ESSAM ALSHIHA

Saudi Arabia 2021 | INDUSTRY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Essam Alshiha, President & CEO of Saudi Business Machines, on market share, partnerships with international firms, and the importance of digitalization.

Are there any plans for maintaining growth and increasing the company's market share?

Market shares are not really the objective; our aim is to be the best IT company and provide high-quality professional services for businesses. Of course, we also want to be treated as an elite company, especially with so many different competitors within the global market. Plus, as a system integrator, there is tough competition in all the fields we work in. So, the goal for now is to focus on doing our best for our clients.

Do you think SBM has certain strategies or projects in place that makes the company stand out from new market players?

We are proud of the fact that the quality and nature of our services has convinced some customers to break their relationships with some of our competitors. At present, our client base involves more than 250 customers from all over the Kingdom from various fields, such as SMEs, oil and gas, financials, banking, petrochemicals, and governmental. To cater to more businesses, we are introducing Cyber Security, Analytics, and AI and we've also developed our own digital hub. At the same time, the focus still remains on being the best in the services we offer.

Can you shed light on some market trends as well as growth while functioning in the private sector?

Most of the business in Saudi Arabia either comes from the government directly, or it passes through the government in one way or the other. So, regardless of the type, every business is either indirectly or directly touched by the government. And while the banking and financial and commercial sectors seem somewhat untouched from the government, they do follow the guidelines set by it. With Saudi Vision 2030 now into play, companies like SBM now have the chance to develop and provide improved services. Previously, when the market was shaken, it came as a benefit to firms like SBM. Stable companies could handle the uncertainty in a better manner than new players or shakier firms in the field. So, the market filtered out on its own, leaving behind only the best companies.

In your opinion, which sectors in Saudi Arabia have the highest potential for your services?

We find the banking sector crucial as mobile services can really boost the entire financial sector. Some new projects introduced by the government like the Red Sea Project will need major infrastructure development. There is also great potential in the cloud and even international companies are opening data centers. SBM also provides the cloud service and there's definitely major growth in this area. With such services deployed, financial companies as well as the government can really lead in the future.

Are you working on partnering up with international companies?

Our main focus is the local market in Saudi, but we are proud of our ties with IBM and we constantly innovate on this relationship to make it bigger and better. We are also looking into partnering with Russian companies. We've already signed an agreement with the Minister of Communication and Information Technology that allows us to be the focal point of Russian IT firms that come to the Kingdom. We've also signed agreements with British companies during their visit and we've met with Australian companies that can offer niche services to the market. And of course, we work with US companies too, including Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM. We take pride in all the relationships that we have established. As a system integrator, we can provide custom-designed packages that provide value to our customers, and providing the most customized solution instead of a one-size-fits-all is our core value.

How does SBM ensure that new transfers truly understand the economy of the Kingdom?

We start off with the selection of employees and go all the way to training and professional development. Our system is designed such that employees follow the lead of their superiors and it also ensures that they are integrated into the company culture completely. Right at the start, we aim to provide our employees with all that can later translate into sustained development not only for themselves, but also for our company and clients. SBM serves as a great platform for developing clients and both Saudi firms and international companies are interested in hiring those employees. SBM is also a part of a large group involving over 25 companies and has joint ventures with some of the world's leading brands. With such support backing us up, it becomes easier to be one of the best firms in the country and it also gives us the financial depth we need in the market.

If not market share, then what is more important to SBM?

As a system integrator, I don't want to deal only with software or hardware; I like being challenged, and the solution is what is the most important. Our focus is on having the proficiencies and skills that can help us come up with the most effective solutions and that is also the key to maximizing different measures of financial success, such as market share. Essentially, we should focus on providing the highest-quality solutions and that will lead to market share. We want to be the best in the field and our technical knowledge, experience, and reputation will allow us to develop not only the sector we work in but also the economy both indirectly or directly.

Now that Saudi Arabia is on the path of becoming a regional leader in both IT and digitalization, what is your vision and growth expectation of SBM for the next few years?

The foremost priority is ensuring that the company is stable, and this is one of the advantages of not being listed on the stock market. It is essential to have well-balanced growth; if there's too much focus on growth, then that can lead to one losing or imploding control. It is difficult to just keep chasing numbers these days. Too many aspects of the market are not in our hand when it comes to making informed growth expectations. Economic and political issues, such as the global pandemic we're currently seeing will control and determine many business aspects. But it all comes down to the fact that if you focus on offering the best services, then at the end of the year, you will see that you have grown. At the end, we need to be a healthy and viable business.