Qatar to leverage its economic sectors with state-of-the-art IT infrastructure
Source: BI-ME , Author: Trevor Lloyd-Jones
Posted: Mon December 1, 2008 12:00 am

QATAR. A new company MEEZA, backed by the Qatar Foundation and prestigious investors has pledged to launch a raft of new managed IT service packages to the country’s banks, telcos, energy companies, airlines and other sectors by next year. For this interview, BI-ME was in Doha to hear from Scott E MacKenzie, CEO of MEEZA (pictured), Hamad Al Mannai, Deputy CEO and James Fanella, Vice President of Sales & Marketing about the company’s vision for cloud computing in Qatar.

The official launch of the new company MEEZA (‘advantage’ in Arabic) last week to media, customers and the regional IT community put the emphasis on how Qatar is striving to transform the nation from its heart and create a knowledge economy. The history of IT projects in the country is one of abundant financial resources, but with often projects in e-government,  healthcare or other sectors not being fulfilled in the past for lack of manpower of technical capability, at the same time with different vendors each putting forward their own agenda.

“Previously, with preferences changing, new products and applications being put forward all the time, the infrastructure wasn’t there in the Gulf,” says Hamad Al Mannai, Deputy CEO MEEZA. “People kept going forward with the vendors from the West.”

“Now we have a 21st century model, based on the national discussion of what the Qatar market would gain, and to spread the cost of building multiple data centres. Through the economic boom, we had the budget, but these projects can get diluted,” he says.

“We are also creating a platform for competition. With technology, any company can take a licence and set up business knowing that they do not have to set up the whole enterprise for thousands of employees on their own.”

Rashid Al-Naimi, Chairman of the MEEZA board of directors, said at the launch ceremony: “The emphasis in the IT industry is moving along the continuum from strategy, to design, to build, to running. The system lifecycle is not being addressed properly. The question now for companies is ‘what happens to the strategy after it is made?’ The strategy usually gets diluted by the systems integrator [at the design and build stage]. But now MEEZA is here to work all along the cycle.”

Last week marked the commencement of the company's actual commercial operations in Qatar. MEEZA is a new privately-held joint venture that is focused on service excellence delivering a full suite of managed IT services and solutions to the market.  Management says that businesses will be assured agility, quality and value in IT services and solutions with the added benefits of lower operational expenditure, increased availability and performance.

MEEZA announced a QAR125 million (US$34 million) agreement with Vodafone Qatar to provide an end-to-end turn key infrastructure solution to support Vodafone Qatar’s core telecommunications and network operations. The company has the mission statement to be the leading ICT solutions provider in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region within a short period of years.

MEEZA has also announced the official launch of M-VAULT T3, its Tier III data centre delivering an uptime and availability of 99.98%. M-VAULT T3, the first of its kind in Qatar, is built on foundations of security, availability and scalability to ensure maximum client value and advantage, supporting a full suite of managed IT services and solutions.

As MEEZA expands, it will be uniquely positioned to offer cloud services to the region. The company said it will announce another major deal with a Qatari bank imminently, and it expects other projects soon in the medical sector and e-government as it helps to uplift the IT capability in the country.

Cloud services are defined as consumer and business products, services and solutions that are delivered and consumed in real-time over the Internet. Cloud services gives businesses access to robust IT infrastructure and the latest applications without having to bear the high costs of ownership and maintenance.

MEEZA’s strategy will deliver a fully capable cloud services to the region in 2011 to enable clients to realise the many benefits of cloud services, and the ability to shift spiralling IT budgets from capital expenditure to the operating expenditure side.

BI-ME: It is well known that the demand for IT services in Qatar and the Gulf is growing at a fantastic rate with all the diversification of the economies and infrastructure development. Was that the main reason for the formation of MEEZA?

