The future awaits

As organisations in the region prep their strategies for another tough year, Pallavi Sharma speaks to regional vendors to discuss the technologies they feel will help businesses stay in the game in a challenging external environment.

Cloud in 2012
A majority of the experts interviewed for this feature said that in 2012, cloud technologies would finally surface in all their entirety, with the Middle East already witnessing an explosion of virtualised IT infrastructure to facilitate the adoption of cloud computing.

Adrian Pickering, area VP, Juniper Networks, MEA says, “Server virtualisation, new application architectures, and storage consolidation have evolved the data centre, but networks have lagged behind. The result is complex, costly and inefficient data centre networks that are yet not cloud-ready.

“Learning from best practices in 2011, organisations in the region are now researching the best ways to offload IT services to cloud providers in order to enjoy significant benefits such as savings in energy and storage costs, scalable infrastructures that enable quick adaptability to external changes,” he adds.

“According to a recent IDC survey of the Middle East, 32% of the organisations surveyed are currently using or planning to use some form of cloud. Within the GCC, Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear more progressive with regards to cloud, with 34% and 33% of organisations, respectively, considering cloud. Of the one-third of organisations interested in cloud, the majority show a preference for private cloud. With private cloud solutions, companies know where their data is stored, maybe even down to the hardware and software details,” says Sachin Bhardwaj, head of marketing and business development at eHDF.

“Cloud should have a real impact in areas such as software-asa- service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and these cloud categories will enable IT to create value through a combination of cost reduction, speed to market, agility and ability to integrate business processes seamlessly with partners and suppliers. CIOs need to
seriously consider the innumerable long term advantages of investing in the cloud when working out budgets for 2012,” says George DeBono, GM, Middle East and Africa at Red Hat.

Mobility in 2012

CIOs today realise that they are increasingly living, playing and working in a digital world where people have no alternatives but to become more digital. According to senior IT executives, it is this digitisation that will drive the adoption of mobility and social media in the year to come.

“Today’s consumer isn’t just satisfied by an ‘always on’ enterprise. They now expect their providers to be available anytime, anywhere and interactive. After all, it’s the consumer who is going to drive recovery, and organisations that grab their mindshare today are the ones that are going to benefit the most from the recovery,” says Deepak Narian, manager, systems engineers, VMware, MENA.

Experts point out, that the demographics in the region also dictate the explosive use of mobile devices and social media platforms to interact and enable real time information sharing.

“The second TNS Global Digital Life research, surveyed 72000 customers across 60 countries. Their research found that 32% of the population in the MENA region, access the internet for social networking, emails, planning and organising and sharing multimedia content using a multitude of mobile devices,” says Steve Hamilton- Clark, CEO at TNS MENA.

According to Hamilton-Clark, the availability of multimedia content and intuitive applications that enable real time information exchange at rapidly falling costs to the customer will only drive the adoption of mobile devices further.

“Social media solutions, such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are already being integrated with business applications such as CRM. Not only do these platforms give organisations access to a much wider audience than was previously possible but it also enables businesses to interact with their customers and share information unhindered by conventional barriers,” says Shaheen Haque, territory manager, Middle East and Turkey at Interactive Intelligence.

Data-analytics and management in 2012

“CIOs at large enterprises have been focusing for years on cost-cutting due to the recession, but now company boards are pushing organisations to find new ways to grow business. These companies want to gain efficiencies as well as differentiate
themselves in the market. Therefore, technology heads today must focus on being more strategic and adding value by enabling innovation,” says Bhardwaj.

“Decision makers need to evaluate and assess a number of elements to justify every investment- technology or otherwise. They need to analyse resource availability, long term cost of operations, the cost of maintenance, executive commitment and prospective customer segments, approximate turnover and revenue. Hence they must make sure that they have the right information to properly define and measure each of these elements,” says Colin Summers, regional director at CommVault Systems.

This is why experts are certain that 2012 will be a year of massive investments in data analytics, data management and storage solutions.

“The statistics available today allow companies to run simulations or models in order to predict the future outcomes and business areas, rather than just to review historical data and interactions. In addition to this, enterprises today also have access to large amounts of unstructured data from multiple social sources such as customer links to company social sites on Facebook and Twitter. They can now identify customer behaviour and evaluate the impact, quality or effectiveness of the social relationship between the company and the customer,” says Haque.

Summers says, “It’s the same story we are all storing and copying two to three times or even ten times on data, and in so many different forms, than we were a few years ago. CIOs realise that this increase is neither stopping nor slowing down and the most likely scenario is that this scale of growth will continue to increase and not decrease.”

As organisations look to harness new sources of data in a bid to gain a significant competitive advantage, the ability to make real time intelligent decisions, while automating data management and simplifying data storage at competitive costs, will gain increasing importance and demand a larger share of IT budgets.

IT service provision 2012

At the Infrastructure Strategies 2011 event, Ossama El Samadani, director of storage services for Dell MEA recommended, “More IT organisations within enterprises have to turn themselves into service providers, ensure a service catalogue and start charging internal business units for utilising IT services,” he added.

