Open for business

The lifting of US trade sanctions last year has suddenly made the Libyan market a viable proposition for IT companies previously forbidden from developing channels in this part of North Africa. But those who are now beginning to take the Libyan IT sector seriously are advised to tread carefully if they wish to build the routes to market required to justify their investment.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  December 23, 2007

Some companies, such as storage reseller STME and handset giant Nokia - the latter of which recently opened an office in Cairo - are using their Egyptian bases to address Libyan customers, while Egyptian business influence is expected to increase in the IT channel going forward, particularly as visa restrictions do not apply. Yet, after so many years in the shadows, those with aspirations to make a success of the Libyan market will require dedication and patience because controlling and understanding the maturity of the customer when it comes to buying IT equipment still remains difficult.

"The processes for RFPs and other basic procedures we are used to in the Middle East are very new there," observed Sun Microsystems' Gary Hopwood, who has visited Libya several times to oversee the vendor's progress with partners and customers. "So the decision time ends up being much longer because it is difficult to get used to proper RFP processes and selection criteria.

We’ve assigned a channel account manager to Libya, and are in the process of understanding the Libyan channel and determining our next steps. First indications look promising.

Sun's strategy since the turn of the year has been to align closely with other vendors such as Oracle - understood to be one of the few US brands to have staff permanently based in Libya - in order to share experience and local knowledge. "Libya is a country where the opportunities are huge, but it is going to take time to get the customers to a certain level of understanding about the technologies we are bringing and also to get the channel partners up to a level where we are happy to work there on those kind of projects," admitted Hopwood.

Like many other vendors who are getting to grips with the Libyan market, Sun has opted to develop a one-tier strategy for its high-end solutions, appointing Al Wasl, CIS and GIT as its initial partners. The company also relies on Dubai distribution partner Aptec to supply entry-level Intel- and AMD-based volume products into a registered Libyan customer base of around 25 resellers.

Infrastructure management software vendor CA is another brand that has taken its first steps towards developing a channel in Libya. "We recently signed up our first partner in Libya, ITS Canada, and we are now working to train and certify them," explained Quentin Cornelius, director of EMEA East channel sales at CA. "We've also assigned a channel account manager to Libya, and are in the process of understanding the Libyan channel and software market and determining our next steps. First indications look promising."

Elsewhere in the software market, Opennet - the master distributor for Red Hat Linux in the Middle East - has also started making visits to the Libyan market alongside representatives from Red Hat's European subsidiary. "We have dealt with the territory at arm's length for some time," explained general manager, David Allinson. "The most recent visit we made to Libya was really a fact-finding mission to see what's going on, what level of activity there is in the marketplace and to take a look at potential partners."

Allinson admits Opennet's initial objective is to identify in-country partners and provide them with the necessary tools and skills to support customers, in addition to educating the market about open source. "We are already talking at an early stage about delivering training within the country," he revealed. "We have an education division, which operates out of Dubai but also has the capability to deliver on-site training. In the past we have had people coming from Libya to attend training courses, but with demand we are able to deliver out in the field where necessary."

With many vendors aware that finding reliable partners with links into important sectors such as government and oil and gas holds the key to success, the verdict from most commentators is that a diligent, rather than aggressive, approach will prove to be the most effective method for channel development in the coming years.

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