Hamad Al Mannai: The GCC countries have the demand and soon we will see MEEZA operating in all these countries. Going back to the original discussions of the ICT requirements of Qatar, in the Economic Affairs section of the Supreme Council, we went to work with all the correct trends in technology. Our goal is to exceed the customers’ expectations at all times. We bring the best and the brightest minds from the region into the company. We are now in the process of packaging and bundling our offers together, and with the creation of this company, MEEZA, we want to ensure that the technological changes can happen in the country.

BI-ME: With all the activities in the IT space, with companies like Microsoft and Cisco already present in Qatar, and with other competition also coming into Qatar, how can MEEZA ensure it makes its way in the market?

Scott E MacKenzie: MEEZA is committed to its service excellence. Our mission is about being preferred by our customer base and the market place. It begins with our infrastructure. We are a new model company, a managed services company in the middle space, providing added value through our knowledge workers and deep system administrators.

By combining proven experience with strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Microsoft, Cisco, HP and VMware, MEEZA is able to deliver a unique advantage to clients through service excellence and state-of-the-art solutions.

BI-ME: In particular, why is the launch happening now and why Qatar? What is it that Qatar can offer the regional IT community?

Scott E MacKenzie: We chose to launch the company when we had a real product, which is now, with data centre services. For 2009 we will launch a whole series of activities which will bring managed solutions, such as data storage and security, sales force management, CRM, email, websites. We know where the industry is moving to, which is to service as a cloud. So for now we are talking about managed services for 2009 and the next stage will be the platform as a service. Some of these services we are announcing today.

The reason MEEZA is important for Qatar and the whole region is that we cut the time to market for companies. We say to clients, ‘you can launch in six months. You don’t need to take two years to establish your business with excellent IT services’. The paradigm is changing. And this is not only for us, there will be competition, and this is what is driving the true value of the IT sector in the economy.

BI-ME: Can you go into details about what your customers are saying? Which types of IT packages are in demand?

James Fanella: All our customers are telling us the same thing. Their concerns are about security, reliability and concerns of how to scale and how to support and manage their services. We say that to run their business, is our business.

We see many opportunities in the government sector, healthcare and transportation. But, it is always good to talk about specific services, or the requirements of a specific customer. For example, MEEZA recently provided a complete IT solution to the UN conference held in Doha for the United Nations Green Industry Development Development Organization. This meant that for the first time the UN was able to host a paperless conference, without boxes and boxes of documents. The system has been donated to the UN by MEEZA, because they wanted to continue using it. I would say that we spend a lot more time than we expected in consulting, just talking with customers about their organization and their systems.

Scott E MacKenzie: We should also mention security trends globally, which is toward third party services. The reports suggest that 80% to 90% of security breaches are internal, which means that companies are moving more toward 'one step away from one' auditing control. If you are providing the service yourself, you are auditing yourself.

BI-ME: What is the background to the alliance with Vodafone in Qatar?

Hamad Al Mannai: Vodafone is a key new competitive player here [in the mobile sector] and they are being welcomed as a competitor. At MEEZA we are proud that Vodafone, one of the most competitive companies in the world, has chosen us [to provide their local IT infrastructure]. I can say that Vodafone was not an easy client; it took six months to get that contract done. There was one other competitor in the market and we won a competitive bid for this business.

Last year we took the decision to build a data centre, so for a company like Vodafone time to market is a very important factor. They saw the value in our Tier III data centre which guarantees 99.98% of uptime. Of course for an operator, any seconds of service lost is very expensive, which is why we are pledging ourselves to quality of service.

So the run up to the Vodafone contract was a tough ride, and we come out of it now in a good position in the market.

BI-ME: Around the Gulf region we see some very sophisticated e-government projects. In Qatar is there acceptance in the government sector for MEEZA to enter into government services?

Scott E MacKenzie: We are looking at big contracts for Vodafone to operate. We have had some very good talks with the government sector and we are approaching them with proposals. By the first quarter of 2009, we would expect to be on track with our first government contract. Because of the scarcity of services, in Doha everything has to happen yesterday, and we expect things to move quickly.

BI-ME: Can you say something more about your plans to go outside Qatar?

