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Made for the Middle East

Technology vendors never miss a chance to state that the Middle East market is a very crucial one for them. And there is definitely a lot of truth to that statement.

While the markets in the developed market plateau and competition becomes thicker, the Middle East remains one of the economically stronger and more stable regions to sell products and solutions into. This has been true even through the recession of last year when budgets were slashed globally.

This is one reason that more and more vendors across the region are trying to fashion their offerings to be more oriented towards this market’s customers. And how exactly are they doing that? By obtaining feedback from their customers.

“Avaya believes that feedback is essential to continuously improve our services and product offering, and get insights into what our customers need and look forward to. Avaya has taken an extensive approach to feedback from our customers, partners and employees alike, where opinions are phased around products and development, services and solutions,” says Roger El Tawil, managing director for Avaya in the Gulf and Pakistan.

“Having the ability to communicate with all customers to enhance our products is important. Understanding how companies are looking to build various business required elements from an application to a data centre is critical in how we look at how our products are working now as well as how we should adjust them in the future. This goes for product specifics as well as integration points with other Symantec and third party products,” states Johnny Karam, regional director for MENA at Symantec.

Paul Hammond, regional VP and general manager for the Middle East at Infor adds, “We cater to a diverse range of industries spanning manufacturers to third party logistics specialists to hotels. Clearly to maintain this leadership and further enhance our clients’ positions in their own markets we need to listen and act on client feedback and requirements.”

While most vendors agree on the necessity of feedback from the region to make their offerings more tuned to the market, each one has its own way of collecting and analysing that feedback.

 Getting the word in

“We monitor the feedback and that comes in from all levels through a dedicated team that collects feedback and channels it to the respective units for further action. Collecting and analysing feedback is part of Avaya’s system and is high on our priority list. We have a dedicated team that continuously monitors feedback. We have a mechanism in place called GRIP that we use to collect and analyse feedback,” explains El Tawil.

According to him, the company has an extensive CRM solution that works in coordination with the sales team. The company has a three- tiered traffic-signal feedback collection system tagged Red, Amber and Green. For example, if feedback comes in with a Red tag immediate action is taken. The firm also have a system where e-mails are set up for customers based on the purchased and implemented solutions. This gets managed through a system that channels feedback to the account manager or the channel manager. With all the measures Avaya ensures that collecting feedback and taking relevant action is a continuous process.

Security giant Symantec handles the feedback loop in a slightly different manner.

“As an example to explain how we collect feedback from the region, there is a Technical Product Manager (TPM) for FileStore located in Dubai.  This TPM is responsible for interacting with customers, local technical and sales resources as well as Product Management and Engineering in the US.  The TPM works with the customer to architect and install the product and through that process understand any elements that are missing or require enhancement.  The TPM feeds this information back into the planning process so as the product group can prioritise and map out the build process for implementation,” says Karam.

Additionally, Symantec’s Global Intelligence Network (GIN) serves as a good example of how the company is utilising the feedback loop in the region, especially from a security solutions standpoint. GIN collects aggregate data from all over the globe including the Middle East and then uses the data to drive both long term improvements in the protection technologies and also fuel the more tactical day to day protection that is offered by the firm.  The GIN acts as one significant part of Symantec’s ‘eyes and ears’ to be able to understand what is happening in the threat landscape and react accordingly. General examples of this include using it to detect malicious websites (via IPS activity) and malicious files (via reputation).

ERP vendor Infor, on the other hand, uses a number of parallel programs to continuously draw inspiration from end-users in the Middle East.

Hammond says, “We have education roadshows where we arrange dates and venues across the region to meet customers, update them on our product plans and continually pick up client feedback – all face to face. Within these roadshows we bring a number of Infor global product specialists and product managers into the region to meet the customers and work face to face to address client challenges. And it is not just our product specialists, Jim Schaper, our Chairman and CEO from head office in Alpharetta, Georgia was in Dubai to meet some of our customers in 2008 and we held a major customer day in April 2009 in Dubai where we brought our entire EMEA senior management team and specialists to meet our customers. Finally we’ve established a Infor Middle East User Group Forum.”

It is not just vendors who collect feedback, resellers and distributor partners do it as well. And in many ways, the job for them is both easier (because they have more ready-access to customers) and tougher (since they handle multiple products from different technology providers) at the same time.

