Virtually limited

Last month saw the long- awaited announcement of what was claimed as the first virtual desktop implementation in the Gulf - and it was not in Dubai, not in Riyadh, not in Kuwait City, but in Sana'a in Yemen, at mobile telco Y GSM.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  June 1, 2008

Last month saw the long- awaited announcement of what was claimed as the first virtual desktop implementation in the Gulf - and it was not in Dubai, not in Riyadh, not in Kuwait City, but in Sana'a in Yemen, at mobile telco Y GSM.

That such an advanced project should be in the poorest Gulf state is at first glance surprising, but actually makes a great deal of sense in light of the oft-stated view that regions such as the Middle East can "leap-frog" technology to go right to the bleeding edge.

I suspect there are a number of IT managers across the region cursing at the thought of not being the first to complete a virtualisation project - or at least the first to announce it publicly. I also suspect this is not from lack of trying - but because of a lack of skills.

Virtualisation's status as an up-and-coming technology (despite its deceptively long history) means that there's a lot of people talking the talk, but few - at least in this region - able to walk the virtual walk.

End users are clearly interested in the technology, vendors are keen to sell it - but there aren't enough skilled integrators or consultants operating in the Middle East to implement it.

The global skills shortage has long made itself felt more acutely in this region, with its fast-growing companies and, latterly, the pressure on dollar-pegged currencies - but lately the lack of skilled labour has started to pinch even more, so much so that some organisations have made very bold moves to counter it.

Lately Emirates Airline's IT division Mercator - a major aviation player in its own right - and Zamil IT - the ambitious technology division of the Saudi conglomerate - have both established development centres in India.

This seems to be on the basis that if the talent won't come to you, you must go to the talent.

Zaki Sabbagh, CIO at Zamil Industrial, is very definite that a large part of the skills problem lies with enterprises not understanding IT departments, and turning them into "black boxes" without nurturing talent, as they do in the rest of the business.

But even taking this into account, the plain fact is there are just not enough IT professionals to go around at the moment.

Enterprises in the region need to solve this problem - and solve it fast. Right now, they have an opportunity to overtake their counterparts in the US and Europe, as IT budgets get slashed in the face of an economic downturn - but if Middle Eastern enterprises are left without the necessary skilled staff, this opportunity will go to waste.

How they solve it is up to them - set up shop in the subcontinent or elsewhere, partner with universities and other education providers, nurture talent internally, or even work wonders with a miniscule IT team, as a winner at last month's NME Innovation Awards has done (Networking Professional of the Year, Ronald Franckaert, ICT director at Tourism Development and Investment Company, Abu Dhabi).

If all else fails, businesses may have to bite the bullet and improve compensation packages for IT staff - an uncomfortable option for enterprises with business models built on relatively low-cost labour.

But unless they take action now, decision makers across the Middle East will find themselves stranded in IT limbo.

Eliot Beer is the editor of Arabian Computer News.

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