City of dreams

NME sits down with Cisco senior management to discuss its relationship with Qatar Foundation and how it plans to build a better future for Qatar.

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City of dreams Whether it’s education or healthcare, you need to engage the vertical and industry experts, says Cisco’s Mohsen.
By  Imthishan Giado Published  August 18, 2010 Network Middle East Logo

If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Qatar of, it’s a lack of forward planning.

Like its Gulf neighbours, the tiny Gulf state embarked several years ago on an ambitious plan to attract foreign investment and talent. And much like its neighbours, this plan was far from altruistic, but largely driven by a need to diversify away from an economy based on a natural resource that must inevitably diminish one day.

But that’s where the similarities end. While the UAE and Saudi Arabia moved heavily into real estate, attempting to build an environment that would draw both tourists and long-term residents, Qatar eschewed the glitz and glamour of hotels and cities in the sand. Instead, it chose the alternative path of education, research and technology.

This is where Qatar Foundation (QF) comes in. Established in 1995, the non-profit organisation was created to oversee the development of these projects from inception to completion. Some of these efforts are already well known, as such as its joint venture in service provider MEEZA and more recently, the creation of the Qatar Science and Technology Park research environment.

The country has been assisted in these efforts by network vendor Cisco, which has been heavily involved in both the implementation of the infrastructure as well as the the planning and development stage. As Tarek Ghoul, director and general manager for Cisco Gulf, puts it, the investment in Doha (see boxout) was a natural fit with the firm’s vision.

“Qatar Foundation is acting as a country template,” he states. “It’s acting as a blueprint of what the future of nations will look like by investing in top notch, world-class education to attract some of the top universities in the world. I will mention a few like Virginia Commonwealth for interior design, Northwestern for journalism, Georgetown for foreign affairs, Carnegie Mellon for engineering and business.  They have established themselves in Qatar and Science Technology Park and are investing in research out of Doha. That is attracting companies like us, ConocoPhilips, Rolls Royce – really making innovation out of Doha.”

In a high-profile partnership of this nature – and especially considering it is essentially between a country and a vendor – it’s interesting to speculate how it came into being.

“The relationship between QF and Cisco is a natural thing to happen because we realised what Qatar is trying to achieve. We have the thought leadership, the right team, the right set up and experiences globally of how networking and collaboration technology can really further advance a country agenda,” explains Ghoul.

Another element of a successful relationship is ensuring that you have the right level of on-the-ground engagement. Here, Ghoul states explicitly that the firm’s willing to put its money where its mouth is.

“What Cisco has done right over the past five years is that we have approached those opportunities on a long term basis versus a transactional basis,” he says. “We have opened an office in Doha four years back and have around 40 people out of Qatar. We have the same in Bahrain and Saudi because we believe that if you want to be serious, you have to involve long term relationships. If you want to be relevant to the agenda of your clients and large public sector environments, realising that there is a reform and modernisation which is taking place. You cannot just operate from a centre.”

A different corner

With a partnership of this magnitude, there are significant differences in the way the relationship is maintained. Instead of looking at it as a contract to supply equipment or resources, Cisco needed to approach this engagement with the mindset of one which is actively building a very different of network. Taha Mohsen, Cisco’s client executive working with Qatar Foundation, explains what that entailed.

“QF is expecting a different type of engagement from Cisco beyond technology. They would like us to advise on different verticals and add to the services cycle when it comes to different types of projects and not only focus on the technology infrastructure. For example, Cisco is engaging with QF for the World Summit for Education which is happening in December. This is led by a team of education experts from Cisco. They have been tasked with driving education techniques and models that will help QF’s focus and help Qatar as a country.,” he reasons.

With any project this ambitious and this wide-reaching, there are challenges. For Mohsen, the challenges for Cisco remained focused on ensuring they were dealing with the right stakeholders and of course, that other perennial favourite – budget.

“In some cases, the counterpart from the customer side are not the same people who are driving the execution and implementation. They might be a different team so this will add to the complexity,” he states.

“The other challenge is really the budget. In some cases, the requirements are old and there isn’t enough budget in these projects – we are changing the technology, changing the whole design and moving to a state of the art one which is needed by all the team that requires a change in the dollar value of the project,” he goes on.

“To tell you the truth, the technology part is the easiest part,” admits Ghoul. “The change you want to achieve through technology by aligning it to business to reform requirement – that consumes most of the way we work with our clients.”

“What types of services do you enable? How you map a technology architecture to a business architecture? That’s why the QF IT department realise that their job is beyond the technology implementation,” he says.

“They realise that they’re building a new economy as they’re doing it, an economy which is more focused on knowledge. This is what we get the satisfaction from – of how Cisco as a company can be part of that innovation taking place out of that country,” he ends.

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