Taking the services path less travelled

SquareOne, a new entrant to the Middle East IT services scene, is in the process of setting up operations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia as it expands a headcount that already stands at more than 30 people. Minosh Salam, the firm’s director of practices, has the channel experience needed — having worked at integrators such as Solutions ME — to help SquareOne etch out the unique groove it is aiming for.

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By  Julian Pletts Published  October 18, 2008

SquareOne, a new entrant to the Middle East IT services scene, is in the process of setting up operations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia as it expands a headcount that already stands at more than 30 people. Minosh Salam, the firm's director of practices, has the channel experience needed - having worked at integrators such as Solutions ME - to help SquareOne etch out the unique groove it is aiming for.

You recently started SquareOne in the region. What precipitated its formation?

Many IT companies are typically structured to represent one of the top vendors - IBM, HP and so on - and then they build the solution around that.

This means lots of organisations represent the top 10 IT vendors, they partner strongly and hope at some point to sell some solutions along with that. We have identified niche solutions that will allow us to go to organisations with a high level of maturity in terms of IT infrastructure and show them ways of optimising.

And what areas of their business do you help them optimise?

We have four practices that we believe require definite skill sets and unless you are there all the time you cannot be focused. They are unified communications, application delivery, virtualisation and information security.

Do you have vendor partnerships already in place?

We have strategies in place with principal vendors. Roughly 50% of that is done and we currently have associations with Captaris and Citrix.

There is a huge challenge for IT to keep up with the pace of the business, it's not just about throwing applications around different offices, but how you control and manage them from a central location. That is the area where Citrix has a good proposition - how to centralise applications and give seamless access to the users.

What trends are shaping the market sector that you have entered?

Enterprises are looking at better and more efficient systems. For instance, not too many organisations talk about virtualisation, but it is just starting out.

Systems integrators are not normally prepared to look at the long-term proposition of niche technologies and are going after the regular needs of companies. We are going after specific needs to improve their efficiencies.

From your market experience, how will you work with vendors and what support will you expect?

There's always a mismatch between vendor and partner expectations. Partners want it more their own way and vendors want it their way.

Vendors are just looking at numbers and don't consider the market from a strategic or long-term perspective. There is always the challenge in terms of vendor mindshare and the typical thing is that vendors look at numbers.

Do vendors that are part of your channel ecosystem understand your focus?

It doesn't always happen that way, we have to find the person within large IT vendors who can talk our language. Microsoft may be 2,000-plus people, but perhaps only two people can actually listen to us. We manage relationships and that is extremely important for us.

What percentage of revenue does post-sales services account for?

The cost of a sale is extremely high so we do not get our money back from a single sale. Our first project is just a foot in the door. And then we have to go around building the rest of the components with a strong CRM and a high level of transparency as to what is going on within the customer.

You have said you aim to be one of the top five ICT solutions and services providers within five years.

That looks like a tall statement, but we are saying we would like to become a niche ICT provider. Everyone is going after the regular business so to become one of the top ICT systems integrators is not much of a challenge. The point is, we will do justice to each of our vendors and build an end-to-end solution in each of our practices.

What targets do you have next year and five years from now?

That's a complex question because with independent research companies like IDC our definition is not really that clear. They may not have a category called unified communications, they may have messaging or a similar group definition.

It is difficult to make a statement that says I want to be the top player or second player in UC or application delivery in the Middle East. So what we have done instead is committed to principal vendors by saying that we will get them so much revenue and become the number one or number two player within a certain time frame.

So what have you promised your vendor partners?

We are pretty confident that, as far as our primary vendors Captaris and Citrix are concerned, we will be the biggest player in the Middle East region in at least the next two years. That is what we have openly gone and told these organisations.

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