Middle East IT skills deficit threatens to delay advanced technology deployment

According to analysts, regional media, market commentators and IT managers in the public and private sectors, IT investment in hardware, software and services, is set to resume growth (albeit cautiously) in the region in 2010 and beyond, as the brakes come off across key business sectors and the business cycle picks up again

Tags: Intergence Systems Middle EastSkills DevelopmentUnited Arab Emirates
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By  Duncan Adamson Published  March 21, 2010 Network Middle East Logo

According to analysts, regional media, market commentators and IT managers in the public and private sectors, IT investment in hardware, software and services, is set to resume growth (albeit cautiously) in the region in 2010 and beyond, as the brakes come off across key business sectors and the business cycle picks up again.

Countries across the region will continue to move towards realising their vision of knowledge economies and societies, which will be reliant - to a significant degree - on state of the art ICT infrastructure for business and the wider community.

This is good news of course but as these aspiring smart communities emerge with the latest technology at their core, a significant ‘catch' is becoming apparent. The one area that may prove to be a barrier to this progress is that the region's IT skills are evidently struggling to keep pace with the advanced technology that is being introduced into the region and which is driving this knowledge society infrastructure development.

We see it clearly in the public and private sectors.

IT generalists still abound but specialists in the new and emerging technologies - such as virtualisation, visualisation and cloud computing - are much rarer. And this skills deficit is occurring at a time and in an environment where IT teams may have been downsized or restructured - so even adequate generalist skills may be thin on the ground at the moment. And hiring may not be an option - or at least a preferred option - at this stage of the business cycle, as we all monitor the strength of the gathering recovery.

Many clients choose not to build and operate all their ICT and support functions in-house for a variety of reasons, including organisational/headcount strategy or restrictions; or the sort of skills required for short-to-medium term IT deployments do not necessarily lend themselves to broader long term benefits for the business.

However, more and more, we see the major barrier being one of limited ability to source the skills for rapid advanced IT deployment, especially for projects with very complex start-up requirements.

And herein lies the conundrum.

The Middle East region is not alone, of course - some of these specialist IT skills are hard to find anywhere on the world - but as the regional IT market becomes more active again, the shortage may be felt more acutely here and it could prove to be a major factor in delaying the introduction of these new advanced technologies.

The skills can be found; for example, in hi-tech clusters around the world such as in Cambridge, UK,  home to the UK's first and most prestigious science park and one of the world's most advanced IT/technology clusters, close to the renowned world class University, which is at the cutting edge of technology and scientific research.

This concentration of skills was a major factor in Intergence Systems setting up in Cambridge, and where we are currently working with a Cambridge spin off in a consortium which will introduce a new 3D IT visualisation technology. We will launch this technology to the region, very quickly after its UK launch, ensuring the Middle East has access to this state of the art technology, because the demand to build advanced IT infrastructure exists here.

However, if private and public sector organisations in the region, from academic clusters to private institutions, cannot effectively deploy these advanced technologies, there could be delays in developing the world class tech infrastructure that is needed for the region to compete in a global economy.

What's the solution?

Short term, IT clients are looking for additional support options for clients, such as operational services, BOT agreements and operational out-tasking. Providers of these services are having to draw on the international skills market, in clusters such as Cambridge and others, to provide the complementary skills to the region to support the deployment of these technologies - along with the certified technology skills and verifiable soft skills, and cultural awareness, to ensure these specialists are productive from day one.

Meanwhile, there is a demand from large public and private sector organisations in the Middle East for a mix of out-tasking, process re-engineering, high value technical consulting and business transformation services where these clients are unable to build and operate certain functions in-house. Where appropriate, we even place our own employees into these engagements, ranging from single individuals up to large operational teams in corporate environments in the GCC.

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