How would you characterize CIS’s strategy in the Kurdistan Region?
When we initially penetrated this market in 2012, we focused on major accounts and large companies, to develop a foothold in the Kurdistan Region and the whole of Iraq. This has led to our involvement in major projects. For example, we are currently partnering with Falcon Group to establish the largest datacenter in the Region at Empire World, at a cost of $3 million. However, now that we have established ourselves, for 2014 CIS will target small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which we define as companies of fewer than 50 employees.

How do you see the opportunities in ICT sector in the Kurdistan Region?
We believe that there is huge potential in the market. We have found that there is a significant market in the hotel industry, in multinationals that are expanding into to the Region, as well as in education. We are particularly excited to develop IT systems for universities and schools. We believe that developing technical capacity in schools will help to mature the market in the long term, as young students become increasingly acquainted with, and interested in, technology and computing.

ICT infrastructure take time and investment. It takes an interested and engaged new generation before the market for ICT can truly mature. While progress is being made in the Kurdistan Region, the ICT market is maturing slowly.

With improved cooperation between the public sector and local private sector partners, as well as major IT vendors, solutions could be easily reached… The potential is truly enormous, and could be realized easily if a coordinated strategy is developed.

How can the KRG expedite the maturity of the ICT market?
The KRG must play a very important role in the development of the Region’s ICT infrastructure. However, before this will happen, developing the infrastructure must become a priority to policymakers. Ultimately, I believe that the KRG should look to countries that have successfully developed their ICT infrastructure and markets, such as Dubai or Qatar, and attempt to replicate their strategies. This process could be initiated by the development of a high-level ICT committee that brings together business leaders in communications and technology, academia, and members of the public sector, ideally chaired by the Prime Minister of the KRG. The committee could prioritize the development of improved ICT infrastructure from the top levels, and then develop a framework for the system’s improvement. In terms of raising ICT as a priority, the committee could sponsor events to promote ICT development broadly, to different sectors in the Region. Additionally, it could promote technical education in schools. For full maturity in the sector, you must build a society that is IT enabled, in addition to building the infrastructure. A broad ICT system cannot be successful without educating students in information technologies, and this must begin at a young age.

How can the Kurdistan Region’s ICT infrastructure be better developed?
The solutions are relatively easy, but require coordination. For example, it is currently nearly impossible to make credit card payments in the Kurdistan Region. With improved cooperation between the public sector and local private sector partners, as well as major IT vendors, solutions could be easily reached. This would carry major benefits for the economy. For example, public sector salaries and pensions are currently paid through national banks, using bank tellers. A simple, integrated network of ATM machines could solve this problem entirely, allowing employees to withdraw their paychecks easily from local ATMs. Improved, reliable, communication networks could solve equally significant problems. Basic ICT upgrading could improve the functioning of the public sector. Upgraded hardware could make their work much faster and more efficient. The potential is truly enormous, and could be realized easily if a coordinated strategy is developed.

What role does CIS play in improving Kurdistan’s ICT infrastructure?
CIS is attempting to initiate the process by holding events that bring people together to find solutions for broad problems. We have sector-related events which including major IT companies, as well as solution-based events, where we convene policymakers, businesses and IT companies to discuss possible solutions to large-scale problems. CIS’s breadth positions us well to bring people together to solve these problems. While the problems of ICT infrastructure development can seem complex, our partners and subsidiaries bring a wide range of expertise to the table, and can deliver integrated solutions.

What specific services do your local clients demand?
Our solutions department provides our clients engaged and around the clock servicing of their equipment. Companies sign Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with us, which guarantee next-day servicing of equipment that we install. For critical IT infrastructure, such as equipment for security companies, Internet service providers, mobile providers, and financial institutions, we offer 24/7 servicing so that if there is a malfunction, it will be repaired immediately. These services are incredibly important in some cases, as malfunctioning servers can cause enormous losses to companies, security issues, or other major problems. To ensure that we have capacity to provide these services, we maintain stock and spare parts for our equipment in the Region, and always ensure the availability of our technicians.

What role does CIS play in developing local capacity in the ICT sector?
There are no other foreign IT companies in Iraq or the Kurdistan Region that invest in human capacity like CIS. We have a permanent presence in Iraq and we have over 37 employees here after just two years of operations. This is a major investment, as our training process for new employees is rigorous and time consuming. Each of our employees goes through at least six months of training with CIS before they interact with clients. CIS runs a certified training center in Lebanon, where new employees are sent for training in technical areas, sales, and language skills. Of course, training must be continuous in IT, as technology continuously changes, so we also send our employees to our vendors’ training centers around the world for additional training and certification. The rigor of our training standards has slowed our ability to expand in the Region. However, the time and investment ensure a high level of expertise in our employees, which is important for the integrity of our company.