Staying the course

UAE-based Emitac Group has been operating in the market for almost as long as the Middle East IT sector has existed. The experience it has gleaned from three decades in the industry has come in handy as it has set about reorganising its operations in the past year to place greater autonomy on its four main business units. Channel Middle East sat down with the company’s group executive director, Balall Yaqub, to talk restructuring, risk-taking and the future of its relationship with HP.

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Staying the course (ITP Images)
By  Andrew Seymour Published  July 11, 2010

Channel: Let’s start with the state of the market in the Middle East. How healthy is the IT sector given what has happened in the past 18 months?

Balall Yaqub: I cannot classify the entire Middle East as one market. I think there are some markets where we will continue to face challenges and there are other parts of the market where I see significant opportunities. Abu Dhabi, for example, is producing a major part of the IT activity this year within the UAE. And then if you look at the Gulf, Saudi Arabia continues to expand quite aggressively and Qatar is seeing some growth, whereas some of the other markets are challenging. Within the actual products and services offerings, I think the retail market is generally under more stress, but if you look at telecommunications or healthcare, those markets have actually grown year on year.

Channel: Emitac Group comprises a number of businesses, including distribution, mobile solutions and enterprise resell. Is there a shift in terms of which parts of the operation are driving the group?

Balall Yaqub: Yes. Within each of our businesses we have a fairly diversified set of products and services. How it helps us — and the recent couple of years is an excellent example of that — is that one revenue stream might do much better than the other, but when you look at the overall picture we have done very well. At the moment, our distribution business — which was our flag bearer until about two years ago — experienced some challenging times in 2009 and I think it will continue to in 2010. But if you look at our mobile business, it is growing 300% per year. Our enterprise business had a pretty decent 2009, so there are going to be years when one business does outstandingly well and subsequently other periods where other businesses do well. I think one of the strengths of the Emitac Group is this diversity that we have.

Channel: That diversity must bring its own set of challenges for the company though…

Balall Yaqub: It does, and one of the ways that we have addressed that is through the reorganisation and restructuring that we have done, which is to say that whereas three or four years ago we had a very centralised approach, it is now decentralised. We decided to let each business go out and be completely independent, have its own objectives, its own strategies to achieve those objectives, and its own management team. And therefore be better positioned to take advantage of the market opportunities and to be more accountable to the owners as well.

Channel: Are there any vertical markets — particularly in terms of the enterprise solutions business here — that you have de-focused from since the crisis?

Balall Yaqub: I wouldn’t say ‘de-focus’ because we already had just a few vertical markets that we were focusing on to begin with. There were just five verticals, so for us to completely do away with one would be very challenging. What we have done is put new resources in place that we feel we had to in order to achieve the growth that we were wanting to in certain verticals. Telecommunications is one, oil and gas is another, and Abu Dhabi government is the third vertical where we have actually enhanced our coverage, both in terms of the people that address it and the products and solutions that we offer to these markets.

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