The comeback kings

The Middle East is the one region that SAP does not dominate in terms of market share. Imthishan Giado travelled to the Bahrain meeting of the firm’s user group to discuss what plans SAP has to gain more traction in the region.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  April 18, 2009

The Middle East is the one region that SAP does not dominate in terms of market share. Imthishan Giado travelled to the Bahrain meeting of the firm’s user group to discuss what plans SAP has to gain more traction in the region.

In business as in life, it’s never easy to recover from a bad first impression. The wrong phrase spoken, or action taken, can easily upset a partner or potential client and the consequences are almost always detrimental.

What then, do we make of enterprise stalwarts SAP AG, whose torrid history with its regional distribution partner SAP Arabia has been well documented? The software specialist spent a rumoured $280 million in 2007 to buy its way out of the exclusive agreement and has built a direct presence within the region. Since those controversial days, it has attempted to reach out to users through associated organisations like the SAP User Group Middle East and North Africa, which is better known as SUG-MENA.

What we are competing against is not the traditional competitors of SAP – who cares about Oracle and Microsoft? I’m competing against innovating in IT versus building a new factory.

However, these efforts have been complicated by the present economic climate; after all, which company would spend millions on software during a recession? Why would one entrust precious budget to a company with a sketchy history of local support in the region? These and other questions were discussed among end-users during the recent SUG-MENA summit in Bahrain, the group’s first meeting outside the UAE.

Salem Al-Angari, President of SUG-MENA says that despite all the negative press that SAP has received over the years, the user group is doing remarkably well, with a membership of 250 companies. This is helped by the fact that SAP customers automatically become members of the group. SUG-MENA celebrated a milestone last year in May by officially becoming a part of SAP’s global user community.

Jose Duarte, president of SAP EMEA, says that he saw the event as a chance to network with key end-users: “When I met with the clients – pretty influential companies in the region – I told them that I would like to know more about what’s going on. These days, what you cannot do is take decisions by reading newspapers – if you read newspapers, you’ll start having suicidal tendencies because the world looks like it’s ending tomorrow and that’s not very good.

“I have to take decisions on what will I do, how fast will I invest, how fast shall I grow. All of what I heard was encouraging words to move fast. We are seeing that obviously people are very conscious of the global economic climate but I believe that most of the states in the Gulf region have prepared themselves for this chilly winter. I have alluded [in my keynote] to ‘cash being king’ – it is in the countries as well as the companies,” he continues.

Duarte believes that many important companies in the region will eventually receive some form of aid: “When you start seeing the economy dip, the one thing that many people do is make sure that the state brings in investment to keep the economy ticking. I see that this is going to happen in a number of places.”

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