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Bahrain IT hub could increase choice for Middle East organisations

The Bahrain government is trying to create an IT industry with global ambitions that could increase options for CIOs in the wider Middle East region

Bahrain could become a source of IT products and services to the rest of the Middle East as the country attracts IT companies from abroad and fuels locally grown IT startups.

As well as creating economic and employment opportunities in Bahrain – which currently has about 12,000 of its 1.3 million population employed in the IT sector – it will also increase the availability of IT products and services to local organisations and those in neighbouring countries.

The country offers the Middle East region access to IT suppliers and a highly skilled population which, according to John Kilmartin, the head of ICT at the Bahrain Economic Development Board, are a lower-cost than their equivalents in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

The Economic Development Board of Bahrain is establishing an environment for an IT industry to flourish: “Over the next few years we want to not only attract Bahraini startups but regional entrepreneurs to set up,” Kilmartin told Computer Weekly.

He said Bahrain had global ambitions for its IT industry that will also benefit organisations in other countries in the Middle East. “I want the companies to end up being global but they will probably start off selling in the region,” Kilmartin said.

But it will be more than a launch pad to global markets if the growth in IT spending in the region continues. According to research from Gartner, IT spending across the Middle East is expected to reach $212.9bn this year – a 3.7% increase since 2015.

Saudi Arabia is probably the biggest opportunity in the region particularly after announcements that it wants to diversify its economy currently dominated by the oil industry. IT is going to play a large part in that,” he said.

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He said Iran’s entry into the market offers an opportunity. “There is a big opportunity in Iran as they look outwards, and there is a lot of excitement – but it needs to mature a little bit, as people understand how to access it.

"It has been closed for such a long time it is hard to predict – but it is bound to be an opportunity.”

Many technology companies are looking to emerging markets such as the Middle East, as European markets stagnate. US supplier Citrix, for example, recently, opened its first office in Saudi Arabia and plans to expand operations into Qatar and Egypt besides its existing office in Dubai.

Kilmartin said the startup scene is in its early stages and is relatively small and that here are more established companies that have moved beyond being startups.

“What Bahrain offers is a pretty stable and welcoming environment, which is liberal from a lifestyle point of view.” He said this helps attract people from other countries which could make Bahrain a good place for entrepreneurs across the region to set up startup hubs.

“Bahrain historically has a good mix of Bahraini and expat workers, with about 20% of the workforce from outside Bahrain,” he added

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