Interview: Abdelmajeed Shamlawi
How active are Jordanian ICT workers and companies throughout the Middle East?
ABDELMAJEED SHAMLAWI: Around 5000 ICT students graduate from Jordan’s university system each year, which, given the small size of the local economy, means the market has an excess supply of workers. In total, each year roughly 1500 graduates become employed in the private ICT sector and about 1500 go into other sectors and the public sector in ICT-related jobs, while some 2000 are either left jobless or leave to work in other countries.
This excess of labour supply is one reason why many of the kingdom’s ICT graduates move to work overseas, some in nearby countries in the GCC, and others in more distant locations such as Canada and the US. Jordanian ICT professionals are in demand abroad because they have a reputation for having excellent technical skills and reliability. According to a recent survey conducted by Bayt.com, among all ICT workers coming from the Middle East, those from Jordan are in the highest demand among regional employers. With so much of its ICT talent residing overseas, Jordan needs to follow in the footsteps of countries like India and develop an effective national policy to engage members of the diaspora. Strengthening diaspora linkages is something that Int@j has been working on and plans to focus on extensively in the coming years. As far as Jordanian ICT firms are concerned, we have seen a rise in the number of local businesses extending into the Gulf, especially in major growth markets such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain. To some extent ICT is a borderless industry, but you still have to be physically present in a country to efficiently locate partners and clients.
How can local ICT businesses capitalise on emerging opportunities overseas?
SHAMLAWI: The ICT market is global, but regional markets continue to be attractive. Future growth markets for Jordanian ICT businesses include Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, as well as Iraq and Libya, reconstruction-oriented societies where nearly every segment has demand for computer and software solutions. Over the past few years, Int@j has made several discovery visits to those countries to make contact with local ministries and produce targeted market research. Oil-rich countries are of great interest to the international business community, so Jordanian ICT players can expect stiff competition when they attempt to enter these markets. There is growing demand in Jordan for software solutions from banks, financial institutions, universities and hospitals. However, demand from the public sector is decreasing due to reduced government spending. In the last few years annual public spending on ICT has dropped considerably, and the only foreseeable solution is via public-private partnership (PPP) projects through revenue sharing.
Would consolidation strengthen the industry?
SHAMLAWI: Consolidation will eventually occur if there is demand for mergers, but the small size of many Jordanian ICT firms is not necessarily an obstacle to domestic growth, or an impediment to winning large contracts in foreign markets. This is because Jordanian businesses in the sector have become adept at forming joint ventures when necessary. There have been several occasions when hardware firms have partnered with software providers to service big clients or to complement one another on bids for project tenders.
What regulatory reforms are most needed to promote growth in the ICT sector?
SHAMLAWI: Despite progress in recent years, there are still missing pieces in the legal system that impede growth. For example, the ICT industry needs a revised e-transactions law to encourage use of online and mobile e-payments by businesses and consumers. Additionally, social trust in internet-based commerce would be enhanced by digital signature and certification bylaws. To support the launch of e-government projects, the sector also needs the proposed PPP law, which has been pending for two years, to get the stamp of approval.
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