First impressions

Having spent the past five years exclusively tuned in to events that fall into the European portion of EMEA, my first week as editor of Channel Middle East has been an enthralling experience. While a few of my curiosities about life on the MEA side of the fence have been satisfied, I have to admit that even more have surfaced throughout the past seven days.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  September 6, 2006

Having spent the past five years exclusively tuned in to events that fall into the European portion of EMEA, my first week as editor of Channel Middle East has been an enthralling experience. While a few of my curiosities about life on the MEA side of the fence have been satisfied, I have to admit that even more have surfaced throughout the past seven days.

In Europe, the term EMEA is - rather shamelessly - treated as a euphemism for Europe. It is an oversight that rarely gets corrected and one that the vendor community almost never rejects. Because it can’t. The truth is that the vast majority of VPs who possess an EMEA job title have a desk in France, Germany, the UK or Netherlands, speak a western European language as their mother tongue, and, most tellingly, rely on European partners to generate the bulk of regional revenues. You only have to look at the song and dance that accompanies any EMEA VP visit to the Middle East region to understand where their priorities have traditionally resided.

But is that balance on the verge of changing? There is no doubt that the major ICT players are committed contributors to this part of the world; the likes of Cisco, HP, Microsoft and others are all veterans of the market. But it now appears that a steady tide of ‘second tier’ vendors – those which currently have just a handful of local staff and no real office space – are paying increasingly aggressive lip-service to the region and pledging to put more resources on the ground. This can only be a good development for indigenous resellers. Choice, variety and new ideas are integral to the market’s evolution. But at the same time it is up to resellers to ensure these vendors honour their vows by pressuring them to invest in dedicated channel programmes, better sales support, and more efficient technical assistance.

The channel has a duty to prevent vendors from failing to substantiate their declarations about how important MEA is to their growth aspirations. Yes, investing in the region can be costly and difficult, but it is time for manufacturers to stand up and be counted, even if it compromises their usual ROI expectations. Vendors must consider the bigger picture. Look at the IT companies that invested in Eastern Europe during the early 90s. These very organisations now boast deep-rooted customer bases and high brand visibility in the region, and their investments are finally being rewarded. Those that did not make the same commitment are realising it is now harder to break the local mould than it probably was 10 years ago. The same painful lesson will happen to vendors here if they do not give the region the attention it deserves and appreciate that certain dynamics of the Middle East channel are unique.

Europe, in contrast, is a different ball game. Go-to-market models are far more lucid and product can be tracked right through to the end-user. There has also been a marked shift towards distribution rationalisation, while online transactions have changed the face of the channel model forever. Of course, the IT sector faces universal challenges. Pick any continent and you will see the same battles raging: resellers are exploring new niches to offset stagnant margins in mainstream sectors; distributors must demonstrate unprecedented diligence when it comes to credit management; and vendors are desperate to find new ways to engage with partners in the small business space. EMEA covers a huge and diverse geography – now is the time for the IT vendor community to evaluate just how serious they really are about properly serving the latter part of this far-reaching acronym.

I look forward to covering the challenges of this enterprising and exciting region, and getting an opportunity to meet with even more of you in the next few months. Feel free to e-mail me on andrew.seymour@itp.com or call +971 4 391 0889

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