In more recent years, the Middle East has become an emerging market with an increasing need for digital services. An increase in the use of smart phones and mobile devices, has meant that business communication has begun to shift from the traditional method to “anytime, anyplace” communication. There is a demand for better and faster IT services to be accessible from anywhere, at any time, and management want to provide these services at the same time as saving costs and consolidating data. Companies have begun therefore, to adopt Software as a Service solutions.
The Middle East has generally been slow in the uptake of SaaS and this is put down to misperceptions about security, safety, compliance, regulations and privacy. The market is however growing and every year we see increased adoption as cloud computing becomes more trusted and enterprise collaboration becomes a standard component in the employee toolkit.
Enterprise Collaboration is pushing SaaS
The Middle East enterprise collaboration market is primarily driven by a rapid adoption of smart phones and mobile devices which lead towards more business and consumer collaboration platforms. Employee engagement is a high priority for most organisations and the Middle East is no different. Providing there is an internet connection SaaS solutions can be accessed from anywhere in the world, from any smart phone or mobile device. This means users are able to access their data wherever they are, whenever they want; increasing their work productivity. Clearly, this is popular for employers and empolyees.
The Middle East are heavy users of social media (88% of the online population uses social networking on a daily basis) and many companies in the region are now beginning to embrace enterprise social tools. Businesses have begun to see the value in social tools; they increase productivity by providing employees with a better way to collaborate, find and share information and inform others what they are doing and experiencing.
Being social is high priority and organisations are looking to capitalise on enterprise collaboration as a way to engage with their employees; they have seen how external social media is changing the way people interact and collaborate in their personal lives and they want to bring that into business. The adoption of enterprise collaboration tools and a cloud computing boost (caused from a combination of steadily growing economies, increased investment by governments and a widening mobile subscriber base) in the Middle East has seen SaaS increasingly being adopted in the region and the traditional enterprise set up dissolve.
What does the law say?
Companies can see the benefits of SaaS but there is still hesitation from many CIOs to adopt it, as they continue to fear the security of the cloud; they have uncertainties around location of services, ownership issues, regulatory compliance and governance mechanisms. Potential SaaS users often worry about the impact of data protection laws upon their intended use and this is understandable when you consider the implications of some laws in the region. Unlike the European Union, there are no specific national laws governing data protection and privacy in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and there is no unified set of laws. However, national and federal constitutions across the region recognise an individual’s right to privacy and sector specific laws deal with data privacy in certain circumstances. These can be rather unspecific however; in the UAE for example the penal code (broadly speaking) states that the disclosure of a secret without permission is illegal, but the notion of what constitutes a “secret” is not clearly defined.
So you can see how CIOs would be wary when wanting to begin to use SaaS. In more recent years though, fears have begun to fade and awareness and demand for SaaS in the Middle East has grown with countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading the way. The majority of SaaS adopters in the region so far have been medium and large enterprises but SaaS offers substantial opportunities for enterprises of all sizes. It can eliminate the risks of software acquisition and increases IT productivity; ideal for the Middle East where SMEs dominate the economic make up.
Data centre growth will increase use of SaaS
The cloud offers cheap, flexible computing resources and software on demand without the need for companies to build out their own data centres or develop their own applications. Currently, few players host data centres locally in the Middle East and the majority of companies using SaaS have their services hosted at data centres in Europe. This is a draw back for some countries in the region who have laws preventing organisations hosting data out of the country and others find the thought of hosting their data in another country unnerving: just as many European countries want their clouds located in their own jurisdiction, the Middle East is set to be the same.
Fortunately, over the past two years, the growing demand for digital services and a broader adoption of cloud computing has meant that the Middle East has seen an accelerated increase in the number of new data centres being opened in the region. And the future looks bright as experts predict that significant investment across the region, coupled with future projects like the 2022 World Cup and an ever-increasing adoption of cloud services will mean the Middle East becomes a hotbed of data centre activity.
With data centres opening in countries across the region, the adoption of SaaS in the Middle East is set to grow further.