SILICON GIANTS

Oman 2014 | ICT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Kit Lloyd, Country General Manager of Gulf Business Machines (GBM), on the role of IT providers in the development of Oman's IT sector.

Kit Lloyd
BIOGRAPHY
Kit Lloyd has worked in IT Development and Sales Management in Australia, Japan, Korea, China, and Central and Eastern Europe. Before becoming General Manager of Gulf Business Machines (GBM) in August 2012, he spent six years with IBM CEE based in the Czech Republic as Director for Sales & Distribution in Central & Eastern Europe. He initially joined IBM in 1997.

How did Gulf Business Machines (GBM) get its start in the Omani IT sector?

GBM came into existence around 24 years ago as IBM's sole distributer in the GCC region, except for Saudi Arabia. In the early days, clients had IT tightly confined, with point solutions for accounting, inventory, and sales, and the IT department solely responsible for anything technology related. Today, it is very different. The consumerization of IT has meant that everyone in a company is both familiar with and dependent upon technology; clients demand solutions not products. We all have the experience of being able to simply download an app and use it immediately. In the business world things are slightly different; it is not possible for one vendor to have a solution and, more importantly, expertise in everything. Therefore, our clients are looking for a partner who can team up with multiple providers, design and integrate a complete solution to solve a business problem, and, importantly, stand by that solution once it is implemented. We depend upon IBM hardware because we believe it offers the best value for money in terms of performance and reliability. Reliability is extremely important, and we pride ourselves on having the best hardware service and maintenance business in the region. From a networking, security, and communications perspective, we have partnerships with Cisco, Juniper, F5, and other specialty vendors. We have seen the criticality of network-related solutions, particularly those involving security-related activities, increase in Oman, resulting in significant growth in our networking business. Recently, we focused heavily on our internal processes to improve quality and add value at each step. I am personally very focused on trying to add value with every interaction. If you are merely reselling someone else's solution without adding some quantifiable value to it you become unnecessary, and clients could simply order from the web. We are starting to see a slight shift in the market. Previously, price was the only determinant in choosing a system integrator; now, clients are appreciating that service quality, and the ability to deliver to business service level agreements, are just as important, if not more important, than price alone.

What role do IT service providers play in the development of Oman's emerging IT sector?

Today, it is easy to obtain technology; you simply do some research on the web and, with a few clicks, buy the latest software, hardware, or whatever appliance you desire. The difficulty comes with finding the skills to operate and to integrate. This is really the challenge clients face today; finding the skills to keep pace with an increasing rate of change in technology. This problem can be seen in increasing spending on IT and data centers, filled to capacity with great technology, but no way to use it because the skill level is not there. This challenge becomes even more apparent with open-source software. Around the world, the public and private sectors clearly realize the benefits of open-source software; little to no licensing costs, protection from being held hostage by a vendor, the ability to attract talent to the organization, and so on. There is a wide range of extremely powerful open-source programs ready for use, but the problem is that they are neither coordinated, nor integrated, and as they get upgraded, sometimes on a weekly basis, it is extremely difficult to maintain and use them. I am a big believer in open-source software, but if you do not have the skills and experience to integrate and maintain the systems, you will find yourself in trouble. The current push toward big data solutions is a great example of this. A big data solution needs at least seven independent open-source components all working together in a tightly coupled bundle just to get started, and today there is no single standard for putting all these pieces together consistently and, more importantly, as yet, there is no one single distribution method that has emerged as a standard. I am sure this will change with time, but today this is the reality. You need someone with the right skill set and level of experience to build and continually maintain a workable solution for you, unless of course you are a Facebook or Google with 50 Stanford PhDs on staff.

What economic trends are providing the biggest opportunities for GBM?

The construction boom is a huge boost to our business because both public and private businesses are building new data centers, new offices, and all are required to be future proof from a technology perspective. In that respect, we design solutions with upgradability in mind. Establishing the network and communications infrastructure is the first step. Next comes the computer infrastructure and application architecture, and this is a very interesting area for me, as we are seeing a change from computer-centric to data-centric design. It is important to realize that the very nature of IT is changing, from the consumerization of IT, through to the increasing velocity, variety, and volume of data in our world, which is driving an upheaval in the way we think of IT, and what we expect from our IT departments. Even apparently simple constructs like data centers are being challenged, and you only have to look at how Google, Apple, and Amazon design their data centers now to see this—they are built to be ecologically sound, allow for expansion, and have highly secure, cloud-based infrastructure. The last thing you want to do is design a new data center based on outdated 1990s design philosophies.

“ Here, the government recognizes the value of data and its importance for research. "

Will the issue of data integrity grow in importance over the coming years, in your opinion?

I believe people realize that they are using free applications and understand that they are handing their data over to companies. People do not mind doing this because they have an expectation that their data is secure. If a company betrays your trust and does not have your data stored securely, then it will lose its clientele quickly. Do not underestimate the importance of this. Most organizations have rigorous backup and protection mechanisms in place for their own data, but tend to overlook customer-generated data, often relegating it to cheap, unreliable, low-cost commodity storage. This is a recipe for disaster.

What do you make of government efforts to promote advances in the IT sector?

If you are doing research into complex topics like diabetes, the role of the government in healthcare becomes a key determinant of the data you can use. The government is encouraging people to come here and develop world-class applications by opening up its data to attract researchers. In a way, data protection limits research opportunities, particularly when it comes to genetic predispositions to disease. Here, the government recognizes the value of data and its importance for research. The government has information that the right people could use for the betterment of society.