Storming success

This year’s Gitex Saudi Arabia demonstrated the wave of optimism sweeping through the Kingdom’s channel as IT spending continues to grow at a rapid rate. Apart from a severe sandstorm on the second day of the event, which led to the evacuation of some halls and caused one outside stand to collapse, Gitex Saudi Arabia was buzzing.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  April 26, 2006

This year’s Gitex Saudi Arabia demonstrated the wave of optimism sweeping through the Kingdom’s channel as IT spending continues to grow at a rapid rate. Apart from a severe sandstorm on the second day of the event, which led to the evacuation of some halls and caused one outside stand to collapse, Gitex Saudi Arabia was buzzing.

If proof was ever needed that in-country distributors operating in the Kingdom are now capable of providing services on a par with regional players, it was here by the bucket load. Companies such as MSO, Nasco, BDL, AIM and Al Jammaz are driving the in-country channel towards the next level of sophistication within the Kingdom.

Representing a number of A-brand vendors — and in most cases looking to add even more — the distribution giants of the Kingdom presented a professional face at this year’s Gitex Saudi Arabia. These were not stands that only showcased the latest whizzy products; these were stands where resellers could find out more about RMA, stock availability, credit terms, delivery times and stocking points.

Vendor representatives were also present on the vast majority of distributor stands to explain the benefits of their respective channel programmes to interested resellers. It shows just how far channel development has come in Saudi Arabia. For resellers, it is no longer simply about product price and availability. Sure, these are still significant drivers in the decision-making process when it comes to selecting a supplier, but many other factors are also now taken into consideration.

While the leading lights of the Saudi Arabian IT distribution and retail channels were out in force at this year’s show, some major vendors were conspicuous only by their absence.

Acer once again underlined its commitment to the Kingdom as one of the only A-brand vendors running its own stand at the show. Other vendors such as Cisco, Sun, Toshiba, Dell and HP harnessed the power of their partners to make sure that their portfolio and partner offerings were prominently displayed at the show.

One notable absentee at this year’s Gitex Saudi Arabia was the mighty Microsoft, which quite frankly was bizarre to say the least. After all, this is the most important IT trade show in the largest market in the region where local assemblers such as Zai appear alongside A-brand vendors and 100,000-plus visitors turn up.

From the business buyers in the trade hall through to the hordes of consumers attending Gitex Shopper, you’d think that this would be a prime opportunity for Microsoft to hammer home its anti-piracy message in the Kingdom and display its latest product offerings and whip up some brand enthusiasm. Apparently not. Microsoft Arabia, the business unit that represents Microsoft in Saudi Arabia, chose to stay away.

Do you want to know the most bizarre part of all? Cast your mind back to the CeBIT trade show held in Hanover, Germany earlier this year. One of the lead companies exhibiting (as part of the delegation from Saudi Arabia) was none other than Microsoft Arabia.

Admittedly, Europe has been an important market for some Microsoft partners in the Middle East — as demonstrated by last year’s grey market shenanigans. Nevertheless, I still find it hard to fathom exactly how Microsoft Arabia can justify jetting off to CeBIT and not putting in an appearance at Gitex Saudi Arabia. Answers on a postcard please.

During the last two years, the Saudi Arabian IT channel has begun to mature and segment. Many vendors have helped to drive this process by putting staff on the ground to work with the channel and the emergence of a top tier of national distributors has to be welcomed. As the largest IT market in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia deserves to be at the forefront of regional development.

With companies such as Cisco committing hundreds of millions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and other vendors ramping up their in-country headcount as quickly as possible, the future looks bright for the Kingdom’s channel. The quality of visitors at this year’s Gitex Saudi Arabia was high and it is hats off to Riyadh Exhibition Company for putting together such a well organised show.

With the possibility of the show moving to a new venue next year, Gitex Saudi Arabia’s importance in the regional IT calendar can only increase. Whether or not this will be enough to tempt Microsoft Arabia to turn down a week in Germany and instead target customers and partners in the market that it actually operates in is still open for debate.

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