Guarded optimism at CME Conference
Second Channel Middle East Conference sends upbeat message
Executives from across the Middle East IT channel gathered today at the Ritz Carlton, DIFC, Dubai, for the second Channel Middle East conference.
Representatives from industry names such as Jacky's Electronics, Emax, Aptec, Aastra, eHosting DataFort, Acer and Kaspersky Lab took to the stage to delve into channel-specific topics such as export headaches, cloud managed services and the consumerisation of IT.
But despite the discussions on challenges and pitfalls, the underlying message was guarded optimism, as the channel takes to its feet following post-crunch leanness.
"[The Middle East IT channel] has had an excellent five months," said Meera Kaul, managing director, Optimus Technology & Telecom, in her keynote address, The State of the Channel.
"Almost all the projects that were shelved last year have been inked. Small- to medium-sized companies have [regained] their confidence in the economy, and that sentiment is priceless."
Kaul noted that close to 70% of CIOs have indicated they will be increasing IT spend this year and while live SMS polls conducted by Channel Middle East at the event suggested a reticence in the channel towards all-out celebration, most expected to see some sort of growth in the coming months.
Kaul was more buoyant: "This kind of growth is the kind of growth we saw before the financial crisis. The UAE is possibly seeing better revenues and better traction in IT projects being awarded than even the bigger economies such as Saudi Arabia."
A large part of the renewed swell has been brought about by GCC governments as they expand infrastructure around e-Government delivery, LTE network expansion and IT security in response to last summer's wave of high-profile cyber attacks. The private sector's activities have also been a boon to open source vendors and their channel partners as governments consider ways to shave costs.
The regional shift, not only in the public sector but in SMEs and enterprises, from bare metal setups to managed services, has led to a boom in the channel for segments such as storage and virtualisation.
Kaul also made mention of an increase in demand for analytics, but took care to point out that this did not mean big data.
Check out our gallery of the second Channel Middle East Channel Conference.
"[The Middle East IT channel] is not really doing big data or Hadoop yet; what we are doing is real-time analytics," she explained. "There a couple of vendors in the market that have come up with product portfolios for small business and enterprise."
The restored activity in the channel is attracting new players. Kaul observed that a number of international vendors have toured the region, holding meetings with prospective partners, but she also pointed out that vendors are starting to notice a requirement in the channel for pre-defined partnership programmes to be phased out in favour of more flexible schemes.
Security has had a big year and is expected to grow further, given the perceived threat level in the region, but Kaul stressed the ongoing issue of the skills gap that has plagued this niche business.
"Security has always been big; the more infrastructure we develop, the more data we [create], the more network security will become truly essential," said Kaul. "There is a huge play for the channel in these sectors.
"[But] the channel has to step up not only in terms of products and services, but also in terms of skill sets. One problem [in the security segment] has always been that regulation and implementation, in terms of the skill set, never match."
Devices, and the ballooning demand for them and the apps they host, has led to a culture that is by now familiar to all: that of "bring your own device" (BYOD). The channel, Kaul urged, needs to act quickly to be ready for the shift of this area to B2B.
"Work is no longer a location; work is an activity," she said. "We are surrounded by 350m connected individuals [in the GCC]. More than 50% of people in the Gulf own smartphones. We need to look at the potential of what we have around us."