As part of our European Elite project, put together in association with Agilitas, our roundtable of experts weigh the pros and cons of doing business in one of Europe's most untapped regions
The CEE region is as diverse as it is vast. We consider CEE to comprise 23 countries stretching as far north as Estonia and as far south as Bulgaria, and as far west as Czech Republic and as far east as Russia.
The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991, which put an end to a ban on entrepreneurship across many CEE countries, enabled a flurry of tech companies to establish themselves - some of which have grown into international titans.
The region has long been known as a hotspot for outsourcing back-office functions and services, as countless companies have looked to take advantage of the region's engineering and technical prowess as well as its flexible and cheap labour.
But can CEE offer the channel a genuine sales opportunity in its own right? Our roundtable of experts, who came together as part of our European Elite project, returned a mixed verdict.
Glen Williams, CEO of comms VAR Damovo, said that while his firm has certainly found value in outsourcing departments to a Polish shared service centre, the Polish market in particular offers a distinct sales opportunity.
"We have a Polish business and we focus on selling into the Polish market, and also we have a shared service centre for the rest of our customers and business," he said.
"The market in Poland is quite buoyant. Poland has circa 30 million people so it's a relatively big marketplace. A lot of our customers are in the banking sector and a lot of them are a little bit more evolved than even some of the western European banks, simply because they're newer. So some of the technologies we are taking out to those customers, UK banks are only just starting to adopt," he said.
"For example, some of our [Polish] customers were using voice recognition security software three or four years ago. We see the Polish market as quite a good one to sell into and it enables us to try out some of these newer technologies and then we can take them across to some other countries."
"Our back-end services centre is growing very fast, but our in-country business is also growing."
Yet for Barrie Desmond from Exclusive Networks, the CEE region is not a priority area of expansion due to its fragmented nature and lack of suitable acquisition targets for the firm.
"It is not a market that has really interested us. It is pretty fragmented and there are lots of small regions and countries and the diversity of cultures and languages is even more profound there," he said.
"You couldn't have somewhere, like the Benelux and Nordics, where you could have a regional HQ... [and] when we have looked at moving into those regions - and a lot of vendors want us to do so - … we have found there's not really a good candidate for us," he said.
Shaun Lynn, CEO of Agilitas, said that he sees CEE as a sales opportunity for his firm, with some of the largest channel companies opening up attractive services opportunities.
"We trade in many of those countries today. We are typically taken into them by our partners and we certainly see growth with one of the largest SIs. We've probably operated in 11 of those countries for seven or eight years, maybe longer. There is definitely a lot of opportunity, the challenge is to get more breadth and depth to the actual services because it tends to be tactically led [insofar as] there's a solution needed for one particular product or one particular issue. There's definitely an opportunity and definitely a growing market there," he said.