Regional SIs discuss market developments

ACN brings on IST’s Sherif Fahmy and Help AG’s Stephan Berner to share insights on the region's SI market

Tags: Cloud computingIST Networks (www.istnetworks.com)United Arab Emirates
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Regional SIs discuss market developments The complexity of cyber security remains a top challenge.
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  August 6, 2017

IST Networks
Sherif Fahmy, Marketing Manager

ACN: Could you start by sharing some details on IST Networks?

Sherif Fahmy: IST is an award-winning customer experience systems integrator dedicated to delivering powerful and innovative customer experience solutions within the Middle East and Turkey. Established in 2002, IST has rapidly grown to be the market leader and has earned the reputation for service quality, innovation and prompt project delivery. IST’s Expertise lies with integrating technology from industry leaders and is proud to be a Cisco ATP for Contact Center, a Genesys Gold Partner and Verint partner.

With over 15 years of experience and industry know-how, and a sole focus on customer experience, IST offers enterprise solutions that will enable them to reduce costs by working smarter and with greater efficiency, acquire more customers, grow their business into new markets, improve customer retention and sell more to existing customers to create brand advocates.

ACN: When approached by prospective clientele, what are some of the typical solutions that they are searching for?

SF: When prospective clients approach IST they are usually looking for a solution that will help with customer or employee engagement. When we talk about customer engagement, we are talking about helping enterprises improve the customer experience that they offer their customers, which has a direct impact on their NPS and customer satisfaction. In terms of employee engagement solutions, we are talking about providing enterprises with solutions that will improve employee efficiency.

ACN: What are they seeking in terms of a good SI partner?

SF: When enterprises look to partner with an SI, I believe the decision is based on three key criteria:

Deep technical & business expertise: Most enterprises are looking for more than a box mover — they are looking for system integrators who can serve as consultants. These SIs have a in-depth knowledge of the specific industry that the enterprise operates in, understand the critical success factors for that industry, understand the business requirements and the various processes the specific organisations and finally have the technical know-how and partnerships with best-in-class vendors to offer and implement solutions that can improve these processes.

Understanding of local culture: This is key, particularly for a system integrator within the customer experience field in this region. Consumer behaviour in the region is different than that in other parts of the world and as a consequence the way we address these behaviours via customer experience strategies should be different. For example, UAE ranks among the top 10 countries in the world for social media usage among people that have access to the internet, whereas Saudi Arabia is the country with the highest YouTube usage per capita. Understanding these differences allows the SI to provide invaluable insight to advise the customer on the right customer experience strategies for their markets.

Innovation: We strongly believe that enterprises today are also looking for SIs that are innovative and can offer home-grown solutions to complement solutions from vendors. The relationship between an organisation and a SI, is not just a one-off transaction, but rather a partnership that should last year, and even decades so it is important that the SI takes the time to research the latest trends that affect their customers and invest in their own R&D, in order to empower their customers with the tools to stay competitive and innovate themselves.

ACN: What are the key challenges faced by SI within the region and how is your company addressing these issues?

SF: Over the last few years, between the geo-political tensions in the region and the economic conditions driven by the depressed oil prices, organisations in the region are focusing their IT investments in areas that will help them drive down costs or switch out OpEx for CapEx. At the same time they are under pressure to embrace the wave of digitisation and offer their customers a seamless, connected and pleasant customer experience.

As a consequence, we have partnered with Gartner-leading vendors like Cisco, Genesys and Verint, in parallel to investing in R&D and developing our own solutions like OmniCloud and Sentiment Analysis to provide enterprises with tools that allow them to provide their customers with a connected customer experience, streamline processes cut costs and see a quick return on their investment.

For example, in a recent project, we implemented a connected strategy with one of our customers that allowed them to reduce agent staffing costs per transaction by 15%, which is a significant cost saving without compromising on the customer experience. The solution allows agents to serve multiple channels form the same environment, while also having the information of the customers from all the channels available via one desktop, which enhances the customer service, and cuts down on the time take to serve the customer.

