Smart government initiatives in the region have fuelled the growth of mobile app development companies and start-ups in the UAE.
The initiative by Dubai Future Foundation’s ‘One Million Arab Coders’ programme to empower the Arab youth and help them acquire the skills of the future has also witnessed an enormous turnout and this will further enhance the app development scene in the UAE.
However, many companies, especially start-ups, still outsource their software development requirements to countries like India, Egypt, Jordan, etc to reduce cost.
Ben Samuel, founder and CEO of online fitness and wellness finder — Fit On Click, said that his app is developed in India.
“India is cheap and they [app developers] have exposure to newer technologies. Most of the businesses outsource their technology to India and started hiring people as and when the business grows in the country. Initially, funds are always an issue,” he said.
Moreover, he said that India is just three hours flight from Dubai and if any problem arises, it is easy to fly and comeback on the same day.
He said that after he started working here, he has learnt that many app developers are from Philippines but, you cannot fly to Philippines and comeback within one day.
Megha Kumar, research director for software and cloud at International Data Centre, said that the UAE IT outsourcing (business process and technology) market is projected to grow to $1.29 billion in 2018, a 12.8 per cent growth over 2017.
She said that application development is a subset of software development and mobile application will be a further subset.
“There are firms in the Middle East that engage in applications software development but Egypt and Jordan is usually the preferred locations for outsourcing and business process outsourcing as well.
“Cost, accessibility to skills and exposure to new types of technologies are some of the major criteria for seeking out developers in other locations. It is a constant concern for many organisations that access to affordable skills and it is a challenge,” she said.
Moreover, she said that talent retention is a concern, especially when programmers do get more opportunities abroad and do not have to worry that they may lose out on opportunities based on cost, experience and exposure.
Moving forward, she said that initiatives such as “One Million Arab Coders” launched in the UAE helps to create a diverse and certified talent and skills pools that will help bridge the skills gap and meet the demand given the level of commitment to innovation in the UAE.
“There is also a major drive to support and foster a start-up economy that will no doubt attract talent and help the economy at large,” she said.
Mohammed Ilyas, director of technology at DeviceBee Technologies, an app development company based in Dubai, said that smart government initiatives have given a boost to start-ups and the app development industry is gaining more traction, not only in the UAE but also in the region.
“The UAE has become the innovation hub for smartphone applications. Companies in the UAE develop some of the apps here and some in other countries while there are companies that develop the apps in other countries and do the marketing here,” he said.
Abdul Satar, head of IT at Gulf Data International, an app development company based in Dubai, said that there isn’t much procurement for mobile apps in the UAE and it is mainly enhancement and support.
“When we get any large projects, we sign agreements with app developers from India and Egypt on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, there are restrictions where we cannot outsource completely to a developer outside the country. It all depends on the contract,” he said.
The big disadvantage of outsourcing the app development, he said is that the companies will develop the app on our expense and sell it to other similar clients in other countries.
“So, we stopped dealing with external entities directly. We sign an agreement and hire the developers to develop the apps. For mobile apps, we don’t need to have a developer on the payroll as we have to pay them even if we don’t have the work. Each mobile app development takes only around three to four months,” he said.
Gulf Data International’s main clients are government sector and Satar said that sometimes there are cases where they find it difficult to get a developer for specialised apps and solutions.
“They [government sector] have their standards, policies and framework and we need to follow that.
They appoint one main consultant and they engage one specialist to develop the apps. It is easy to get developers for Android and iOS but sometimes, it is difficult to get a specialised developer for hybrid applications such as IBM Worklight or Kony Studio platforms,” he said.
When outsourcing, Ilyas said that there is always a lack of “trust and reliability”. Nowadays, he said that companies are smart and when they talk to a vendor to develop an app, they see their office structure and the software development team and the selection are done according to that.
“A company which does not make enough revenue from an app outsources it to a good company outside the UAE to keep the cost down. The company will contact the developer only when there is an issue. Cost is one factor for retaining the talent and getting the right resources is not always easy. It is better to set up your own team as we won’t know how much time they are going to allocate to your project,” he said.