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GITEX begins on Oct 19. Prepare yourself for an influx of gadget-obsessed techies pushing their way to stands to gawk at the latest releases. It happens every year.

October 15, 2008 9:52 by



Ehtesham Shahid

 

Nothing clicks like the latest gadgets at killer deals. All that and more come to town under one roof during GITEX Technology Week in Dubai Oct. 19-23. It’s a jamboree that industry stakeholders and tech junkies cannot afford to miss, even if it means battling nightmarish traffic, flooded hotels and a shortage of taxis. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

The show is resurfacing after a slump. Microsoft and Intel, among others, only participated informally last year. This time they’re both back, and they intend to make big announcements. Naturally, they will also showcase “pioneering products” at “competitive” prices.

Behind such the spin lies a sad truth: the information and communications technology (ICT) industry finds GITEX absolutely essential to maintain its distribution networks, cultivate relationships, finalize awkward business deals and build new business – and the organizers of GITEX know this. Helal Saeed al-Marri, director general of Dubai World Trade Center (DWTC) and organizer of the event, calls GITEX an event of true international stature. “It has become the primary event for Arab companies and government organizations to demonstrate their increasing contribution to the advanced technology sector,” he says.

If the return of Microsoft and Intel is anything to go by, it’s to ensure that they renew their industry and government ties in the region. Didier Trassaert, a senior director at Western Digital, says his company is in it to strengthen its channel relationships and enhance contacts to strengthen its distribution network in the region. “We see the exhibition as an opportunity to directly address one of the fastest growing technology markets in the world,” he says.

Western Digital has had a presence in the UAE for 10 years but was reliant upon its partners to share the GITEX space. It’s equally significant for the more established brand names, because they share the same market space. Dell, for instance, would have been there even if other stalwarts had stayed away because it knows what’s at stake. “A successful GITEX week is critical to Dell’s success in the Middle East region,” says Michael Collins, general manager of Dell Middle East.

GITEX is becoming a bigger draw, because the industry is on an upswing again, and there’s money to be made. A Global Insight report says the total ICT spend in the Middle East during 2008 is projected to reach $73 billion, rising to more than $95 billion by 2011. This year, ICT purchases of products and services within Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) are expected to overtake those in the United States.

The hub for the region’s ICT industry is also in Dubai, thanks to Dubai Internet City’s launch in 1999. Many based there will add to the 3,300 companies expected from more than 80 countries and more than 130,000 visitors – creating considerable hype. Compared to Saudi Arabia, which has its own GITEX and boasts the largest regional ICT investment at $20 billion per year, Dubai gets far more publicity.

All this hype has its benefits. Amidst piles of tree-killing press releases, it’s an opportunity to gloss over the murkier issues that pervade the ICT industry, such as the continuing high level of software piracy that eats into profits. While intellectual property regulation is increasing across the region, the Middle East and Africa remains the third highest for software piracy worldwide at 60 percent, according to global market research firm IDC.

This year, the gloss will be green. Saving the planet is one of the major themes according to GITEX management. “A number of exhibitors will unveil the latest hardware that is energy-efficient and low on non-renewable materials,” says al-Marri of DWTC. Yet the Middle East hasn’t yet warmed up to environmental issues – let alone using them as selling points, as happens in other parts of the world.

As embattled visitors push through the crowds to check things out, they should watch carefully how happy those manning the stands really are. Tech company reps may have a tough time coming across as upbeat and carefree, knowing that their performance for the entire year rests on how well they do in one week.

 

First published in Trends magazine



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