Inside the systems integrators

Systems integrators play a major role in aiding end user organisations to successfully deploy projects and get the most value from their technology investment.

Tags: Computer Network Systems (CNS)Gulf Business MachinesMDS (Mideast Data Systems)Scope Information Systems (www.scopeme.com/)Systems integratorhelp AG (www.helpag.com/)
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Inside the systems integrators Ayesh: Systems integrators are being called on to deliver long term support for solutions in place of the vendor.
By  Mark Sutton Published  March 17, 2013

Systems integrators play a major role in aiding end user organisations to successfully deploy projects and get the most value from their technology investment. As cloud computing models develop, how will they continue to add value, and how can their customers get the most from the working relationship?

At the most straightforward level, systems integrators play a crucial role in providing a bridge between vendors and customers, to ensure that the customer receives the latest technology solutions for their projects that fit best with their business requirements and budget, and to deliver ongoing support once the project is completed. As technology becomes increasingly complex, however, and particularly as delivery models change, the role of the systems integrator is shifting and evolving.

Probably the single most pressing issue for systems integrators today are the emerging models of cloud computing. In a computing model where applications and platforms are as easily accessible as turning on a tap, systems integrators are very conscious that their traditional role of providing hardware, software, installation and support to individual customer premises, is under threat.

Nicolai Solling, director of Technology Services at helpAG Middle East commented: “If you are looking at the revenue stream that a systems integrator is receiving today, a lot of it is based on hardware and licences. A very large part of our revenue stream is potentially going to disappear over the coming years. The systems integrator needs to evolve into a service integrator instead.”

The theme of transforming the business is common among the more advanced systems integrators. There are still some opportunities in provisioning traditional hardware and services as companies prepare themselves for cloud, according to Saed Sakran, GM and acting sales director at Scope Information Systems.

“Migration to the cloud will call for better network infrastructures, increased importance of data centre solutions and quicker upgrade cycles. All of these present plenty of opportunity for channel players,” he explained.

Other systems integrators believe that in the longer term, there will be more need to move to a service model, with more focus on providing services and expertise to customers, rather than hardware and software.

“Customer’s still require systems integration, but more and more it is transforming into services, people want to integrate their services, they want to provide to their end users the concept of integrated services,” said Ihab Saheli, general manager, CNS.

Most systems integrators don’t expect to become public cloud providers, at least not in the near future, but they are looking to strategic relationships with suppliers so that they are able to offer private cloud solutions or services such as co-location, or to help customers develop their own private clouds.

Sami Abi Esber, president of MDS said: “It is a little bit early for medium-sized or local systems integrators to play a big role, you cannot compete with people like Etisalat, Du, or Microsoft unless you have a very strong solution offering, which can bring you volume revenues. The systems integrator should adopt the role to advise customers and help them migrate to cloud solutions.”

Cloud is not the only area of new technology where systems integrators are seeing growing demand. Areas such as security, disaster recovery and business continuity, mobility solutions and integrated solutions are all rising up the agenda in the region. While many of these technology areas have been discussed at length, actual implementation in the region tends to be more difficult, in part because of the lack of expertise and experience in deployment. This skills gap is traditionally an area where the systems integrators have filled an important role, through providing expert knowledge. Miguel Villalonga, CEO of Emitac Enterprise Solutions, said that while there are certified staff available to systems integrators and end user organisations alike, real experience in cutting edge technology is in short supply.

“There is little exposure to real implementation of projects in the region. For example the cloud — not just the concept of cloud, but the specific technical execution of cloud provisioning automation and cloud management automation, cloud service catalogue definition. This is an area where its very difficult to find the right people,” he said.

As partners of IT vendors, most systems integrators pursue certification programs with their vendors. These programs help to prove the systems integrator’s capabilities in certain technical areas, but that is not to say that systems integrators want to be seen as too closely aligned with the vendor, or that certification should indicate they are just a supplier of specific brands or vendors — far from it. The ideal positioning for most systems integrators is to be seen as the customer’s trusted advisor, with a vendor-agnostic, best of breed approach.

“There is a lot of pushing of solutions by the principal vendors; sometimes it is challenge for help AG because we see ourselves as a value-added solution provider,” said Solling. “We want to talk about the problems of the customer before we start talking about products. It can be quite difficult to take that step back when the customer already has in mind that if they buy this specific product from this specific vendor that they will fix all their problems.”

Aseem Gupta, executive chairman & chief visionary, Visionaire, said that his company has always aimed for a best-of-breed approach, and to avoid being pressured by vendor partners: “We are always multi-vendor, best of breed, and we have to go through this struggle with every project that we do where the manufacturing vendor will try to push us into having to buy their technology, and we resist that totally. We have only one customer — the customer is the end user client.”

While it can be hard to stick to a best of breed approach, the customer enjoys the benefits of not being locked into one vendor, and a best practice approach improves over all standards. Reyadh Ayesh, managing director & CEO Smartworld, said that it has taken a best of breed approach to break two monopolies with a major airport customer. Previous suppliers had not even suggested alternatives, but the customer appreciated Smartworld’s focus on their business objectives over any particular brand.

Ayesh also said that systems integrators find that they are increasingly required to pick up the support function for vendors to a greater degree: “One of the major challenges is the high cost of international support services. What we are faced with is this commitment from the vendor is shrinking, whereas the customers want it to be extended. We try to overcome this challenge by buying as much commitment as we can from the manufacturer, and we keep ourselves equipped with local resources who are knowledgeable of the product, and we make sure that we keep spares, for the whole period that we commit to the customer.”

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