By Peter Branton
Driving past Dubai’s Internet City it seems hard to believe that there is a problem with the region’s IT sector. New buildings seem to be springing up every day, the constant construction suggests a booming market. Check out the names, the likes of Dell, HP, Microsoft and Oracle, on those new buildings and one problem does seem to suggest itself…
Region needs to look inward for IT|~||~||~|Driving past Dubai’s Internet City it seems hard to believe that there is a problem with the region’s IT sector. New buildings seem to be springing up every day, the constant construction suggests a booming market. Check out the names, the likes of Dell, HP, Microsoft and Oracle, on those new buildings and one problem does seem to suggest itself…
Last week’s lead story carried claims by a Gartner analyst, Dr Tony Murphy, that the region is missing out on many of the benefits of the global IT boom of the last
10-15 years because there is not enough regional IT development (see IT Weekly, 25 June- 1 July 2005). While Dr Murphy’s views are, ultimately, his own, he does raise some valid points, most notably that the Middle East as a whole spends too much on importing IT products and solutions and doesn’t generate enough revenue from exporting its own IT products and services.
While all of the international companies quoted above — and indeed just about every other international IT company in DIC — would point out, with ample justification, that they are responsible partners in this region who have proved their commitment to the Middle East again and again, the fact remains that these are, at the end of the day, international companies. Obviously such firms’ continued investment in the region is not just welcome, it is vital, if the Middle East is to keep pace with the wider world. But this does not mean that the region should not have its own local champions, local firms providing local solutions.
Recently, a senior executive from an IT company that spoke to IT Weekly admitted that his company’s Arabisation projects were driven from Europe because it was easier to recruit there. The level of Arabic content on the internet is still disproportionately low, despite various recent efforts to attract more talent there.
This week, we are carrying another story, highlighting the lack of regional investment in research and development initiatives. Habib Talhami, the acting head of the Institute of Informatics at the British University in Dubai, told IT Weekly in a recent interview that he was concerned about the level of funding for R&D efforts.
For Dubai, the example of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister, has helped to lift awareness of the need for investment in IT. Other countries have also developed initiatives to increase IT, Jordan is a very good example of a country looking to use IT in a positive way. Nor are all the companies in DIC from outside the region —Sakhr Software springs to mind as a local champion — but there are too few positives and too many negatives.
It is worth looking to a nearby country, India, to see how much investment in IT can benefit a country and also to see just how much investment it takes in IT to actually make a difference. The Indian Institute of Technology was founded as far back as 1946. Today it admits 3,500 out of 150,000 applicants each year, many of whom go on to play leading roles in the country’s booming IT industry. India’s IT industry is on track to deliver ambitious targets of US$50 billion output by the year 2008. Today, India is one of the IT outsourcing centres of the world, with companies from the US and Europe moving their IT activities there.
True, this has created its own share of trouble, with enormous political controversy being generated around the world as a result, but it has also created enormous benefits for the country. Many governments and organisations in the Middle East would do well to look to India as an example, not as a place to send work to.||**||