Wealth of Experience

Oracle has been involved in the Middle East IT industry from day one. The software giant is harnessing its vast experience to drive its business on to even greater heights. Stuart Wilson caught up with Husam Dajani, senior VP for the Middle East and Africa to find out more.

  • E-Mail
By  Stuart Wilson Published  March 1, 2007

|~|DajaniHusam200facing.jpg|~|Husam Dajani, senior VP for the Middle East and Africa at Oracle.|~|Oracle has been involved in the Middle East IT industry from day one. The software giant is harnessing its vast experience to drive its business on to even greater heights. Stuart Wilson caught up with Husam Dajani, senior VP for the Middle East and Africa to find out more.

Everyone knows Husam Dajani - well, that’s the impression you get when talking to people that have been involved in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) IT market for any significant length of time. Dajani has been with Oracle for almost 20 years and has become a familiar face within enterprise IT circles.

His unwavering commitment to the development of the region’s IT sector is mirrored in Oracle’s overall approach to the market. Oracle is a global IT heavyweight driving the development of the market; a vendor that is prepared to invest in building up its own internal resources to match the pledges that it makes to its customers.

“Oracle has been in this part of the world for more than 20 years now,” explains Dajani. “So we are not foreign to the MEA region. From the very beginning we decided that we were going to invest in creating a network of employees and partners from within the region itself.”

Oracle’s MEA success story is living proof of the ‘first mover advantage’ theory that every modern management textbook seems to touch upon. By arriving early and building long-term relationships with indigenous companies, Oracle has benefited from the rapid growth that many of these early customers have gone through.

“A number of customers started with us locally and eventually developed to become global accounts for Oracle, like DP World for example,” says Dajani in a matter-of-fact way. “When we started working with them, DP World was simply Port Rashid and now they’re handling 19 ports across the world.

“You can look at companies like Emirates that didn’t exist 20 years ago and that is a company that we have grown with since the beginning. When we started working with MTC it was a mobile operator that was only in Kuwait - now it is a global operator. The same is true with Etisalat. We have benefited from the fact that we started working with these companies from the outset and also the fact that we have developed a network of partners and industry professionals in this region that know Oracle well. There are companies in MEA that have been running applications and systems on Oracle for 20 years.”

Dajani is convinced that Oracle’s success is also derived from its willingness to invest in building up the necessary skill sets at a grass roots level. The vendor has developed a reputation for working with universities across the region to ensure a strong supply of talented people with Oracle skills entering the regional ICT sector.

“A large number of people studied Oracle during their education,” he explains. “Now they are using these skills at work and they are comfortable dealing with Oracle.”
||**||Support skills|~||~||~|While many customers are comfortable working with Oracle, the vendor has not held back in terms of the development of its support network within MEA. For Dajani, winning the customer is just the beginning: ensuring that they remain satisfied for the duration of the relationship is the ultimate goal.

“If you look at the Oracle MEA organisation, almost 60% of our employees are in support,” he declares. “This enables us to provide the right level of support because we realise that many of our customers are running mission critical applications and they are relying on us.

“Airports don’t have downtime and we need to support systems that have been running 24x7 for the last 20 years. There are people going through immigration every minute of every day, every day of the year. For clients such as DP World an hour of downtime could cost millions of dollars. We have systems in this region that have been running and managed for long periods of time. We’ve upgraded systems while they are running without the requirement for rebooting, which is a very difficult thing to do.”

Oracle’s enterprise engagement model in MEA reflects the company’s global go-to-market approach. However, this is one area where the vendor’s experience in the region counts, and Oracle has not lost sight of the value of personal relationships and genuine local touch.

“As a global organisation we work with customers in MEA exactly the same way as we would anywhere else in the world,” Dajani adds. “The only difference is the amount of experience that we have developed in this part of the world and the continuity of engagement that many of our staff have had with long-term customers. We have staff that have been with Oracle for more than 15 years.

“We are not sending in new people to start building relationships with customers all over again. There has been huge growth in terms of our own headcount but this has developed hand-in hand with the need to specialise and train staff with deep expertise in specific vertical niches.”

Oracle has balanced local touch with vertical expertise, creating a model that values the development of in-country operations but remains regional in its overall outlook.

“From the start, we have built a regional organisation and shied away from country structures,” comments Dajani. “There isn’t a separate P&L for Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Egypt. We’re a regional operation.”

Oracle MEA has also taken advantage of resources lying just outside its massive theatre of operation. The software giant has built strong relationships with Indian IT service powerhouses such as Satyam and Wipro. Both partners have developed models that allow them to engage with clients in MEA and then utilise their labour resources within India to meet back-end service requirements.

For Dajani, the sheer size of the MEA theatre is a significant advantage when it comes to negotiating geopolitical and economic speed bumps within the region.

“Flying from Dubai to Morocco is like flying from London to Chicago. People can underestimate the scale of the MEA region. To the best of my knowledge it is one-third of the landmass of the whole world. It is quite easy for us to go through an economic or political crisis in one country or area, and when this happens we can shift our focus to other areas.

