Solving the security skills shortage

Fortinet, F5 Networks, Utimaco and Nokia distributor Secureway recently continued its Middle East expansion by opening a new office in Saudi Arabia. As the company builds up its scale in the security distribution arena, CEO Fari Boustantchi reveals what's on his mind.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  February 11, 2008

Fortinet, F5 Networks, Utimaco and Nokia distributor Secureway recently continued its Middle East expansion by opening a new office in Saudi Arabia. As the company builds up its scale in the security distribution arena, CEO Fari Boustantchi reveals what's on his mind.

Secureway carries quite a select bunch of security vendors. Why is that?

We have a huge responsibility in the market because we introduce these vendors to our partners so we have to be really careful who we work with. If you look at our portfolio of products there is not a lot of them.

I could sign 40 brands for Secureway without any problems because all the VP EMEA sales [executives] are our friends - when you have been in this business for 20 years you know everybody.

But I have always been very cautious on this point because I don't want to sign vendors and then find out tomorrow that our partners are disappointed about the margins, the support or fear of the vendor going direct.

There must be plenty of factors to consider before making an agreement with a new brand.

When we want to sign a contract with a new brand it generally takes between three to six months. Our target is to bring vendors to the Middle East or any other territory where we operate that respect our resellers must be profitable with them.

It's a huge investment to launch a brand. If we are going with a vendor we have to be sure they will fit into our model. Signing a partnership with us is not an easy thing to do.

We are a pain in the neck because we want to know that when our sales and technical people are going to see partners they are confident and know they have the support of the vendor. They need to know that there will be no irregularities between direct sales or margins.

That's very important.

Now that the market is maturing from a security perspective, is it becoming more difficult to launch a brand?

It is not difficult to launch a new brand in the market, it is difficult to pull all the logistics together for a new brand. That means going in and finding people from our different partners willing to come and be trained. The Middle East and Africa market is growing tremendously, but if you are not a big brand then you might face a lot of pain when it comes to investing in things like training.

The level of skills in the reseller channel seems to be an emotive subject at the moment.

One of the things that we want to work on is addressing where partners have a lack of competency. What are their problems, what could really block a sale and how we can make the sales cycle shorter? If we can make the sales cycle shorter, it gives the VAR the possibility of closing the deal quicker. The quicker they can do that, the quicker they can invest.

Is the skills and competency issue the biggest challenge facing the Middle East market?

Yes, I think it is, not only in the VAR area, but also when you look at the end-user. That's not to say that we don't have competent people in the Middle East. I think that it's simply a case of the market growing faster than the level of competency in the market.

It has been a busy 12 months in the Middle East security distribution market. ComGuard and Fusion have both been acquired by larger competitors. What's your assessment of these changes?

In an emerging market where the growth is huge it's quite normal.

The trend of companies moving to buy others means that the market is growing. It's like when you go to a big street with a lot of restaurants. You never see the restaurants empty. All of them have their customers. I think each of us has our customers.

Do we all have the same way of working? I don't know, because I have seen some unfair competitiveness in the past. If all of us want to serve this market and bring a level of value-add then we have to respect each other and respect our resellers and end-users.

Customers belong to nobody, they are free to buy from whoever they want.

Do you see security becoming more of a mainstream or specialised area of the reseller channel in the Middle East?

It depends on the reseller. Some of them will go more mainstream because they need a security action in different areas, such as data security or network security.

Others will choose to be specialised. The development of both generalists and specialists shows that the Middle East market is becoming more mature and I think that we are going to see this phenomenon increase between now and 2010. There is a place in the market for both models.

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