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Mon 13 Apr 2009 02:00 PM

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We're not going to take it

Why I have decided not to start any feature or story with the phrase "in light of the current economic climate".

I decided this week that I would no longer start any feature or story with the phrase, “In light of the current economic climate.”

It’s not because it doesn’t adequately describe the present global situation – it’s because it simply re-affirms the current “bunker” mentality which is affecting the region and casts anything I write in a reactive light, as opposed to looking for positive ways to get out of the current situation.

Unfortunately for us, positive stories are few and far between at the moment. Most companies are still trying to figure out the “new reality” – as SAP’s EMEA boss Jose Duarte put it – but some CIOs have alerted me to a possibility which I believe the wider community should be aware about.

As they recall, back in the 1980s when the world was recovering from the aftereffects of the previous decade of recession, many American and European companies made the trip out to what was then the considered the “wilderness of the Middle East”. Not all were industry giants, but most had the gift of gab. To quote Julius Caesar, veni, vidi, vici – they came, they saw, they conquered.

Unfortunately, most of them never came back. As a result, many enterprises were left with highly-specialised equipment and no way to repair them in the event of failure. If they did manage to get through to the vendors, they often found that it would be prohibitively expensive to ship replacement parts or that firms were not willing to fly a technician down to affect repairs.

Don’t think it’s just limited to large enterprises, either; in my previous life as a channel reseller, I’ve heard plenty of stories of cases like major printer vendors dumping their high-profit, low-demand models in the Middle East – their favourite prey were the smaller government departments. Invariably, nine to ten months later I’d get a call from some harried assistant looking for a cartridge that would now need to be special-ordered (if it was even still being made anymore).

In a similar fashion, we’ve had a flurry of visits recently from top-level management of most of the more prominent vendors. While it’s nice that they’re taking the team to meet regional enterprises, I remain highly sceptical that these visits are anything more than an attempt to bolster regional sales by putting a personal face on deals that are often worth millions of dollars. In the end, the enterprise is happy because they think they’re getting the personal attention they deserve, the vendor country manager is happy because he can show his boss around for a few days, and the EMEA manager is happy because he’s managed to escape the gloominess of the European or American business climate for a brief spell.

If I seem a little cynical, it’s because I really have heard it all before – and so have regional CIOs. Vendors are going to work harder for their sales now and not just expect that the Middle East will eat up their leftover stock like a parched man walking out of the desert. Equally, they also need to understand that even though demand has fallen in the West, our region can’t be expected to pick up the slack all by itself. We may still have some budget available – but we’d like a little respect as well.

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