SAP.info: What effect has the political turmoil in North Africa had on the markets?
Sam Alkharrat: The current situation in the MENA region is a boiling-up from below, much as water boils up from below. The frustration has been building up for a number of years. The Middle Eastern countries came out of frequent war in the 1960s and 1970s followed by a significant level of independence since then; moving from the military era to the industrial era. However, the information era proves to be a difficult transition for the Middle East. There has been a significant lack of transparency, there has been a significant lack of trust in governments, and now it’s boiling up to the top. This new generation in the Middle East and North Africa will not tolerate the status quo any longer.
Those born in the 1980s and 1990s are demanding a certain level of change, because they were born in a much stronger economic climate. Globalization has had a stronger effect on the Middle East, because global competition has come to the region and all of a sudden the Internet penetration and the ability to be more global have opened up people’s eyes to the opportunities that their countries can offer. What you’re seeing today is evolutionary and historic for the region, and I believe this is very positive. Old regimes are disappearing, and perhaps new, more transparent type of governments will take over.
SAP.info: What does all of this mean for the IT industry?
Sam Alkharrat: I think this will have extremely positive results. We are hoping for a new era for the Middle East, one of political stability and economic prosperity. We will continue to focus on and invest in this region. New governments will focus on better service, on improvements, which will inevitably require more IT systems and more software. They will focus on job creation, which for the IT industry means more talent, more education. And they will focus on entrepreneurship, which will mean more SMEs and more growth in general.
We will continue to see tremendous growth in Saudi Arabia, in the United Arab Emirates specifically Abu Dhabi, and in Qatar and Kuwait. These are strong markets for us. And we’re starting to see Egypt come back. The region has an incredible business around oil, around transport, and between the airports and the ports, trade is a huge thing here. Tourism is important, engineering and construction are big industries, as is public sector.
Next page: Sybase in MENA
SAP.info: What about some of the smaller countries like Qatar and Kuwait. What industries are driving growth there?
Sam Alkharrat: By winning the bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar will be driving infrastructural growth over the next decade. Events like this one will give the entire region a significant boost in investments. Qatar also happens to be the largest producer of natural gas on the planet, so oil and gas continue to be a prime pillar of the country’s economy. We need to be prepared to take on the big deals that arise; we need to be prepared to deliver. This does not happen overnight. Although the event is still a decade away, we need to start preparing ourselves now.
Also, trade is just what this region is. 50 or 60 years ago, before the discovery of oil, the economy of the entire Gulf region was based on fishing and on spices, trading back and forth between Asia and Europe. These traders have turned into family businesses or growing conglomerates that wait for IT to help them grow.
SAP.info: What do you hear from customers in the region regarding the Sybase acquisition and the on-device component of SAP’s product strategy?
Sam Alkharrat: There is no doubt that SAP is a well-known brand and a strong company. Customers here believe in us as a vital player and a powerful vendor. But they are more interested in our delivery: Can SAP deliver? Is SAP really committed to the market? We are educating the markets that, yes, we do deliver and we are committed.
Speaking about business analytics and mobility, we do find that there isn’t enough knowledge out there about our portfolio. So that’s a great opportunity for us to tell our story that we’re not just an ERP company. We’re also a business analytics company and we’re a mobility company, and all these offerings work together seamlessly. And, of course, interest is high in our in-memory computing offerings and around our on-demand solutions.
SAP.info: What are next steps in the midmarket?
Sam Alkharrat: We have a good strategy to build a robust channel capacity and capability in the region. Again, customers of all sizes expect us to deliver, and this region doesn’t have as big an ecosystem around our software like there is in Europe, for example. So now we are creating and supporting a new breed of partners devoted to the midmarket. We are already doing well with SAP Business All-in-One and will start rolling out SAP Business One next quarter. We have the right strategy, the right products, and the right people so I believe SAP will make a big impact in this region. And I’m looking forward to an exciting journey.