Traders get their chance to talk

The AGM of the Dubai Computer Traders Group (DCTG) gave a clear indication of the issues which need to be addressed.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  June 22, 2008

Last Wednesday's Annual General Assembly of the Dubai Computer Traders Group (DCTG) gave a clear indication of the kind of issues the organisation is going to need to address following its long-awaited inauguration.

Make no mistake about it, the formation of the DCTG has been a long time in coming. The idea of establishing a non-profit group to represent the interests of local IT trading companies has been talked about in Computer Street circles ever since the first cluster of resellers began their operations, but it's only become a reality in the last three years due to the devotion of a small number of individuals.

There is no doubt that the group harbours the potential to develop into one of the most powerful trade associations in the region given the size and scale of the market. Around 2,500 IT trading companies are registered in Dubai and collectively they are estimated do more than $9 billion worth of business each year - much of it re-export of course.

A quick count of heads on Wednesday evening revealed close to 150 people made it along to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry to hear the DCTG's founders spell out the group's agenda. The majority of those in attendance were from computer traders based in Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road or Jebel Ali, but representatives from distributors such as Almasa and Distributech, as well as several vendors, also turned up to observe proceedings.

They got their first chance to see the faces behind the DCTG, with initial board members taking their place on stage. They included Winning Deal's Mohammed Jaber, Suchit Kumar from Kobian, Experts Computer's Shailendra Rughwani, Manoj Kisani at Sky and Wi-Fi Computer Zone's Rakesh Bohra.

It was perhaps to be expected that as well as promoting what the group has to offer if it is universally embraced by the trading community, the board members used the AGM as a platform to issue a request for volunteers. They expressed the importance of having people to help with administration, fund collection and committee management duties, which are vital to the running of the group.

To be honest, their pleas didn't exactly result in a mass of candidates standing up to offer their assistance, but there were enough raised hands to suggest the group will be able to draft in the additional manpower it needs to function.

However, it was patently clear from their appeals that the DCTG's prospects don't just depend on its ability to convince traders to believe in what it stands for, but the ease with which it is able to recruit the extra pairs of hands it needs to keep it operative.

As well as giving prospective members an insight into the group's goals, those on the floor also got an opportunity to direct questions at the board - providing a fascinating glimpse into the real issues that traders want to see tackled head-on.

So what was on their minds?

Some of the issues brought out into the open were inevitable and merely underlined the motivations for the launch of the association in the first place. Traders wanted to know how the group would address members' profitability concerns given many are no longer seeing the returns they used to, and whether it could provide shelter from the rising overhead costs putting tremendous pressure on resellers' balance sheets.

Questions were raised on the subject of rent disputes and whether the group could give traders more muscle when it comes to dealing with landlords or approaching the rent committee. Board members said the group would endeavour to provide legal advice and facilitate any necessary dialogue with Dubai municipality.

An animated exchange also unfolded over the feasibility of tying DCTG membership to individuals rather than companies. However, aside from the obvious barrier of cost - the initial joining fee and annual membership totals AED1,250 ($340) - there is the small matter of Dubai Chamber rules stating that trade groups are only permitted to have licensed businesses as members. The DCTG would therefore be in breach of regulations if it attempted to collect funds from individuals.

It will be intriguing to see how skilfully the DCTG is able to manage any grievances that might be brought by employees working for member companies. After all, the DCTG board members all work for separate IT trading companies themselves and so the notion of them presiding over problems faced by workers employed by competitors is unlikely to sit comfortably with some.

The proposal of a welfare committee within the DCTG to specifically deal with HR-style issues was mooted, but Abha Devasia, senior executive for external relations at the Dubai Chamber, stepped in to confirm that this would not fall within the parametres of UAE law. Fortunately for the DCTG, if certain matters cannot be resolved internally then there is the option of referring them to the Chamber, which will act as an independent arbitrator.

It was clear from the questions asked by traders - and the responses from the DCTG - that the group has a massive role to play as an information exchange or reference point by providing answers to members' queries or at least directing them to somebody that can help. This will include assistance with topics such as the forthcoming introduction of VAT, which is set to have huge implications for the trading community.

The DCTG also revealed its desire to try and build some safety provisions into the market by sharing information about debt issues or blacklisted companies, even touching upon the possibility of developing some form of credit rating system. I would be extremely surprised if this is something that happens in the near future, but clearly any move to encourage greater transparency must be welcomed.

As well as touching on those subjects, the DCTG discussed several other themes such as the introduction of a uniform price list to encourage parity when it comes to how much each computer trader charges for certain services. In my opinion it will be impossible to ensure blanket adoption of such a policy in an environment where undercutting your neighbour by 1% or 2% has always been part of the game, but it is certainly a logical way of trying to prevent resellers from under-pricing their work.

The DCTG also outlined its determination to secure naming rights for the metro stop that is set to be based in the district where the traders operate. Although this may seem like a fairly trivial step, the DCTG is deadly serious in its assertion that a ‘Computer Street station' is fundamental to ensuring that the area remains synonymous with the IT market for years to come.

Based on all of the above you can see why the DCTG's board members were pressing so hard for volunteers! The list of objectives it is looking to follow is extensive to say the least and in order to meet them traders will need to buy into the group's philosophy. Some resellers I've spoken to remain sceptical about exactly how much influence the DCTG will be able to wield and their concerns are justified. Doubts over how a group that aspires to look after the interests of traders can also be managed by traders - most of them competing in the same market place - are also understandable.

However, it is important to remember that the DCTG isn't just a loose band of people getting together to discuss any old agenda when they feel like it - as anybody who has seen its exhaustive 17-page document containing all its articles of association will testify. The group falls within the jurisdictions of the Dubai Chamber and must therefore abide by a set of regulations that should keep it on the right path.

It is going to take time before the DCTG is able to demonstrate its authority, but last week's AGM was a massive step in what has already been a long and arduous journey. With much of the talking now done, the next leg of its voyage is shaping up to be the most defining yet.

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