Dunedin-based Standby Consulting has struck oil in Bahrain and says the emirate offers rich pickings for Kiwis — perhaps more so than neighbouring Dubai.
The disaster-recovery and business-continuity specialist says that since it secured its first contract with American Express Middle-East early last year, work there has come to constitute half of the company’s revenues.
Bahrain-based managing director Sam Mulholland says Standby has around five other contracts in Bahrain, including one with the government investment arm advising on IT standards.
While Dubai touts itself as a regional tourism and business capital, Mulholland has found Bahrain far better.
“We are very happy with Bahrain as it is very similar to New Zealand, with an “island mentality”, and they appreciate our presence and business. Bahrain is establishing itself as the financial investment centre in the Middle East, so there is a lot of serious money coming into the area,” he says.
Dubai is also increasingly expensive and congested.
“It is also quite large and as one Bahraini businessman said to me, ‘You would have got swallowed up in Dubai’.”
When it comes to disaster recovery, Mulholland says there are several differences to working in New Zealand.
“It is hard to get telcos to respond. They are mainly monopolies in their own countries and one appreciates the value of competition in the New Zealand market.
“You [also] have to consider the heat. If you are doing a building evacuation, you have to get your people into the shade as quickly as possible. Computer systems over here [also] heat up very quickly,” he continues.
Mulholland says companies have to be culturally sensitive, too, and accept other religions.
During Ramadan, the working day is reduced by two hours and in the summer months the intense heat shortens the working day by four hours. Interpreters are also essential for major event, as older people tend not to speak English.
“Things can also take a very long time to happen up here and the skill level across all aspects of business and IT is nowhere near the level we would expect in New Zealand,” Mulholland says.
However, operating in two corners of the globe works well, with the time difference paying dividends.
“We use global networks significantly. I will work on something here and my staff [in New Zealand] will work on it while I am in bed and it is emailed back to us. This means, I can say to a client we can have a report ready in half the time my competitors can,” he says.
Furthermore, the use of Skype is “a big boon” in handling conference calls.
Mulholland currently works alone, but he has just recruited one Bahrain-based Kiwi and others are to follow. He is particularly keen on Kiwis who can train-up local people.
Bahrain offers a lot of opportunities for Kiwi IT firms, particularly those in banking and software. Kiwis, he says, are seen as “practical, down-to-earth and hardworking”. He has clients seeking project analysts and team leaders, using Standby as a network.
Mulholland says it is easy to get visas and work permits, and the Middle East is “very safe”, although there are places Westerners are told not to visit.
Looking ahead, Standby expects a prosperous future in the Middle East and it is also targeting work in neighbouring states. “When you know the protocols, it’s pretty easy,” he added.