Crisis talk

Complaints that it is becoming increasingly difficult to source capable talent have grown louder and louder in the Middle East channel during the past year. Resellers admit that they are struggling to get qualified staff on board, leaving them woefully short of capacity when it comes to handling large projects.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  July 27, 2008

Complaints that it is becoming increasingly difficult to source capable talent have grown louder and louder in the Middle East channel during the past year. Resellers admit that they are struggling to get qualified staff on board, leaving them woefully short of capacity when it comes to handling large projects.

The issue isn’t just limited to vacancies requiring high technical expertise and specific vendor certification. Routine functions that are integral to any channel business, such as pre-sales and customer support, are also proving difficult to fill.

Talk of a skills crisis in the region isn’t entirely new — but it is only now that companies are waking up to it as a serious threat to their business.

Unfortunately I fear that parts of the channel could be paralysed if more action isn’t taken soon. Skills shortfalls in other markets tend to come from not enough talent rolling off the university production belt, leading to a lack of new blood in the industry.

While this has also been cited as a factor in the Middle East, there are other more influential trends that are collectively conspiring against the regional channel – and it is these that are ultimately making the situation far more challenging than it would otherwise be.

To begin with, the market itself is expanding at a pretty rapid rate so resellers need to enlarge their businesses at the same pace just to keep up. Due to the stage in its lifecycle that this market is at, there hasn’t been the level of consolidation associated with other regions. Consequently the wealth of spare capacity that usually provides relief during periods when manpower is light doesn’t exist.

On top of that, a high proportion of the Middle East IT workforce is comprised of expatriates from the Indian sub-continent or Asia, where salaries and packages are now more attractive than they would have been, say, three or four years ago.

With many workers based in Dubai, which remains the preferred regional location for IT companies but where the cost of living is escalating, this poses a real conundrum for resellers trying to retain staff, let alone bring in fresh resources.

This pressure is one of the reasons that companies are unwillingly breaking their salary structures. The reality now is that if resellers want to hire somebody with a good reputation it is going to come at a price. What US$4,000 a month bought you as recently as two years ago doesn’t stretch as far today.

Ironically, some channel players blame above-average salary hikes on vendors that brazenly recruit from the channel to relieve their own manpower concerns. Distributors repeatedly cite examples of vendors luring their sales staff with promises of figures twice as large as their current salaries.

The movement of channel staff into the vendor domain is not an easy one to adjudicate — much of it is employee-driven after all. While some vendors have a policy of not plucking staff from the channel unless they are granted approval from the partner — Symantec purports to take such a stance — it is unreasonable to expect this approach to be uniformly adopted.

The pinch isn’t only being felt in the UAE. Saudi channel sources insist that vendors and partners are having a difficult time sourcing people with the right capabilities and market intuition to fill important positions. This is an issue that spans the entire food chain. One well-known software vendor is even rumoured to have approached the Saudi bosses of other large IT players in the market to replace its managing director who is understood to be signing off at the end of this year. So far, however, it has received nothing but knock-backs and is said to be desperately wondering where it can look next.

When it comes to the channel though, it is time for resellers to start helping themselves a bit more. For a start, they need to take advantage of the resources available to them. Cisco and other vendors now operate ‘talent portals’ which contain the resumes of qualified graduates — these tools are not just gimmicks, they need to be exploited by the channel.

Some manufacturers are also willing to pass the details of surplus candidates onto channel partners — this should be something that resellers actively press for. Either way, dealers need to look beyond the more traditional avenues for recruiting talent if they wish to survive.

Research suggests that only 65% of the 114,000 job vacancies for skilled IT professionals will be filled in the Middle East next year. On paper it looks a bleak situation, but at least it underscores why finding and attracting skilled staff is not a subject that resellers should take lightly.

Calling all vendors and integrators…

Vendors and systems integrators that haven’t yet submitted their nominations for the Arab Tech Awards need to get a move on and do so before the middle of next month. Nominations for the awards, which are hosted by Channel Middle East’s sister publication, Arabian Computer News (ACN), must be received before the cut-off date of Sunday August 17th.

There are plenty of categories that will interest Channel Middle East readers, including Systems Integrator of the Year, Service Provider of the Year and Enterprise Vendor of the Year. Awards will also be presented to end-user customers for the Best Implementation of the Year in a number of vertical sectors. So if you are a systems integrator or vendor that has carried out a successful implementation in the Middle East during the past year, you need to liaise with your customer and send in an entry.

Winners of the ACN Arab Tech Awards will be announced at a prestigious gala dinner and awards ceremony on Monday 20th October 2008. The event, which will be attended by the region’s leading CIOs and IT executives, will be held at The Westin hotel in Dubai.

For more information on the ACN Arab Tech Awards and to download a nomination form visit www.itp.net/events/arabtechawards

Andrew Seymour is the editor of Channel Middle East English.

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