Why Small Business Is Key To Microsoft’s Strategy In Africa
Microsoft announced recently that it has partnered with the Nigerian government to digitally transform service delivery to the country’s investor community. It’s important to look at this in terms of the company’s strategy in Africa, and the wider context of Microsoft’s growing involvement in the region.
The collaboration is taking place through Microsoft’s Africa Open4Business program, aiming to harness advances in cloud technologies to transform the reach and scope of government-to-investor services.
Promoting business and supporting the growth of cloud services are key to Microsoft’s strategy in Africa, as the company eyes the last unsaturated market on earth. Just as Google and Facebook are increasingly involved on the continent, Microsoft too is making a play to establish a long-term customer base there.
Business, especially small business, is key to its strategy, with Microsoft launching portals such as Biz4Afrika, working to get thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises online for the first time, and supporting the continent’s startup scene by backing initiatives such as DEMO Africa. It has also launched App Factories in a number of African countries.
“At Microsoft 4Afrika, we see technology as the catalyst for creating and growing sustainable business models, which in turn drive innovation and create shared value for businesses and the communities in which they operate,” says Amrote Abdella, regional director of Microsoft 4Afrika, an initiative aimed at delivering affordable access, skills and innovation across Africa.
She says Africa’s small and medium-sized enterprises sector is offering entrepreneurs and innovators the opportunities to create wealth and jobs for the continent, something Microsoft is keen to support. As evidenced by the Nigerian partnership, the company is going even further in this regard by ensuring governments are on board.
“There are opportunities for government to modernize and improve transparency and service delivery, making it easier for entrepreneurs and investors to do business,” she said, arguing there are ways of forming new online business models, creating more efficient supply chains, and creating bigger, more inclusive markets with critical mass.
She also sees a chance to encourage regional integration, which can stimulate cross-border trade and more regional investment.
“There are opportunities to address the vast, underserved consumer markets through affordable internet connectivity and renewable energy solutions,” Abdella said.
Affordable access part of Microsoft’s strategy in Africa
Connectivity is also key to the company’s involvement in Africa. Building a new customer base for Microsoft products, and creating businesses with online presences that will use them as well, depends on more people getting online in the first place. Internet penetration is growing, but Microsoft is doing all it can to speed the process, as are Facebook and Google.
Abdella says affordable access to low-cost broadband is crucial to helping Africa realize its potential, and will have a huge impact in areas such as education, health, agriculture and financial services.
“Farmers, through creative cloud-based solutions like AGIN, can collect, view and share operational information that improves their access to markets and access to finance,” she said.
The AGIN platform, short for agriculture industry, helps small-holding farmers collect data around their farms with their mobile phones, before sharing it with producers, buyers and financial institutions.
“E-commerce, mobile wallets and online banking services can cut transactional costs, open up intra-Africa trade and drive inclusion.”
The company has a number of initiatives aimed at driving connectivity growth on the continent. For some years now, it has been running white spaces projects in a variety of African countries. White spaces technology involves using unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum to bring broadband to underserved rural communities.
The company is also doubling down on its focus on cloud computing, announcing in May that it plans to open two data centers in Johannesburg and Cape Town. African companies were forced until now to rely on Microsoft’s European data center hubs. Establishing centers in Africa will speed uptake of its services.
By promoting more widespread access to technology and encouraging skills development, Microsoft is ensuring its future in Africa is bright, Abdella said.
“Microsoft 4Afrika is Microsoft’s long-term business strategy for Africa and Microsoft’s company-wide goal is to help every person and organization on the planet achieve more. With its large youth population, Africa is a critical growth and investment market. Cloud computing is at the company’s core, intersecting everything we do,” she said.
“Africa is a young continent, full of ideas. The opportunities are limitless.”
Tom Jackson is the co-founder of tech news and research platform Disrupt Africa and a journalist covering innovation on the continent from the Cape to Cairo.
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