User groups lifting local IT industry

Local end user groups are working for the greater benefit of their communities

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User groups lifting local IT industry A healthy local user group community is a good sign for the Middle East IT industry. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 9, 2013

Recent weeks have seen a number of local user group gatherings taking place in the Middle East, and the events are set to continue with a series of SAP user group meeting happening this month across the Gulf. In this issue of ACN, we feature some of the leading lights of these local user groups, and look at how they are working for the greater benefit of their communities.

These user groups, while not a new idea or unique to the Middle East, are growing in stature and influence, both as they gain members and enhance their activities, and as the vendors become more focused on the region. The history of these local user groups goes farther back than might be expected, with some formed in the 1990s. Some of the first user groups were inspired by the need to get solutions that would be appropriate to the Middle East, at a time when even the tier one vendors paid little attention to the region. These first user groups came together to lobby for solutions that would be tailored to  better addess regional requirements, and the groups progressed from there.

Today, with memberships in the hundreds, the groups are playing an important role, in giving the user community a unified voice and presence with their vendors, to influence their strategy and products for the region. Most vendors have woken up to the potential of the region, and have invested in areas such as localization and Arabic language interfaces, along with better support, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Among the priorities that user groups are currently lobbying vendors for are local concerns such as better support and training in the region, and concerns that match global issues such as licensing programs. User groups are also playing an important role through their feedback on products, which some of the leading vendors are taking onboard and using in their product development processes.

End user associations all play an important role in connect local CIOs with similar concerns. The user groups create a vital forum for discussion among the local technology community, and it is this area of knowledge sharing and exchange that is probably the most important function of user groups right now.

Through attending a few such events in recent months, it seems to me that CIOs are not struggling with technology, but they are very keen to find out how their peers have tackled some of the big technology issues that we are facing today. Cloud is a good example of this, as a technology that has been talked up exhaustively, but is still meeting resistance in the region, often due to genuine concerns that certain cloud models don’t fit with the realities of operating in Middle East, such as data privacy, security and legislation.

It is not so much reluctance to adopt new solutions, although there may be a grain of suspicion that sometimes the marketing messages outweigh the realities of the technology, more a sensible caution in adopting solutions which haven’t perhaps been proven to work in this market. With the efforts of the user groups to share best practice and encourage co-operation among members, the regional IT industry as whole becomes stronger and more knowledgeable — a worthy goal.

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