“One of our partners is SPAN and they sit on the customer / product advisory board for Warehouse Management. They collect feedback from our collective customers and twice a year sit with product management teams to help map out product roadmaps. We also have partners (including  SPAN) who ‘localise’ products whether it be converting to Arabic or custom building user interfaces for more local market, legal or operational requirements,” states Hammond.

“As value added distributor, we work closely with resellers and end-users whose feedbacks are the most valuable. We organise forums for customers in order to get valuable inputs and pass them to respective development teams of our principal companies,” says Khazi Mohamed Akram, GM of RAS Infotech.

He adds, “The feedback we receive is first sent to channel managers who will then communicate to the respective development teams. Subsequently, these teams update the data into beta versions with features. Once the beta is released, not only will customers have the opportunity to find their incorporated requests but most of all, our principal companies will implement this feedback in the latest versions of their products.”

Recognising patterns

Technology providers in the region swear that much of the feedback collected from the region is constantly being used to modify their solutions for the market (see box). In the collection of this feedback, these vendors are also able to identify long-term requirement patterns that is meant to help them fashion solutions for the future more adeptly.

El Tawil says, “From our experience, more and more customers are looking for vendor involvement in the scoping and development phases. Avaya is seeing a lot of product feed back and enhancements around localisation and customised solutions, product preference and capability.”

Symantec’s Karam adds, “Some requirements coming from MENA are around server virtualisation and archiving repositories.  Speaking with customers in MENA around these two areas has allowed Symantec to understand that having solutions that integrate into server virtualisation as well as archiving would open up a market for us that we previously didn’t attach ourselves to.”

“The end user is either driven by a preconceived idea from a competition product or certain features and benefits in a product that would facilitate business for them. During the last two years we found several feature requests that support particular feedback,” says Akram.

Recognising these requirements help vendors in developing market-tuned solutions for the future.

Karam points out, “Gaining feedback from the customer is Product Management’s lifeblood.  Enabling a channel from the customer once a product is installed is important in building out factual requirements.  One element that Symantec is putting into place is Veritas Operation Services (VOS).  VOS is a cloud-based service that plugs into the Storage and Availability Management products. Through its cloud based infrastructure, customers can provide live requests to Product Management around what they perceive is missing from Symantec products as well as what needs enhancements.”  

The cornerstone to Infor’s long term product strategy is enrich, enhance and evolve. It is more than a slick marketing phrase as it is our ongoing commitment to make our business software even better than it has been by investing 13% of our global revenues every year in ongoing R&D to our products  – we have a commitment to customer driven enhancements,” assures Infor’s Hammond.

Counting pros

As competition heats up across the region, customers demand solutions that are geared towards their specific needs and the market statistics remain convincingly high enough for vendors to feel the incentive to do something about it, enterprises across the region are likely to see more solutions sold with the ‘made for the Middle East’ tag.

However, in the immediate future, large organizations are likely to see more customization and willingness to tweak from smaller vendors trying to make a mark in the market rather than the giants of the industry who are already well-established and consider their solutions to be international standards, which do not need to be added to on a regular basis.

Enterprises are also more likely to see language additions and Arabisation sold off as major enhancements to products and solutions. This will be done, inspite of the fact that the market does not really consider simple language modifications and front-end additions of the Arabic script to be truly solutions that are made for the Middle East customer.

Eventually though, if the need for region-countered solutions remain high, the market is likely to turn with bigger vendors getting into the fray of fashioning new products and also more home-made ventures attempting to make solutions that are made for the Middle East, in the Middle East.

And when the region reaches that stage, it would have truly reached a higher level of maturity.

Solutions ‘made for the Middle East’

Find below some of the solutions in the market that vendors claim are made for the region:

  1. Symantec FileStore is a good example of ‘made for the Middle East’. FileStore is a clustered NAS appliance that allows for high performance levels that geotechnical, oil and gas, media as well as financial customers require at a price point that is accessible to most customers (SMBs and small enterprises). Having a product management resource based locally is allowing the company to understand the MENA market and focus feature requirements accordingly.
  2. Avaya’s arabisation of the telephony systems, OneX Arabic, the arabisation on our contact centre interphase and voice mail are some of the company’s ‘made for the Middle East’ products.
  3. One of the products that RAS Infotechhas in its portfolio which could be tagged as “made for the Middle East” is the DeviceLock v6.4.1; as this product has been modified in order to keep up with the necessities of DeviceLock end-users. In fact, as now the DeviceLock v6.4.1 has been updated to control local data transfers between Apple’s new iPhone and DeviceLock-protected endpoint computers.
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