El Samadani also discussed at length about CIOs in the region who manage to work on a zero budget because of the implementation of a charge back model across their IT infrastructure, wherein they are paid by the business units based on the efficiency of app delivery.

The use of chargeback models across organisations varies by institutional control, that is to say, the ability to implement a successful model varies based on centralised or decentralised budget models.

According to a survey, the three questions that an enterprise must answer before deploying the model are:

Does the organisation have sufficient budget to maintain IT
operations reliably?

Is the IT budget flexible or is it consumed by fixed costs?

Does the IT budget contain sufficient funds to research and experiment with new technologies?

Experts believe that in 2012, the task of helping organisations cope with yet another year of shrinking margins and decreasing budgets for growth and expansion will fall on already hard pressed IT teams and divisions. Technology chargeback models may be just what the doctor ordered to effectively free up budgets and make competitive
technology investments.

Recommendations for 2012

ROI-the holy grail
“Decision makers must consciously evaluate the actual budget associated with a project and the scope to expand based on the project’s potential ROI. It really is the acid test. Hence in order to get to the ROI, both the supplier and vendor need to invest in serious research and the acid test is to get to the real, i.e. assign dollar value to costs (e.g. operational savings must have a dollar value: everything should be and can be broken down into manageable numbers). Without the research and getting access to the costs, it really is impossible to get to the ROI, and therefore impossible to make an informed decision,” says Summers.

Visionary project filter
“Executives must distinguish between development and operational projects. They must create a business case for the intended project, its alignment with the companies’ strategic objectives, project size (small, medium, and large) and high-level project information (sponsorship, scope, objectives, timelines etc.). The filter should ensure departments come up with adequate details associated with the project such as the need for a contact centre, and the time it would take to build and deploy the centre. Executives must stress the fact that without the sufficient details the project will be actively discouraged,” advices Haque.

Productivity in the plan
DeBono says that when settling on an IT project, decision makers must focus on setting realistic goals, standardising IT roles and deployment timeframes and promote TCO. “Look at long term cost of operation, training, maintenance and evaluate impact of the project on the organisation. Executives should look at technologies that do not involve huge up-front costs – whether they are acquisition or licensing. A growing view and one that is taking hold is that subscriptions are
much better for business than licenses,” adds DeBono.

DeBono cites a recent survey conducted by IDC commissioned by Red Hat. The findings of this survey showed that products that offer efficiency and productivity improvements for IT staff generally end up with competitive and often lower TCO metrics when all costs are considered. “This is an important factor because in most cases 90% to 95% of all IT budgets typically go to maintaining what systems are in place today, which leaves very little for investment in solutions that can help organisations move more aggressively into their future. CIOs really need to find ways of freeing up existing spend to allow for this innovation, exploration and deployment,” he explains.

Smaller portions
Experts recommend that organisations should consider splitting mega-projects into smaller chunks, and focusing on gaining ROI out of each of these smaller investments. When they do this, they can strengthen their strategy with smaller investments, and ensure that they use each project’s return for the next project and so on, until they achieve the goals of the mega-project – probably within the same time frame, but with much less spend involved in it.

Vendor commitments for 2012

Be it launching local cloud services, introducing innovative pay-as-you go models, comprehensive data centre and data storage services or IT security solutions, vendors in the region are showing signs of optimism.

Most vendors in 2012 are working towards investing in their channel partners through training and other support services to ensure that their customers leverage best practices and implementations.

Interactive Intelligence has applied the on-demand delivery model to various communication services including contact centre automation. This utility-like model for communications is referred to as Communications as a Service (CaaS). According to Haque, the company has also established localised support and services function to meet the demands and requirements of their regional customer base, in addition to investing in a regional mobile training system that will allow the company to easily perform remote on-site training, and provide proof of concept capabilities to customers.

According to Paul Hammond, GM, Infor, the Infor Partner Network (IPN) programme will provide extensive support in the form of local resources, marketing and training, and provide channel partners with the tools, resources and financial incentives to help them rapidly grow a profitable and sustainable business around Infor products.

In addition to the recent launch of it’s managed exchange integrated with Microsoft Lync to provision enhanced communication and collaboration eHDF has also launched remote managed security services. eHDF will soon launch it’s own managed private cloud solutions for medium to large enterprises, looking at enhanced and dynamic utilisation of existing infrastructure or applications in terms
of scalability, elasticity and faster time to market by the end of the year. “Also we have plans to launch a Lite Public cloud version for companies operating in the SMB space,” says Bhardwaj.

2012, although expected to reflect turbulent economic and political conditions of years past, will no doubt be an exciting year for vendors and customers across the region. Industry experts believe that 2012 will witness significant IT investments from SMBs and start ups. Start ups, in particular, are expected to show keen interest in on demand services and technology due to the degree of uncertainty associated with starting a business in a fiercely competitive yet economically crunched market.

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