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Sun 3 Jul 2005 04:00 AM

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IT leaders slate lack of investment in R&D

Regional IT leaders have slammed local governments and the private sector for their lack of investment in technology R&D.

Regional IT leaders have slammed local governments and the private sector for their lack of investment in technology R&D. The comments follow last week’s (see IT Weekly, 25 June - 1 July 2005) warning from Gartner analyst Tony Murphy that the region faced being left behind in the global IT market.

“The funding and support for R&D is missing in this region,” said Habib Talhami, senior lecturer and acting head of the institute of informatics at the British University in Dubai (BuiD), in an interview this week with IT Weekly. “A lot of the developed countries invest a percentage of their budgets on R&D, but in the Arab world there is very little investment.”

This view is echoed by other regional industry figures. “The region lacks awareness for investing in technology. Investors and business people are afraid of investing in technology and solutions for their business,” said Jamal Abdalla, sales and marketing manager, Sakhr Software Kuwait.

Abdalla said that the local software development industry in particular is very weak in the region. For instance, he finds very little competition for Sakhr, which develops solutions based on the Arabic language, in the region. “We find that in some areas we are alone in the market, especially when it comes to Arabic natural language processing,” Abdalla noted.

“Governments and major investors don’t invest on software development. They just contract international software houses to build projects for them. They forget that the time will come that they will need technologies based on the unique characteristics of the Arabic language.”

The fact that the R&D industry is very small also does not help in encouraging investors, added Talhami. “The R&D industry is so small and there is very little going on, therefore governments and other investors are unlikely to invest,” he said.

Talhami believes that there are a lot of opportunities for local developers to flourish but the tendency for most companies to buy technology from other regions has hindered that growth.

“The technology itself as well as the expertise to operate the technology is imported usually from the US and from the west. That, of course, doesn’t help the R&D community here,” Talhami said.

Abdalla agreed. “It’s not enough to shop around the world to resell [foreign] products. That’s what’s going on in the market now. If there’s a need for a certain solution, most companies shop around in Europe or Asia and offer to represent foreign companies in the region and sell their solutions. They don’t construct their own solutions,” he explained.

While there are several training programmes initiated by private companies for local systems integrators and software developers, Talhami is sceptical about the true purpose of such projects.

“I’ve been working with various companies and there’s no effort. There are so-called programmes and there’s a lot of talk, but there isn’t anything happening on the ground in a serious way,” Talhami said. “The intention is there… [but] you have to translate that into something that would happen on the ground such as projects in universities, companies and governments.”

“We appreciate what they are doing but of course they’re doing it for their own benefits,” said Abdalla. “However, if we benefit after that, if in the end it would be good for us, then why not? I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We have to see what others are doing and try to catch up and then go along with them.”

“I don’t mind partnering with the likes of Microsoft or Intel, but we have to impose our own rules. There should be an exchange of knowledgeable information,” he added.

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