Scott E MacKenzie: We believe that every country can benefit from the transformation change going on in Qatar with MEEZA. According to our mission statement we want to be delivering services across the MENA region within five years, and that is a huge market of 330 million people.

BI-ME: The IT and mobile sector in Qatar has not seen too much competition in the last seven years, even as other parts of the economy have opened up fast. Is this a hindrance or an opportunity?

Scott E MacKenzie: Now the competition is increasing fast. There are a number of small companies operating in IT in the country and by the end of the year there will be other major players. We will soon launch our specific products and bundles, but we didn’t want to end up with simple boxes of products that we didn’t know what to do with. We want to operate in the middle layer and we need to aggressively go into the IT market, to benefit consumers, enterprises and government. MEENA is unique with these managed services, but we welcome competition.

BI-ME: Are you announcing the shareholders and more corporate information about MEEZA?

Scott E MacKenzie: MEEZA supports the Qatar Foundation, its major shareholder, in the transformation of Qatar into a knowledge-based society and aims to support the continued growth and development of the business community in the region. So MEEZA is a private company that will make a profit for the benefit of the country. Other stakeholders will be announced soon.

BI-ME: Do you envisage going public with MEEZA in the form of an IPO?

Scott E MacKenzie: We are concentrating on building the company, but let’s see if we prove ourselves and become a profitable company.

BI-ME: With any IT initiative that aims to create efficiencies in the economy and automate processes, there is talk about job losses and the other effects. What do you say in answer to this idea, that IT is replacing people in the workplace?

Hamad Al Mannai:  Now in the workplace it is about adaptability. Certainly you might need to know about computers to do your job, but in answer to the question, we will be looking at the SLA [service level agreement] for this area. It is about how to translate business needs and disciplines into the new era. Currently there is a shortage of IT people and we expect the people to be up to the paradigm change.

Scott E MacKenzie: I don’t feel that people losing their jobs is something that the IT industry should be talking about. There are 25% of jobs in the IT sector that go unfilled and that is where we see the opportunity, to bring all that knowledge and process efficiencies.

Our goal is to help companies to grow; that is the measure of our success. We will enable companies to operationalise their capital costs, and to bring out their core business, not to be concerned about one-off IT project costs. It helps to change the market.

BI-ME: You talked about your work with the Qatar Foundation, how did that lead on to the evolution of the company providing services for the rest of Qatar?

Hamad Al Mannai:  Actually that was a business decision. Each company has to decide whether to move to an outsourcing position or to manage their own infrastructure. A new company in Qatar currently has to wait for their IT to happen. It is about added value and this is how the business economics are changing.

James Fanella: We are targeting multiple verticals in Qatar and the regional market. Our clients are in two categories, new clients and existing clients. With existing clients we have to put the benchmark that much higher, even higher than the customer expects right now. In Qatar our focus is on bringing new customers into the MEEZA family.

BI-ME: Regarding data control and security, that was touched on earlier, but how do you reassure customers in this area, as it is such a hot topic and customers may have very sensitive data, whether it is in oil or finance?

Scott E MacKenzie: We can offer multiple data centres. For example you might want to have a back-up, recovery centre on your own premises. There are so many models that we can offer customers.

BI-ME: How much is MEEZA looking at training and other development programmes to help people cope with the changes in the economy that you are talking about?

Scott E MacKenzie: MEEZA is 100% committed to training. One of the core problems for all of us is this gap in the resources that is out there. In the new year we will be announcing some initiatives in this area of education with the Qatar Science & Technology Park. We will also announce a leading edge research lab initiative.

Qatar is transforming into a knowledge hub. Now we are really starting to see the 12-year plan of the Qatar Foundation coming into action.

Note: MEEZA, a privately held joint venture, offers a wide range of managed IT services and solutions to clients, from creating and managing IT infrastructure to providing full business and technology consulting.  It is seeking to accelerate competition in the IT sector and to support the growth of the Qatar economy through the provision of world-class managed IT services and solutions to the market.

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