Lighting up the Lenovo channel

Khaled Kamel will have to call upon all of his experience in the Middle East's IT sector as he takes on Lenovo's regional business.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  April 3, 2008

Khaled Kamel will have to call upon all of his 19 years' experience in the Middle East IT sector as he begins the task of grabbing Lenovo's regional business by the scruff of the neck and compiling a strategy to take it forward.

Lenovo's set-up in the Middle East is wildly different to what he would have been used to at HP, where he served as the imaging and printing boss for Saudi Arabia. While HP can lay claim to more than 1,000 employees across the region and a string of fully-fledged local offices to boot, Lenovo doesn't even have an operation in KSA yet.

It feels like there has been a tidal wave of change at Lenovo's Dubai hub during the past year, with senior figures - many of which were there in the IBM days - seeming to leave one by one. Although staff departures are part and parcel of commercial life, it's difficult to argue that it doesn't have a destabilising effect on partners crying out for consistency and direction.

Marketing chief Mohamed Sharaf left for a new position outside of the industry, while channel and distribution manager Khalid Wani moved to the components arena after accepting the challenge of growing Western Digital's branded product lines in the Middle East and Africa. Both individuals were familiar faces to Lenovo partners around the region, as was Imtiaz Ghani, whose surprise departure forced Lenovo into hiring a new figurehead in the first place.

Kamel's transfer from HP to Lenovo comes at a particularly interesting time in the evolution of the Middle East PC channel. I wouldn't be as dramatic as to say the market stands at a crossroads, but if you assess the strategic moves being executed by the major players then it is clear that the need for a progressive channel approach is a concept that is starting to sink in.

How Kamel plans to strengthen Lenovo's position will make compelling viewing over the coming months. For me, the tactics for partner growth and the extent to which he drives Lenovo's engagements with the Middle East channel is central to how successfully the company achieves its targets in the region.

For a start, Lenovo currently utilises a network of just 35 regular partners around the region, which strikes me as being incredibly modest given the potential PC and server growth that is waiting to be captured out there.

Channel expansion has got to feature highly on his gameplan one way or another, especially in the wake of ambitious plans to enter the consumer market in countries such as the UAE. It won't be easy finding the right distribution and retail partners to champion its cause in what I believe is already an overcrowded market, but it's also important that the work it undertakes to develop a consumer channel doesn't overshadow any surgery that needs carrying out on its corporate channel line-up.

Lenovo South-East EMEA VP Mathias Schaedel claims that the Middle East operation is in good shape, and cites recent fourth quarter shipment growth as evidence of its progress. However, with the exception of the top corporate accounts, the PC battle in this region is overwhelmingly fought through the channel, and there is no disputing the fact that Lenovo's main competitors have all made significant ground when it comes to channel expansion in the past year.

Let's just leave aside the complaints about lacklustre margin points and channel stuffing that regularly surround global PC vendors in this region for a moment, and consider the status of the firms in the driving seat.

It's no coincidence that the likes of HP and Acer occupy the positions they do because of their partner engagement activities and willingness to adopt a high-touch partner model. Both have the channel reach and presence required for this region.

Others are making significant steps too. Only this week, Fujitsu Siemens - now marshalling its troops from a new regional operation at Dubai Silicon Oasis - confirmed the appointment of Distributech to specifically improve its fortunes in an SMB sector that has largely been dominated by its competitors so far.

Toshiba and Dell have been busy lately too, with the former ditching a strategy that was clearly proving restrictive to its growth aspirations in Saudi Arabia. In my opinion, the addition of two new commercial-focused distributors, one of which is Redington, will prove to be an astute move, and should make the next set of IDC shipment figures an interesting read at the very least.

Dell's appointment of Asbis in certain Gulf markets provides further evidence that PC vendors need to be proactive in addressing the SMB and commercial markets, especially when the purchasing decisions of these customers are influenced by a variety of factors.

With the likes of BenQ beginning to sell mobile PCs in the Middle East, and whitebox assemblers such as Sahara forgoing their desktop activities to aggressively focus on notebook shipments, it is clear that the stakes in the Gulf PC market are reaching new levels all the time. Suddenly it's apparent why all that experience will be needed as Lenovo prepares for life under new leadership in the dog-eat-dog world of the PC sector.

3492 days ago
Labib

Dear Andrew, Thanks for the informormations. Indeed, this investment proves that the economy will reboost . Lenovo as a good strategy and prepare itself for a better future. So let's see what will happen for them in the next 6 months

3660 days ago
Antoun Nicolas

Dear Andrew, With all the respect to LENOVO I don't think that Lenovo with its current strategy and products will be capable to penetrate the SMB or even the retail sectors in MEA.

3836 days ago
Tarek Maroof

Dear Andrew, its great and more but actually we want to read more from Ahmed Khalil and Mr. Kamel, specially for Saudi market and what is the plan there specially its huge market and Lenovo market share still very low compared with HP-Dell and Acer

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