The Architect

Channel Middle East met exclusively with Comguard senior vice president Mohammad Mobasseri as he mapped out his vision for the company’s future and that of its channel partners

Tags: Cloud computingComguardManaged services
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The Architect
By  Manda Banda Published  October 25, 2011

Channel Middle East met exclusively with Comguard senior vice president Mohammad Mobasseri as he mapped out his vision for the company’s future and that of its channel partners. It’s a value add distribution vision that goes from services to cloud-based managed security services and impacts how the specialist security distributor will engage with channel partners in the future.

Briefly explain comguard’s channel coverage model here in the Middle East and other emerging geographies.

With Comguard, we had different activities within the group and we decided to focus on different verticals and products from entry level right up to high-end enterprise solutions. In 2010, we decided to separate the solutions focus into two different business units. We established Comguard Value-Added Distribution (VAD) and Comguard Value Business. The first entity does distribution with value added services at the core of all its offerings to partners. The second one is focusing purely on enterprise solutions assisting channel partners with solutions selling at enterprise level.

Our geographical reach includes the Middle East, Levant and Western Asia, although the GCC region has been our main focus from a business and channel development perspective in the last two years. In addition, we have started distribution operations in India, although we have had an office there for a while. We are trying to make India one of the top markets for Comguard given the sheer size of the country and opportunities there. Our aim in the not-so-distant future is to be among the top 50 regional security VADs in the Indian market.

How have you positioned your Value Business to distinguish it from your distribution business?

The Value Business has been developed to basically provide the IT engineering and pre-sales support to channel partners, as well as direct interaction with enterprise clients. Because the solutions in this division are niche and very high-end, one needs specific knowledge to be able to present, sell and implement these products. That’s why we are working shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners. I need to emphasise that despite the direct interaction with end-user clients, this remains a channel only model to market. In value business the interaction is more and we have more IT engineers working with high-end products and interacting with partners providing the necessary support to them.

How is Comguard developing its enterprise channel partners to ensure that they are ready to serve this market segment?

For our channel partners, no matter what size they are, big or small, if they would like to start doing business with us the strategy is the same, and we make sure that we give them whatever they require from a support and value add perspective. If it’s knowledge transfer or engagement in a project or preparing a proposal or assistance with installation or even implementation, Comguard has teams that provide this support readily to channel partners.

The other aspect we look at is to ensure that throughout the countries where we have presence, the solutions we distribute are well represented and are not hurting the business because of lack of knowledge or skills. We engage with partners to make sure that they can bring themselves to the level where they can serve customers competently.

How vital is training and certification of partners in the Value Division?

Without doubt, training plays a key role in everything that we have achieved thus far. Without training we cannot conduct this business properly. We have regular training for both the Value Business and VAD for all our products. This training happens in twofold: new product training and on-going product and technology updates training. Also a lot of the training focuses on partners as more often people leave then we have to re-certify their technical teams and for the past four years, I am proud to say that we haven’t charged any fees for our training initiatives.

Is your expansion strategy in the region linked to the two business units?

At the moment we don’t have a business strategy of which unit goes first because these entities are different. The focus is to make sure that we achieve what we set out to achieve in each target market that we identify. Our VAD business is the easier of the two divisions to push in that it’s less of a hassle to set-up. We use it as a launch pad into any new markets or geographies we identify to have business potential.

What targets has Comguard set for the Value Business and VAD division?

After the restructuring which we embarked on last year, the company decided to set-up an advisory committee comprising mid-level managers, top management and third party consultants. The advisory body guides the company in selecting which brands, products or technology to bring on board. These measures have been designed to ensure that we are managing our growth gradually in our stable. In addition, the advisory team is also responsible for indentifying new markets that the company can expand into.

On the distribution side we have always taken a view that we need to identify good products and fast moving solutions. On the value side the philosophy within the company is to identify solutions that are unique. In December 2010, management agreed that it will not add new products just for the sake of adding without any due diligence being properly done.

What products or solutions are missing from your existing product portfolio?

Vendor partnerships are ongoing and recently we signed with GFI which had a lot of engagement and presented some challenges. We had to do that to make sure we can run this business properly. There are some areas within the group that have been under consideration for the past two years. One is storage and back-up solutions. We have been in discussion with vendors but we are yet to conclude anything. The other area involves Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), managed services and cloud computing based solutions. These areas are where we would like to enhance our offerings.

If you look at our existing product range we have solutions from end-point security right through to the gateway level including mail, web, vulnerability scanning software for applications, wireless security, VoIP security, PSTC, etc. We have unique security solutions that you cannot easily find in any other distributor. We have high demand security products and solutions, and the missing pieces are storage and back-up solutions in addition to mapping out a sustainable and profitable channel model that offers managed and cloud-based services.

What’s your perception about the IT services sector in the Middle East region?

I was hoping that the IT services market in general in the Middle East and in particular the UAE was going to see huge changes, but unfortunately the economic crisis hit the region and a lot of things changed and took a different direction. One of the main challenges that the region faces when it comes to services has to do with the cost of setting up a full-fledged IT services operation here. It’s still quite high and that’s why India continues to make huge strides in this regard because the cost of setting up the operation and the availability of IT skills is not like in the Middle East. In my view, the value of appreciating services is yet to catch on in the Middle East as most people are not prepared to pay for the value of services. The phenomenon has spilled over from consumer into the commercial and enterprise space as well.

In general, the Middle East IT market needs to do more to raise IT services awareness in the consumer and business sector. The industry needs to explain why IT services form an important aspect of the hardware and software offerings. If you look at regional distributors or IT vendors, 80% of their staff are in sales and marketing roles as opposed to being in technical or IT services areas. This is something we have approached differently in the entire group as the number of the technical team is much higher than that of sales staff.

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