When Microsoft Incorporation established its offices in Namibia a few years ago, no one knew the impact the company would have in the country through the use of technology.
Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa with that boasts of having Microsoft’s physical presence. Other countries where Microsoft has established offices include South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, Cote D’ivoire, Tunisia and Morocco.
“In terms of presence, Namibia is a very important territory for us and this can be seen through the amount of investment we have made here,” says Eric Odipo, the Microsoft Country Manager for East and Southern Africa.
Microsoft has various initiatives to unlock the development of Africa as a whole and the ‘4Africa Initiative’ aimed at making Microsoft to actively participate in the economic development of Africa and to improve its global competitiveness from a technology perspective.
Based on the findings of the initiative, what Africa needs is not necessarily a donation but other forms of assistance that can improve its competitiveness.
Odipo believes that technology can bridge that gap between Africa and the developed nations.
“The 4Africa initiative is set up around that drive through three active pillars, which are Access to affordable broad band, Innovation and Skills,” says Odipo.
A lot of developments today depend on how connected citizens are to businesses, governments and to other entities around the globe. Without proper connectivity people will continue to lag behind,” he says.
Odipo notes that innovation is about developing appropriate technology that creates convenience and access to better services for the citizens.
“As for skills development, Microsoft has had to create partnerships with corporates, students and colleges through training and making the courses available. In Namibia Microsoft is planning to partner with schools or government to package knowledge and skills,” he adds.
To show its commitment for this noble cause, Microsoft launched another initiative know as TV work spaces in December last year. This technology currently utilises unused TV frequencies to transmit broadband at a very low cost.
Transmitting broadband though cables is a costly and cumbersome process, thus Microsoft saw it fit to use TV work spaces drive to reach the breath and the length of the country.
This initiative is a product of Microsoft research in partnership with other stakeholders and has been recognised as one of the best ways of transmitting broadband.
“We feel it will make a big difference for people who are living in remote areas as they can now access broadband at a reasonable fee,” says Odipo.
He notes that in education Microsoft has various programmes that it uses to encourage the adoption of technology.
The programmes are initially made available to school teachers to ensure that they are properly equipped to teach Information Technology (IT) in the classroom.
Through the use of online learning technology, teachers are able to log in a portal where they can access readymade and prescribed material as a way of enhancing their understanding of technology.
Normally, there are general courses one can attend on technology but are specific to classroom situations.
After successfully completing the training, teachers receive certificates, and are then deployed back to work with students in IT under a programme called Youth Spark.
When these youth graduates from academic institutions and wish to start their own businesses, they can graduate into a programme called B-Spark (Business Spark) where they can have access to free software for a period of time.
This software is related to applications development where, for instance, one can create phone applications which he can sell.
“We give the youths our latest applications for free and we have a team of people who coach them through this,” says Odipo.
He adds that Microsoft has already established similar partners at advanced levels to assist the graduates to create applications that can be sold on the international market for approximately US$1(N$10.68).
“Today there should be no difference between someone in Chicago and another one in Windhoek, as they can all use the same software. We are hoping by engaging with these audiences we can attract the interest and familiarity around technology,” he says.
Odipo asserts that Microsoft has a full-fledged team that supports application development. Some of the application developers are entrepreneurs who present their apps to Microsoft for quality check before it is planted on the app store where it is sold.
He notes that when someone buys application from the app store, the money goes to the individual application developer.
However, once the application has been validated it is set up at the app store and so Microsoft uses its own digital network to create awareness about this app.
“For instance, if an application is created in Namibia, a person who views the app store with a Windows software will first see the locally created apps, thus making it relevant for the local environment.
According to Odipo, Microsoft determines its assistance to countries by looking at governments’ long term plans with regards to IT.
The TV White space is one of the practical ways in which Microsoft helps the government with access to brand space.
“In Namibia we have identified access as the priority area because it impacts on a lot of things,” he says.
Microsoft has also established the same brand space structures in Botswana by partnering with the county’s Ministry of health. A person living in the remotest part of the country can now access the highest quality of care as they set TV white spaces in remote areas.
In those remote areas, medical personnel are able to take images such as X-rays or other images, send them to Gaborone by using the TV white space technology.
In central Gaborone there are highly qualified doctors who can check the images and send them feedback. This means that people in rural Botswana can access world-class diagnosis from doctors without having to go to the capital city.
This process reduces cases of wrong diagnosis on illnesses and allows the possibility of upgrading the level of services in some of these remote areas.
Odipo says it is difficult to tell how much money Microsoft makes out of Africa, as the firm’s business conducted through partners.
“Microsoft does very little business with end-users as it does not sell directly to a local end-user. Instead there are resellers, called partners, who make that sale,” he says adding that this way money keeps circulates in the economy.
“We have invested in creating the necessary skills for local partners. What it means is that for every one dollar that we make through the selling and deployment of software, our local partners can make ten dollars,” he explains.
To date, Microsoft has about 15 to 20 partners in Namibia, some of which include Salt Essential, Schoemans and Gijima to name but a few.
Odipo visits Namibia every third month and each visit presents him an opportunity to meet audiences and partners.
Traditionally, Microsoft has been built as a software company, but in the last two years the business has been transforming and adding devices such as phones and tablets to its portfolio.
Odipo says although Microsoft will remain a software company, it is now diversifying into the devices market and online services.
“We are strongly engaging with our devices partners to ensure that people can get the best experiences when they are using our services,” he says.
He notes that although Windows has never had a strong presence in the tablets market, but it is now moving strongly into the market with its partners such as Dell and HP and Lenovo.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is currently preparing to come up with an initiative called Office 365, which will enable one to access office and CRM as well as other products in the cloud.
The initiative is aimed at cutting costs thus enabling any business in the world to access first class infrastructure from hard ware to software business at affordable prices.
Odipo, who has been working for Microsoft for the past few years, has a mechanical engineering background in general motors and has diverse background in American companies.
“Information technology is an industry which can improve the quality of people. You can access and create things, I am excited about Microsoft’s new direction,” he says.
Microsoft recently appointed Satian Nadella as its new Chief Executive Officer.
Nadella, an Indiaan national is the first non-American CEO in the history of Microsoft to hold such a position.
“It signals a new dimension Bill Gates has settled to run his company. Through this latest development I am confident that we will be able to provide better experience to all our users,” he says. PF