Moreover, at IST we offer different financial assistance programs to our prospective clients, either via pay as you go licensing models or our financing schemes.

Help AG
Stephan Berner, CEO

ACN:  Could you start by sharing some details on Help AG and what it does?

Stephan Berner: Help AG is an information security services and solutions specialist which has been present in the Middle East since 2004. We have for a long time been diversifying our business in line with IT consumption models. For Help AG, the build-up of our services and solutions portfolio has been a steady process that has helped us maintain a consistently high level of quality with each new offering. This contrasts other SIs that have been late to recognise the trends and therefore scrambled to bring offerings to market that are not grounded in a solid technical competency. Help AG today has five divisions; cyber security consulting, cyber security analysis, cyber security support, cyber security integration, and managed security services.

With these, we are capable of not only providing the best solutions, services and consultancy, we can do so in a manner that best meets our customers’ requirements and consumption models be it traditional, OpEx based, or cloud-based.

ACN: Which industry verticals have contributed most to the company’s growth so far in 2017 and why?

SB:
We serve some of the most high-profile public and private organisations in the region. 30% of our business is related to government, 34% to banking and finance, 10% to oil and gas, 10% to defence and airspace, 8% to Groups of companies, and 8% from other verticals.

The reason government and banking and finance are the top contributors to our revenues is simply related to the nature of cyber-crime. The Middle East is a hotbed for politically motivated cyber-attacks which places government entities square in the cross-hairs of attackers. And following the global trend, many cyber criminals are financially motivated which is why financial institutions have had to double down on their cyber security investments.

ACN: What elements of an IT infrastructure’s security does your clientele typically seek solutions for?

SB: We focus on managing risk on-premises, in the cloud and in virtual environments for the customers. As a trusted advisor, we don’t just provide what the customer is asking for, but rather we recommend the right solution and services based on their business objectives as well requirements.

There are certain vendors we partner with to address these requirements from a technical, commercial and organisational point of view. Strategic vendor partners we work with are F5 Networks, Palo Alto Networks, Symantec Blue Coat, Cisco Security, Splunk, Infoblox, Fortinet, Menlo Security, and a few more.

ACN: What are some of the ways you are continuing to expand your presence across the Middle East region?

SB: We have been extremely strategic in our expansion through the region. After setting up our regional headquarters in the UAE and successfully operating in the country, serving our client base in the Middle East, we decided in 2015 to venture into the Saudi market with the inauguration of another fully staffed hub in Riyadh. In this time, we have also grown our staff count and today have 130 employees, an impressive 70% of which are engaged in technical positions.

Besides our geographic expansion, we have also worked hard to continuously introduce new solutions and services which helps us expand our engagement with existing customers. In fact, last year we managed to increase our business with our top 20 customers by 40% year-on-year.

As an example, we were quick to recognise a gap in the market and invested in establishing our own Cyber Security Operations Centre to deliver managed security services. Last year, we were able to on-board three to four new customers to our MSS services every quarter.

ACN: What sort of challenges do SI face when dealing with security threats that by their nature are constantly evolving?

SB:
One of the challenges is that today, many vendors are touting their solution portfolios as comprehensive security platforms. The complexity of modern cyber security however, means that it is only through the expert integration of best in class point products and the implementation of security policies that enterprises can harden their security posture. While this should seem like the ideal situation for SIs as it enables them to add value to deployments, many are insufficiently technically proficient to capitalise on this opportunity. There is also the question of pressure from vendors who often push their partners to implement their security solutions even when they aren’t the best fit for the customer’s requirements.

This is another area wherein Help AG differentiates itself. Despite having a number of leading vendors in our partner portfolio, we are unique in that we do not allow vendors to dictate terms. We are one of the few regional SIs capable of in-house development and enhancement of vendor solutions to meet the precise requirements of our customers even when the features of these solutions fall short of expectations.

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