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Growing need for IT training in the Middle East needs careful planning

IT training is becoming increasingly important in the Middle East – but organisations must look beyond suppliers' accreditation schemes

Changes in how businesses use and buy IT mean organisations in the Middle East need to invest in IT training.

New technology skills are required as companies adopt digital technology and give non tech staff power in choosing systems. This includes making IT staff more business-savvy.

But organisations need to ensure they do not spend on unnecessary training for the sake of it, as some suppliers turn accreditation programmes into revenue streams.

While demand for traditional supplier certification in networking, servers and storage continue to prove popular in the Middle East, security, mobility, cloud, big data, analytics and virtualisation are becoming more important.

The challenge for most end organisations, IT suppliers and IT trainers in the Middle East is keeping pace with training and developing the right mix of IT professionals.

Jan Lawford, senior director global strategic accounts at VCE, said the IT sector in the Middle East is in the midst of a transformation from its hardware-centric past towards a software-defined future.

Lawford said it had historically built businesses around hardware skills. However, she warned that these roles will become less important as the shift and momentum grows for digital technology.

Lawford added that there is a burgeoning skills gap and it’s all stakeholders’ responsibility to address it. “The industry as a whole is not doing enough and, in reality, the IT skills shortage is worsening in the Middle East,” she said. “For us that means not just providing training and enablement, but changing the way we train and the topics we cover.”

Supplier certification route

For those businesses that recognise this transition and embrace the new skills, there are substantial opportunities.

At Ingram Micro Middle East and Africa (MEA) Training, there has been increased interest in networking certifications, virtualisation, software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined datacentres.

Zornitza Hadjitodorova, head of training services at Ingram Micro MEA, said independent studies have revealed that certified individuals make as much as twice the wages of their colleagues with no certification. “Considering MEA is an emerging market, training is critical for partners to have the right level of knowledge to sell and implement, configure, manage and troubleshoot technology at user level,” she said.

For example, Hadjitodorova said Ingram Micro has delivered authorised training for IBM across MEA. “IBM is one of the strong software and hardware suppliers catering towards every element of IT infrastructure and providing a plethora of systems. The company has re-invented itself quite successfully multiple times over the years,” she said. “Without offering solid technical training, IBM would not be able to articulate the full message to its customers across the Middle East.”

Yarob Sakhnini, regional director at Brocade Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa (MEMA), agreed and added that demand for qualified and certified staff on new technologies focusing around virtualisation, SDN, mobility, big data, cloud and open source seems to be the way the market is moving in the Middle East. “Technical staff these days are also expected to understand the business as well as the technology so the role is currently transitioning from pure tech to business,” Sakhnini added.

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Suppliers monetise training

But most businesses across the Middle East remain reluctant to invest in training and certification.

Stephan Berner, managing director at systems integrator Help AG, said some suppliers in the region tend to push their certification programmes to the extent where it becomes all too apparent that the programmes have become a revenue stream for them.

“No doubt in theory, certifications are a good way of estimating and ensuring a person’s technical proficiency, but suppliers need to engage with their partners and users to understand what real value they can instil into their programmes through innovative measures,” said Berner. “Certifications and training have large cost overheads and require that the employees being trained are not utilised on projects. The key to overcoming these constraints is planning,” he added.

Collecting certifications

Berner added that Help AG spends a good time identifying those programmes that are relevant to the business and identifies the resources in the organisation that would be best suited for these certifications.

Rohit Aggarwal, CEO and founder at UAE-based IT training provider Koenig systems, agreed. He added that prestigious suppliers have credibility and standards in certifying which solidifies and justifies a person's claim for the right post with the right skills.

Middle Eastern organisations often recognise the need for training but don’t have a clear idea of what training is and what it means to central business goals, said Berner. “There is a negative trend of collecting as many certifications as possible, rather than building sustainable expertise and intellectual knowledge leading towards a specialisation with hands-on experience,” he said.

Darren Arnold, senior director service systems at Westcon Group Middle East and Africa, said investment in training can translate into a healthy balance sheet. “Businesses need to be encouraged to invest in technical training for their staff,” he said. “When there is a problem it allows staff to have sufficient skills to at least be able to have the right kind of conversation with their suppliers, to ensure a speedy resystem to a technical problem.”

It is not just the IT department that needs training. With the advent of cloud, IT budgets are increasingly moving to line-of-business decision makers, and increasing the need for broader education especially around business basics and improved communication with customers.

This is especially true in the Middle East as businesses show an increased interest in hybrid cloud and need help to rethink IT.

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