Krishna Gopal (Middle East) - 2013 Predictions: Middle East and Africa

In a new series of articles on 2013 IT Predictions, IDG Connect offers expert insight into upcoming trends around the world.

The last few months have been the predictions season for the Gartners and the IDCs and it's all been about Social, Mobile, Cloud and Information with Internet of Things, with Big Data and Predictive Analytics thrown in for good measure. And I was wondering how all of this impacts the MEA region.

I often harp on about the fact that MEA is such a heterogeneous region that one size never fits all. Seventy-one nations with such a vast diversity in economics, language, politics and technology adoption, that using a broad brush to paint it would be grossly incorrect. Doing a broad-brush technology/spend prediction for the region will therefore be nonspecific and hence, in my opinion, not useful.

Having said that, covering all the segments of the region will also make this report unwieldy and so I will base this report largely on GCC, Levant, South Africa, and West & East Africa. I will for the moment leave out the vast swathes of Central Africa and many parts of North Africa that continue to remain unsettled as I write this.

GCC countries are beginning to see an uptick lead by the real estate revival in Dubai. This augurs very well for tech companies seeking business in the region because we will see investments rise, new projects announced and an overall increase in IT spends. Dubai is the new melting pot and watering hole and everyone is heavily invested in the city. A boom in the city lifts general investment sentiments is my view.

GCC governments have pumped a great deal of money into the system after the Arab Spring that also affected Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. What this means is that there will be an upswing in government contracts in the GCC region. The IT projects will likely be quite basic like ERP, CRM, Portals, HRMS etc. at one level, at another level there will be projects around business intelligence, citizen services using smart phones and cloud services, and GIS enabled services.

The banking industry will start spending again on IT in line with global cues. This industry spends thrice as much on IT as a percentage of revenue than the average of all industries. The manufacturing and natural resources sector is also expected to restart spending on IT in 2013. In the GCC, the Oil and Gas sector has always been a lucrative play for tech companies and the new year may see some new contracts come up especially around predictive analytics and big data. Likewise in Africa (especially southern) the mining and manufacturing industries are likely to finalize a higher spend than last year.

The telecoms sector has been the worst hit in the past with overcapacity and not much headroom for subscriber growth. With cost optimization and sweating of assets being high on the CXO priority, I expect to see network optimization-related IT projects, Customer Analytics, Managed Services contracts and Mobile Apps to take off more than usual.

Government projects in Africa continue to have the World Bank influence and tech companies will need to work around that process. Though these projects could be substantial in value, ensuring contracting and collection of monies will continue to pose challenges as always.

In terms of technologies, GCC will see a lot of mobile applications and continued adoption of mobile phones. This is a brand-conscious region and after the demise of Blackberry, it's Apple that's an iconic must-have in the Arab world, although Android is not too far behind either. Jordan and Egypt will be the countries from where mobile apps originate and proliferate, though Egypt continues to reel under political turmoil. Mobile apps will make their way into banking, retail and perhaps even government. With the Arabic language requirement, the local companies could have a head start.

Analytics and Big Data is the next trend that I see taking off in the new year, with the former taking a much greater lead. I think the base for Big Data projects will be created through pilots in the Banking and Government sectors.

Cloud-based projects are, surprisingly, seeing an uptake in Africa and I think there will be some acceleration, though public cloud is limited by the availability of bandwidth. In the Middle East, the levels of security requirements and trust environment entail that cloud-related apps are not as easy to implement though that is likely to change in the coming years.

Overall, with most parts of Europe still in the doldrums, the tech sector could look to the MEA region amongst the emerging markets for a silver lining in their revenue cloud. I personally see a great deal of opportunity but clearly it's not for the fainthearted.

By Krishna Gopal, Independent Consultant in the Middle East and Africa. Follow him on Twitter @krishg40 or read his regular blog here.



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