Western firms struggle to meet Arab demand for analysis

The last twelve months have been an especially exciting time for technology across the Arab world. There is increasing, and unsatisfied, demand for analyst insight and opinion, especially in the Gulf states. That has created the opportunity for a few research and analysis houses to set up in the region, probably the most credible being Arab Advisors Group.

In terms of the diffusion of new technology, the region has proved itself to be an ‘early adopterpar excellence with sectors such as tourism & travel, retail, finance and, of course, e-government leading the way in terms of deployment of the latest technology. That is set to accelerate. Many Arab businesses now have the budget, infrastructure and skills required to become true innovators, although consumers face a digital divide.

However, these early adopters often have high expectations of vendors, and of industry analysts, and have a low tolerance for risk. It’s the sort of trend that, in other markets, would be described as a ‘flight to quality’. Buyers want high quality brands, with customized solutions and leading-edge insight. That’s reflected in many ways.

  • Preference for solid brands. One of my contacts in the region recently commented that the value of positive perceptions is very high. That means that good reputations are essential for winning business in the region. That’s one reason why Microsoft has done so well in the region. IT directors in these areas need to identify early technology propositions that give them what they need, especially in terms of improved productivity, and that is easy to present to managers and stakeholders.
  • Demand for localization. Of course, the routes to stronger reputations are different in the Arab region – and not every tech firm has responded well. There is growing, and widespread, demand for Arabised applications, it is clear that some global technology players are committed to a special effort for the Gulf and the rest of the Middle East (again, including Microsoft).
  • Innovators, not ‘late majority’. In the past, it was more typical for Arab organizations to look to case study references for proof of implementations in Europe and the USA prior to planning new IT and business process projects. They were, in some ways, conservative buyers that were part of the late majority. Carrington Malin, CEO of the region’s leading agency, SpotOn PR, told me “Today, many large enterprise customers in the Middle East have their sights set on business innovation and taking leadership positions that are recognized by their peers around the world. There’s a growing desire to be first and best and so they want insight, opinion and advice from the cutting edge and are willing to pay for it. That creates high expectations for both analysts and vendors.”
  • Sunk costs count. In the Anglo-Saxon world, firms are more likely to substantially rework their IT infrastructure from top to bottom. However, many managers in the Gulf economies feel that to remain competitive they need to find a multitude of ways to leverage their firm’s existing technology investment and bring about greater, productivity and therefore profits. That produces a real communications challenge, for example, with Microsoft’s latest operating system, Vista. Inside the Arab world, Vista has to be sold as a way to leverage investments in XP, rather than being presented as a major break.

Financial analysts and IT vendors are ahead of the industry analysts in understanding those differences, facing an increasing demand for research and analysis as the scale of investments gets larger and Arab investors move into regions and sectors of higher risk.

Looking at the industry analysts in the Arab world right now, it’s still very early days for the big firms. The region is still very much a consumer rather than a producer of analysis. IDC has had a research team based in the Middle East for some years, most others simply have sales representatives. Gartner, Aberdeen, Forrester and other sell there, but none have analysts based here. Ovum is also active, but again analysts are not based here. That greatly limits their ability to adapt to local needs.

Experton has also a strong base in Dubai. While the other firms sit back, it is they, and consulting firms like Booz Allen, who will benefit the most from growing demand for industry intelligence.

Duncan Chapple

Duncan Chapple is the preeminent consultant on optimising international analyst relations and the value created by analyst firms. As SageCircle research director, Chapple directs programs that assess and increase the business value of relationships with industry analysts and sourcing advisors.