect that the disclosure of the identity of the second operator would take place during the exhibition itself. Instead, away from the Gitex spotlight, the telecommunications regulatory committee (TRA) made the somewhat diluted announcement that the newcomer will definitely be a government body, which will work with Etisalat in a duopoly. Although this ambiguity may have disappointed or frustrated some, it was not able to overshadow the fact that so much new business was done at the tradeshow. Gitex organisers DWTC are confident that this year’s exhibition will give major thrust to the entire region’s IT market. “The overriding feeling is that business was done, orders were taken, and new doors of opportunity have been opened. There is also excitement about the opportunities presented not only by Gitex, but also by the growth of the Middle East information technology market as everyone looks to IT to make not only their business but also the entire region world class,” concludes Al Marri.||**||

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