As the cloud technology is emerging, companies and government in the Kurdistan Region are shrinking Information Technology (IT) departments and storing information online in servers often thousands of miles away.
This week, Microsoft launched “Office 365” in Iraq at a two-day event at the Rotana Hotel in Erbil. The technology giant’s new product offers a cloud-based upgrade to the enormously popular Office suite, currently used by more than one in seven people on the planet.
“We’re no longer the company that says there has to be a PC (personal computer) on every desk. That’s dead,” says Hoda Younan, Microsoft country manager responsible for Iraq.
Office 365 allows users to use well-known features like Word or Outlook on up to five different devices, preserving the speed and full-functionality of programs while used online. Rebaz Qaradaghi of the Kelkan Group, the first Iraqi firm to use the service, enthusiastically described ditching his laptop on a recent business trip to the US, travelling light with his cell phone. He claims the cloud system helped the oil and gas contracting firm and its partners eliminate integrating the various wings of the company, meanwhile eliminating bugs, security problems, and spam.
In the past, using different IT tools had resulted in lost or delayed orders and hurt competitiveness at Kelkan. “In the oil and gas industry, everything is timed. If you don’t get that initial request, then it’s a problem.”
Cloud computing is not new to Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was the first in the Middle East to use Google Apps for official communication and collaboration tools. Last October, the KRG signed a contract for 3,000 government email accounts. While the system is still being implemented, before long the entire government will be powered by Google.
Hiwa Afandi, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Department of Information Technology, is a believer in the new system. He makes clear that using the cloud is great for local companies. Microsoft’s reinvention of Office was “a good move and will be of great benefit to the Kurdistan Region if they understand the importance of it. It will give them all tools they need to deliver the right services to customers at relatively low cost.”
Afandi thinks small businesses and entrepreneurs will be the big winners. He said, “If you are a small company of 10-15 people, you can use the same quality, the same tools as (large companies), because you’re buying subscription like a pay-as-you-go mobile phone.”
A subscription model to a cloud service means that big companies like Google or Microsoft assume the cost of technological change, so that governments and businesses are not changing their hardware and software every six months to stay competitive and secure. The technology titans also assume the costs to firms if the system shuts down.
Addressing concerns that the cloud may leave sensitive information vulnerable to attack or theft, Afandi quotes Vivek Kundra, former federal chief information officer of the United States.
“Cloud computing is often far more secure than traditional computing, because companies like Google and Amazon can attract and retain cyber-security personnel of a higher quality than many governmental agencies.”
Outsourcing security to a private firm is certainly a cost-effective option. Microsoft offers clients the chance to see where their servers are, and if necessary, move them. If some are uncomfortable with the increasing volume of data online as the world drifts into the cloud, Afandi offers a suggestion: “Change, before you have to.”