The dawn of managed services in the Middle East

Managed services are on the up in the Middle East, with enterprises looking at ways to support critical infrastructures while they invest in new technologies

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As managed services and cloud-based offerings begin to gain wider acceptance in the Middle East, managed services providers are starting to see their businesses gain broader appeal from small, midmarket and enterprise customers. But what is driving this adoption?

Managed service provision is an increasingly popular way for enterprises of all sizes and types to source business-critical elements of their IT. The aim is often to keep infrastructure secure and flexible without having to invest heavily in hardware, networks and systems.

In the Middle East, a core of managed services providers is emerging to serve a market looking for innovative and cost-effective ways to meet the complex demands.

Analyst firm Frost & Sullivan anticipates strong growth for managed services providers within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – from $1.07bn in 2012 to $3.11bn by 2018. And while early interest in the managed services provider model has been limited to large enterprises, much of that is likely to be fuelled in the near future by strong interest in cloud-based infrastructure services among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

“Traditionally, large businesses have relied on the expertise and services of managed hosting providers to offer secure, flexible and scalable solutions,” said Sachin Bhardwaj, director of business development at Dubai-based hosting and cloud infrastructure supplier eHosting DataFort.

“However, over the past few years we have seen a growing trend among SMBs to work with service providers for their datacentre and infrastructure requirements. Many more customers from a number of industry verticals are adopting managed services: banking and finance, aviation, retail, media, government, IT and telecoms in particular.”

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To date, the market in the Middle East has been largely limited to software, services and consulting, rather than mitigating risk, according to Kartik Shankar, technology consultant at MSP HASZone.

“However, organisations are increasingly weighing the benefits of using management of certain IT functions such as network monitoring, email hosting, enterprise applications such as ERP and CRM, storage, backup and recovery,” he said. “We also see an increase in managed services for infrastructure and datacentres.”

Driving down capex and opex

Finesse, a managed services provider with a strong focus on application management, support and maintenance services for the financial sector, is seeing rising demand for a full range of outsourced banking process services, back-office systems and data management services.

According to Sunil Paul, COO at Finesse, the trend is driven by businesses’ efforts to eliminate the high capital and operating expenditure needed to keep IT infrastructure management in-house.

Paul added that the region’s IT skills shortage and competition for top-quality staff, combined with the significant up-front and ongoing expenses of deploying and refreshing in-house systems, are also key influences on the shift towards managed services.

Managed services vs outsourcing

Abou Moustafa, vice president of enterprise managed services and solutions at Du, one of the region’s leading mobile providers, said it is important to distinguish between IT managed services and more traditional types of outsourcing, which often involve the transfer of assets to the third party.

“The adoption of managed ICT services leads to cost savings, frees up a company’s IT staff – or avoids the need to recruit specialists – and makes the best use of available resources,” Moustafa said.

“We see strong and continuing growth as organisations focus on global collaboration, and managed services providers will play an ever increasing role [in supporting this].”

As enterprises across the region transform themselves into digital businesses, the accompanying need for cloud hosting, security, connectivity and collaboration will make the Middle East a prime market for managed service providers capable of delivering network-based services and apps, according to Nehul Goradia, vice president at value-added distributor Optimus, which offers a range of managed infrastructure, business applications and network services.

Goradia said that emerging trends such as SaaS heighten the questions surrounding loss of control, company data privacy, corporate information security and operational risk.

“However, enterprises here are also on a steep curve of embracing technology such as mobility and cloud to enhance business functions and results,” he said. “This leads to a greater appetite for taking calculated operational risks.

“And if managed service providers can educate customers on the business potential of technology and allay security fears, they can significantly grow their market share.”

However, the take-up of managed services might face resistance from CIOs and IT leaders who see the them as a threat to their traditional IT setup or even their job.

Security bellwether

Although security is only a small subset of the managed service providers market, it is one of the best gauges of potential growth in the Middle East.

Stephan Berner, managing director at security specialist Help, said security event management, incident response and remediation services will drive the first waved of managed security services adoption in the region.

“While providing 24-hour security monitoring, providers will take informed decisions related to any kind of incident,” Berner said. “This addresses one of the major challenges most enterprise and government organisations are facing today, which is the lack of resources and skillsets to combat the fast-changing security threat landscape seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

Saeed Agha, general manager at Palo Alto Networks Middle East, agreed. He said a successful managed service provider will be the one that finds a perfect balance between managing client expectations and a robust business model that sustains their services.

“The increasing complexity of effectively dealing with cyber security risks and complex regulations is causing many organisations to consider managed security services,” he said. “Effectively addressing this opportunity depends on selecting a security platform that enables a profitable business model.”

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