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Executive exchange

At the recent SAP user group (SUG) MENA meet held in Bahrain, customers of the German-software giant got together to discuss  some  of the biggest IT issues plaguing them. Organisations from around the region used the Executive Exchange meetings conducted as part of the three day event to share notes and arrive at possible solutions.

During all these discussions the main issue that kept raising its ugly head was the lack of skilled manpower.

“Our main issue is getting adequate manpower resources. We have a lot of visa issues as well, where people cannot come into our region, and this makes the problem worse,” says Farook Chapra, CIO at Saudi Cable.

“From a skills point of view, everybody is facing the same problems. The experience and the skills that we are looking for are not easy things to get. This is especially since we have to keep an eye on the Saudisation level and what percentage each department is at. Some people say bring the necessary people from overseas, but it is not an open thing and we can’t do that all the time. We have to mix and match, have a balance. Moreover, the problem is that the skills that we are looking for are not what it should be,” says Abdullah Al-Belaihed, IT manager at Sipchem, a petrochemical company based in KSA. 

Salem  Al-Angari project manager at Saudi Aramco and president of SUG-MENA agrees, pointing out, “There is definitely a lack of skills and  there is need  for training as well. People are struggling to find seats in various locations, but the courses are sometimes too far and few in between and they don’t lend themselves to the projects that these people are engaged in.  They need training now and the issue is that there is not much happening in the region in that area.”

While end-users debated on ways to improve the skills level in the region, enterprises from KSA brought up another challenge that they have to battle every day.

“We face communication issues. Maybe it is different from one region to the other, but our major issue is with communication. I mean the landlines and connectivity that are provided by a communications company. It delays our business and there are a lot of interruptions – the infrastructure here is not what it should be. For an example, if we request for a circuit to link another branch, it takes more than four months to be done, if we are lucky.  That is a huge challenge to the continuity of our business. We have projects and teams outside the country and they need to access our systems regularly. Communication interruptions in this scenario are quite alarming. That is a huge challenge for us,” says Al-Belaihed.

Agrees Chapra, “The communication infrastructure in our region is not what it could be. This includes Internet services which are not stable at all.”

IT managers also discussed the various ways in which they had faced the recent recession, and the measures they had to take when budgets were cut.

“In 2009 we had a good budget, but because of the downturn it had to be cut. It was sometime in the middle and we had to delay a couple of projects. Budgets for 2010 are lower than 2009. But the lesson we learned is doing more with less. We became aware of our capabilities to do more with less, that we can spend less and still get good value for it – and that is the concept we are going ahead with,” says Esam Hadi, acting IT head at Aluminium Bahrain (Alba).

Companies that have weathered the storm believe that the impact of it will continue to be felt in 2010 and are preparing to tighten their budget belts. Apart from discussing broader technology issues, the CIOs also brought to light issues they might be having with SAP.

“Growth is happening and a lot of people are using SAP but that is stretching the support thin. CIOs were asking SAP MENA to interject more in the back support for all their partners. If you add more customers, but you have the same team to support, you just can’t handle it. But there are concrete steps being taken by SAP. They are opening offices across the region and the hope is that they will be able to address this issue,” says Al-Angari.

These discussions helped the end-user community network and learn from each other at the SUG-MENA event to everybody’s advantage. ‘

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