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System-IntegratorExactly which pillars of the third platform will be the most profitable remains open to debate, but social, mobility, analytics and cloud all offer fresh opportunities for SIs. Mechelle Buys du Plessis, Solutions Director, Dimension Data, Middle East, feels that a utility-based approach to IT will prevail, “The realisation that clients worldwide are looking at procuring tech services has dawned on most companies,” she says. “We need to change the way that these services are procured. Utility will be key; for instance, if you are in need of energy, there is no point in building your own power plant.”

Serjios El-Hage, Group CEO, EMW, believes that those who are unable to capitalise on the emergence of mobility will be left behind, “Mobility, and anything to do with it, is becoming massive,” he says. “The transition from wireless to smart devices has meant that MEAPs and MDM are now crucial areas for SIs. Applications like Dubai Smart Gov have given rise to the fact that people can transact everything via their mobile apps.”

Stephan Berner, Managing Director, Help AG, is in no doubt that SIs who focus on another ever-present concern—security—will stand out from the crowd, “Security has proved to be an extremely rewarding area of specialisation,” he says. “There are few players in the local market who focus solely on IT security. Enterprise IT security requires a multi-faceted approach that includes technologies and solutions, privacy, enterprise architecture, legal and compliance issues related to computer security, risk analysis, employee training, and financial and economic considerations. To address each of these concerns, organisations require integration partners who have true value addition capabilities.”

Hani Nofal, Executive Director, Intelligent Network Solutions, Gulf Business Machines, is conscious of the value of business-IT alignment and also in driving system integration into a “holistic” era, “IT is currently experiencing a power shift where traditional customers are becoming business users,” he says. “IT is becoming increasingly important to the business, and so it is difficult to find the right balance of skills and people who understand the business. On top of that, SIs who are able to combine the power of technologies like Big Data, virtualisation and mobility will put themselves in a very strong position in terms of this business-IT alignment.”

Offering a broader range of SI services opens a wider range of market opportunities, but with that decision comes stiffer competition. By the same token, it is often more challenging for niche operators to gain access to certain customers, yet they are not as susceptible to the large risks that come with offering broader services. For Klaus Middeler, Director, Strategy and Business Development, Ericsson Middle East, it is clear that SIs must make clear the distinction of which path they will follow, “There are only two sizes of companies which are able to sustain a long term profitable business – those who offer the full range of services or those who are specialised,” he says. “Companies in between will either not have the necessary expert skill or cost advantage to survive in the long run. Both segments – full service provider and niche player – offer good margins and revenues. Niche players have the advantage to be more flexible but the disadvantage not being able to prime larger SI contracts.”

“If an SI is offering a broad range of services they must fundamentally understand the processes,” says Mechelle Buys du Plessis, Solutions Director, Dimension Data, Middle East. “In the same vein, an SI service provider could provide broad services but have niche knowledge in a particular field.”

El-Hage sees the value in SIs ensuring they stand out from the crowd, and stay abreast of the emerging technologies, “SIs used to be a one-stop shop for various services, like integrating servers and printers,” he says. Nowadays, all vendors offer some form of cloud service, so it is important for SIs to be agile, and to consider that mobility, data centres and the whole ecosystem are up to scratch. Software-defined networking will come no matter what, and there is ,a decreasing reliance on hardware suppliers, with the move to SDN and virtualisation.”

SIs who have the advantage of specialising in a particular vertical will have a unique advantage, and with large parts of the Middle East in economic transition, certain sectors will present huge opportunities. El-Hage sees a clear roadmap for which verticals will prove to be goldmines for SIs, both in the UAE and the Middle East as a whole, “Regionally, I see the hospitality vertical being the most profitable in future,” he says. “With Expo 2020 coming up, there will be an influx of new developers, and the number of available properties in Dubai—84,000—is expected to double. Following that, education will experience growth, with the average student in the Middle East carrying between 2.7-3 mobile devices. Thirdly, I expect retail to grow, brands are coming into the region, and with mall expansions this will create demand.”

Berner believes that the growth of specific verticals will vary across the region, “In terms of segments driving the broader scope of systems integration in the region, this varies from country to country and can in general be linked to which verticals are fastest growing in each country,” he says. “This is simply because IT is now a must-have and achieving the next level of business growth is a matter of deploying the best solutions that aid business flexibility and efficiency.”

With the increasing demand for a variety of IT services and solutions, the future promises a decrease in mere boxes, with the lines between hardware and software becoming increasingly blurred. It seems fair to assert that hardware-focused SIs may face a drop in business, while those who accommodate the transition into more software-defined technologies will be better off. By the same token, with the increased uptake of cloud and remote operations, the need for engineers to travel on-site may decrease. Exactly which areas of system integration stand to suffer draws debate, the decline in demand for various types of system integration proving a harsh reality for some.

The move into virtualised storage and networks, along with the rise in digital services is disruptive, and Mohammed Zameer, General Manager, Al Rostamani Communications, sees three clear areas of technology that are becoming outdated and may get left behind. “Voice communications are becoming unified and IT-based, so the need for services in that area is declining,” he says. “With the prevalence of 3G, cabling infrastructure has gone wireless so that will suffer. The demand for standard storage and servers is also decreasing, as everything is becoming more rack-based.”

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