Analysts, regional media, market commentators and IT managers in public and private sectors insist that IT investment in hardware, software and services will resume growth, albeit cautiously, in the region and beyond this year, as the brakes come off across key business sectors and the business cycle picks up again.
Countries across the region are expected to continue to move towards realising their vision of knowledge economies and societies that will be reliant, to a significant degree, on state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure for business and the wider community.
This is good news but as aspiring smart communities emerge with latest technology at their core, a significant 'catch' is becoming apparent. An area that may hinder this progress is the level of IT skills available in the region, with professionals struggling to keep pace with advanced technology that is being introduced in the Middle East which is driving infrastructure development in this knowledge society. We see it clearly in the public and private sectors.
IT generalists abound but specialists in new and emerging technologies such as virtualisation, visualisation and cloud computing are hard to find. And this skills deficit is occurring at a time, and in an environment where IT teams may have been downsized or restructured. Hiring may not be an option at this stage of the business cycle where we all are monitoring the strength of the gathering recovery.
Many clients choose not to build and operate all their ICT and support functions in-house for a variety of reasons. These include organizational or headcount strategy or restrictions or the inability of skills required for short-to-medium term IT deployments to lend themselves to broader long-term benefits for the business.
Increasingly though, the major barrier is that of limited ability in sourcing skills for rapid advanced IT deployment.
The Middle East is not alone in this of course. Some of these specialist IT skills may be hard to find anywhere else in the world. But as the regional IT market becomes more active again, the shortage may be felt more acutely here and could prove to be a major factor in delaying introduction of new advanced technologies.
These skills can be found for example in hi-tech clusters around the world such as Cambridge, which is home to the UK's first and most prestigious science park and is one of the world's most advanced IT/technology clusters located close to the renowned world-class university, which itself is at the cutting-edge of technology and scientific research. If regional private and public organisations ranging from academic clusters to private institutions are unable to effectively deploy advanced technologies, delays will result in developing a world-class technology infrastructure necessary for the region.
In the short term, IT clients are seeking additional support options for clients such as operational services, BOT agreements and operational out-tasking. Providers of these services are forced to draw on the international skills market and in clusters such as Cambridge, to provide complementary skills to the region to support the deployment of these technologies, along with certified technology skills and verifiable soft skills, and the cultural awareness to ensure that these specialists are productive from day one.
Meanwhile, there is a demand from the Middle East's large public and private sector organisations for a mix of out-tasking, process re-engineering, high value technical consulting and business transformation services wherever these clients are unable to build and operate certain functions in-house. Where appropriate, we deploy our own employees ranging from single individuals up to large operational teams in corporate environments across the GCC. In the longer term though, the need to create a regional cluster or clusters of IT skills is apparent.
- The author is Managing Director, Intergence System Middle East. The views expressed are his own
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