The cable guys

US firm Panduit is increasing its Middle East presence to tap into the infrastructure boom. In an exclusive interview, Eliot Beer spoke to the firm’s president Thomas Donovan, group VP for global sales and marketing Ronald Partridge and EMEA MD Alan Farrimond to hear about the firm’s regional strategy.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  June 30, 2007

US firm Panduit is increasing its Middle East presence to tap into the infrastructure boom. In an exclusive interview, Eliot Beer spoke to the firm's president Thomas Donovan, group VP for global sales and marketing Ronald Partridge and EMEA MD Alan Farrimond to hear about the firm's regional strategy.

What has brought you to the Middle East?

Thomas Donovan: The main reason we're here is to build on the strong start we have in the Middle East. Ron and Alan came over in 2005 and opened up the office, and we've had tremendous success since 2005. Our objective on this trip is to build on that success, recognise the great contribution we've received from our partners, and also continue to understand the needs of the local marketplace, so we can tune our strategy and make sure that we provide the right solutions to both our partners and our end users in this marketplace.

Is there a particular reason you've chosen to come to the region now? And how does the region compare to the rest of the world for Panduit?

Ronald Partridge: One of the reasons is that here in the Middle East organisations seem to be adopting new technologies a little bit earlier than a lot of other places in the world, so they tend to be more on the leading edge of the technology. That's where Panduit exists, that's where we take pride in innovation and we really take pride in developing leading-edge technologies. We see a lot of our customers really adopting those technologies, and we think that's a tremendous opportunity for us to add value for them, and for them to help us develop our solutions.

TD: I agree with everything Ron said. The other point I would make is that Panduit is a global leader in the data communication space as well as the electrical space, so it's not just the Middle East that we're focused on - it's the entire world. The Middle East is a key part of that, it's a key economy, and we're going to be a major player here as well.

Does your Middle East strategy differ from your overall global strategy?

RP: Our strategy is no different here from the rest of the world - obviously there's some localisation of the strategy, but we are definitely a global company, and the Middle East is a key component of being successful globally. As you see, a lot of the world's companies are coming here, they want to exist here, and part of our ability to service them around the world depends on our being here.

What's Panduit's unique value proposition?

RP: The breadth of our product line, and the breadth of our solutions. When you look at our company, we have everything from electrical cables to a complete datacomms solution. That breadth gives us the ability to offer customers an end-to-end turnkey solution - they don't have to piece things together and ensure they all work together. We work very closely with other partners - such as Cisco - so we can go in with an even more complete solution, beyond just what we as Panduit can offer. We can go in to a very large multinational bank, for example, and say ‘We can deliver to you, with our partners, a turnkey solution'. If you want a Tier IV datacentre, we can deliver a Tier IV datacentre - and it's going to be the most reliable, have the highest quality and the latest innovations. So that's what differentiates us from all our competitors.

A lot of organisations in the region have approached major IT projects piecemeal, as a series of point solutions. Do you find in this market that there's still a degree of education required?

Alan Farrimond: One of the key elements in a market like this is obviously education. So a lot of the packages we're developing globally, especially in EMEA, we're bringing that education to the local market, and bringing some technical resources to the market to help provide that education - so that's a key component of our strategy in the region.

What's your channel strategy in the region?

TD: Globally, we take a very selective approach to our channels. Our goal is only to work with channel partners that believe in the same things we do - innovation, quality, service, adding value to a customer. We're focused on doing that, and we're doing that without going into a market and signing up everybody and their brother. We go in and work with the top two or three guys, the partners that fit our business model most closely. Our channel partners really bring the technology together - one of our key criteria is making sure partners are able to bring together our solution and those of our partners'.

Do you find the skills shortage - globally and in the Middle East - affects your ability to build an effective channel?

AF: Our strategy is to focus on quality companies that deliver quality solutions. What we do bring to the market is what we call Panduit University, so when we partner with companies, it's a long-term partnership, and there's investment from both sides in training and skills, which is a key part of our programme.

TD: We offer training and certification - not just training, but making sure we close the loop and ensuring the person understands and is certified.

RP: The skills issue is a global issue. Right now, if you talk to a lot of deployment partners, that's probably the biggest challenge they face - finding good, talented, skilled people. Obviously in fast-growing and fast-developing markets it seems to be exaggerated over more established markets, but it's still a global issue.

How are you countering the rise of generic infrastructure products, both here and around the world?

RP: It's not a problem - although it's always a concern, obviously. The issue is these brands have a portion of the market that they play in, and that's where people are more concerned about price, not quality. We're really not focused on that area, we're really focused where the network is a critical system, where the business runs on and depends on that network. Places like banks, insurance companies - this is where we're focused. They understand the importance and the criticality of their infrastructure, and they understand that if they don't have a good infrastructure they're not going to perform very well and have a lot of issues. They can't afford to have these issues - it will cost them millions of dollars to have these issues.

TD: If you can talk to the specifier or the end user, you can make it clear very quickly that the total cost of a low-end solution over its lifetime is much higher than the cost of a high-quality solution like Panduit. You have hardware service problems, reliability problems, tenants who are unhappy with the performance of the network, and so on. We can tell you a million examples where mistakes have been made, and someone comes back and says ‘I'll never do that again - help me!' Again, the difference is at Panduit we provide a complete value proposition, including training with Panduit University and our design tools. We offer a full suite of solutions - it's not just about the physical product, it's much bigger than that. The low-end suppliers are just selling physical products without all the other services - support, quality assurance, and so on. It's apples and oranges - we're not selling the same product.

Do you find you have to explain to some customers why they should care about cabling?

TD: Absolutely. The good thing is, there's a lot of intelligent people in this marketplace that understand - they recognise they're building an infrastructure for the future, for 20 to 30 years from now, and they recognise the value of that investment and are willing to make that investment. Education is important at all levels, but there is a good base of companies that understand this is not about the cost of the product, it's about the effectiveness of the solution.

What do you see as the key technology for the future, and where is Panduit itself going?

TD: On the datacomms side, the technology is going to a broader and broader solutions set - this means a broader and broader solutions set, as well as all the support and design tools. In the datacentre, looking at heat using computational dynamic support for someone designing a datacentre; providing intelligent patch management solutions. The solution is getting broader in terms of what we offer as a physical product, as well as all the services and education that we wrap around it.

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