“We went through some tough times during the Gulf War yet our business continued to grow at a regional level and that is important to us - to sustain the growth during good times, bad times and also times of crisis, wherever they may be. This region is not like the tightly integrated US or EU economy; it can be sluggish in one part and booming in another. During the last two decades, we have grown our MEA business each and every year.”
||**||Regional outlook|~|DajaniHusam200talk.jpg|~|“Oracle has been in this part of the world for more than 20 years now,” explains Dajani.|~|Experience equals expertise and an innate understanding of how customer requirements vary from country-to-country. For Dajani and his team, this means developing, implementing and supporting systems and solutions that can be deployed regionally, while maintaining the ability for relatively simple localisation.

“Take an application like billing, which might be very similar from one country to another for a telecoms operator,” he says. “That is no real problem but if you start to look at something like payroll that is actually very different from country-to-country. Many of the companies that we work with have moved from local operations to regional operations and you need to deliver the skills, services and software that can support this growth across multiple countries.

“The vast majority of companies want to work with a single vendor and they want to operate a single datacentre because they realise the benefits in terms of cost savings, solution uniformity and governance that comes from a single application that can run a business process on a global scale. Very few are now opting for distributed datacentres.

“Our software is global. The economies of scale come from having one system that companies can use like a utility. You don’t install a power generator in every office that you open; you plug into the power system that the government provides. The same model is now being applied to corporate IT based on one infrastructure – one HR system, one payroll system, one billing system and so on.”

As problems with network infrastructure and bandwidth constraints are put to bed, this model - built on web-based services and applications - is gaining traction across the MEA theatre.

“We have customers in Africa such as the governments in countries including Namibia, Botswana and Uganda where the network is still quite primitive and comparatively slow. Nevertheless these customers have chosen a single solution that runs across the various departments throughout the country on these networks,” Dajani adds.

“It’s not as fast as it could be because of the network limitations but every effort is made to optimise the performance using the latest technologies. Given Oracle’s experience in infrastructure solutions, we have the ability to develop application software that utilises the breadth and depth of this knowledge.” One of the most significant challenges for Oracle MEA in recent times has been keeping its customers up to date on the numerous additions to the company’s software portfolio. Oracle has spent close to US$20 billion on acquisitions in recent years, positioning the company as a trailblazer in the consolidation process that continues to reshape the enterprise software landscape.

“In terms of our ability to acquire a company and then absorb it within Oracle and have them using our back office and systems and process, we’ve done exceptionally well,” claims Dajani. “In terms of taking the various bits of technology that we acquired and then leveraging them to secure additional business, that is probably where we underestimated the effort required - at least on a regional level.

“It is all about understanding the ability of customers to absorb the information that you send to them. We can explain the strategy, what we plan to do and how we plan to do it, but it can be difficult to absorb because the rate of change is so fast.

“Last month with our Applications Unlimited event, we launched 5 major releases in one day - Oracle e-business suite, PeopleSoft, Siebel and two JD Edwards releases. Clients may have found that hard to take in and I think we can do a better job communicating to them just how fast we are developing new software and bringing new technologies to the market.”||**||Customer needs|~||~||~|While it would be easy for internal changes and multiple acquisitions to make some managers spend more time looking at internal issues, Dajani remains committed to meeting the needs of Oracle’s customers and understanding the changing needs of the region’s CIOs and IT managers.

“The best software provides IT departments and businesses with the right combination of manageability and the ability to handle business processes more efficiently - reducing the amount of manual input required. On the infrastructure level we are making sure that we develop high performance software that is easy to manage in an environment where there is a large number of users. Simultaneously, we strive to provide even better services.”

Dajani does not believe that the MEA theatre suffers from a technology lag compared to other markets around the world. “If I was pressed to give an answer on this [technology lag] I would have to say that MEA is sometimes more advanced than other regions - even compared to Western Europe,” he explains. “In many areas MEA is more advanced because we don’t have all the legacy that they [Western Europe] have inherited — the systems that were developed 20 or 30 years ago.

“Take a city like Dubai and look around and there are hardly any mainframes. The one exception is probably the reservation system at Emirates. All the systems are running on the latest operating systems, are built on the latest technology and are using the latest versions of the software. And I don’t see Dubai as an exception in MEA. Even in remote places in Africa we are seeing the deployment of the most advanced IT systems.”

While Oracle has already established itself as one of the most respected vendors in MEA, the job is far from complete for Dajani and his team. “This market has an almost insatiable appetite for technology and the funding is there as long as the customers can see that there is a clear return. The biggest challenge we face to keep pace with this growth potential is recruiting the staff and partners that we need to maximise the opportunities that lie ahead of us,” he adds.

While Oracle has already established itself as one of the most respected vendors in MEA, the job is far from complete for Dajani and his team. There is still plenty to aim for, he says. “This market has an almost insatiable appetite for technology and the funding is there as long as the customers can see that there is a clear return. The biggest challenge we face to keep pace with this growth potential is recruiting the staff and partners that we need to maximise the opportunities that lie ahead of us,” he concludes.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code