The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – which, along with the Arabia Gulf states, includes Saudi Arabia and the Maghreb countries – remains one of the world’s strongest growth markets. The region’s IT industry continues to expand despite the current financial crisis and associated cost-saving measures. Although it still has some catching up to do in this market, SAP is benefiting from these circumstances. In 2009, the SAP MENA sales region achieved the highest sales growth percentage of all SAP regions and is accordingly making considerable investments in locations and human resources.
“We’re also profiting from this as a user group,” says SUG-MENA president Salem Al-Angari, who has been able to significantly increase his organization’s membership. IT experts from throughout the region – including companies such as Saudi Aramco, Al-Futtaim, and Aluminium Bahrain, as well as the newly founded King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – have congregated to exchange ideas, work together on solutions, and find out what lies ahead straight from SAP.
SAP’s Product Road Map
Hervé Couturier, executive vice president of the technology group at SAP, opened the event by underscoring SAP’s strength in transaction-based systems. He made it clear that the company would not tinker with these systems, describing SAP Business Suite and its constituent applications as the core not only of what SAP stands for today, but of what keeps the businesses of many customers running throughout the world. According to Couturier, SAP software helps extract, refine, and sell 40 million barrels of oil and assemble 32,000 vehicle engines in factories all across the globe every day. SAP plans to build on this strength and experience in bringing new technologies to customers.
“The world out there is changing, and with it the way we do business together,” Couturier declared. “Social networks are giving rise to enterprise networks; on-premise is transforming into on-demand; and many of us want to do more with our cell phones than just make calls and check our e-mail.” For this reason, he continued, SAP is hard at work developing new solutions and technologies to meet these requirements – including in-memory computing. The potential increases in speed Couturier cited here were tremendous: In-memory computing makes it possible to access data 10,000 times faster than from hard drives or storage.
“One thing is perfectly clear, however: No matter which SAP software you use and how, the integrity andconsistency of your data remain priority one,” Couturier assured the attendees. “Orchestration is our key differentiator and we will continue to enforce it.” He went on to categorize SAP’s product strategy into four columns:
– On-premise: As the current and future core of SAP’s focus, SAP Business Suite will see constant upgrades (Enhancement Packages, user interface improvements).
– On-demand: Solutions such as SAP E-Sourcing and SAP Business ByDesign
complement SAP Business Suite by offering a similar experience in the cloud.
– On-device: SAP is making its products more accessible through mobile devices and solutions, such as SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for iPhone; meanwhile, enterprise networks and collaboration tools like 12Sprints are bringing users and processes closer together.
– Orchestration: Common architecture and integrated master data management ensure both data integrity and seamless integration.
“We want to make our software easily consumable and bring instant valueto people everywhere,” Couturier said in summary. This message is music to customers’ ears, but they will want more in-depth information before signing on completely.
Business Intelligence and Analytics
“In 2009, our primary focus was to rely on our SAP systems to control and further reduce costs,” Salem Al-Angari said at the opening of the Executive Exchange, where the MENA region’s CIOs meet to present their concerns to SAP as a group. However, he continued, growing companies produce more and more data and face an increasing need to know exactly what it all means. Many of the region’s businesses have successfully implemented SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) and are now asking what the future has in store for their investments. “How can we continue to improve our existing business intelligence systems while taking advantage of the new elements the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio offers?” In response to this, Hervé Couturier and Sanjay Poonen, head of Business User Sales at SAP, assured the attendees that their investments in SAP NetWeaver BW are secure; the component enables users to easily add in dashboards and tools for data staging and reporting from the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio, which even work with business warehouse products from other providers.
However, this brought another problem to the fore: the lack of qualified personnel in the region. “There aren’t enough certified consultants or training courses,” Al-Angari laments. “We want to invest and implement parts of the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio, but for us, hiring consultants almost always means relying on resources in other parts of the world.” This not only increases the cost of many projects due to travel expenses; it also intensifies the race for the brightest minds. The resulting appeal issued to SAP was clear: “We need more training, more consultants, and more certification.”
SAP University Alliances
SAP regional director Sergio Maccotta was happy to respond with a promise of improvement in these areas. He indicated that although SAP’s involvement in the region is still fairly new, it has already made tremendous investments and will continue to do so – particularly in training. In addition to existing courses and certifications, the company has brought the SAP University Alliances program to the MENA region. Here, it provides universities with SAP licenses and corresponding educational content to introduce students to SAP software as early as possible. “We’re helping train the SAP experts of tomorrow,” explains Maccotta. Customers and partners alike have welcomed this initiative with open arms, and universities have reported considerable demand.
Dr. Abdulla Al-Hawaj – founder and president of Ahlia University, the first private university in Bahrain – briefly touched on this topic: “We’re proud to be one of the first universities in the region to be participating in this program, which is helping us better educate our students and give them the key skills they will need for their careers,” he declared. Al-Hawaj sees SAP University Alliances as an opportunity to bring often somewhat abstract university teachings closer to tangible technology. “We can’t sit idly in our ivory towers; we have to make the most of our possibilities. We need to use, live, and breathe the best technology,” he urged. There may be no better affirmation that SAP’s product strategy has it headed in the right direction.