Windows 10 anniversary: Has Microsoft won Africa over?

By Polycarp Kazaresam

It’s been just over a year since Microsoft launched Windows 10 globally, including two launches in Africa. ABR ask Rotimi Olumide, Windows Business Group Lead, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa whether the uptake of Windows 10 in the region has been successful. 


Happy anniversary! Can you tell us a bit about the journey from the 2015 Windows 10 launch to the current update?

Oh well! When I think back to the launch of Windows 10 and what it represents in Africa…I’ll start there and I’ll answer your question that way. For us it signifies a bit of a paradigm switch - from a place where from the launch of Windows 8 we went into a new experience for our consumers and business customers, providing them with a cloud based operating system with access to a new application ecosystem that we never had before. There were mixed reviews. Some people like the new features, some were more used to Windows 7 and so with Windows 10 we took the initiative to bring back some of the functionality and user experience that some of the users were familiar with, but also still provide them with access to cloud based operating systems. They can use windows on tablets, which they haven’t been able to do on earlier versions of Windows. Now, with this new update we’ve basically doubled down on some of the investments we’ve made improve the user experience for our customers, the personal experience that we provide. If you think about the new applications we’ve been able to launch the application of Windows Hello, which enables a more secure way for folks to access these devices, without having to resort to using passwords, which tend to be phished or can be broken into. Improvements to our new browser include Cortana, and just enabling folks to make smarter use of devices, anywhere and everywhere. So from that perspective it’s a very new and exciting update.

For the launch, why did you choose South Africa and Kenya out of all African countries?

The way Microsoft is broken out we have a Middle East and Africa region which consists of the African countries, as well as a number of countries in the Middle East, Turkey and Israel. A decision was made when we launched Windows 10 as a company not to have a whole lot of large events promoting Windows 10 to a broad base of customers, we wanted fans to experience Windows in a fairly select and intimate event, so we chose a number of destinations around the world. Now, the decision was to go with South Africa and Kenya, and I think we also had a launch in Dubai.  It was just a function of looking at major cities in our own region, the South Africa region, and just choosing to have specific events in those regions. In every single region we have some type of celebration but we had more formal events in those three areas. And Kenya, that was really a function of Satya [Nadella, CEO Microsoft Corporation] really wanting to find out more, he’d heard a lot about Silicon Valley of the Savannah, he’d heard a lot about the innovative work that developers are doing in Kenya in particular, he’d heard a about the initiative with widescreens he wanted to come and experience it by himself, and it nicely coincided with the launch of Windows 10 and that was really great for us here.

Okay. So did you feel that it was a natural place to have the launch?

We believe so. If you think about Microsoft strategy to empower every individual and every organisation on the planet to do more, that means everyone. It means us in Africa, it means folks around the world, and Satya embodies that as he travels around the world, so we’re very happy that he was here, and we saw first-hand local developers in Kenya, in Nairobi, are trying to find technology in new ways to get things done. Companies are embracing cloud solutions and are embracing this mobile first world that Microsoft embodies.

What was the customer feedback like?

There’s three things I’d say about that. First of all, we’re excited by the fact that Microsoft listened to our customers. We listened to the fact that, hey, they weren’t super happy about the user interface of Windows 8 and 8.1 and they wanted more familiarity, they wanted more productivity, performance, better security. So they were happy to see a new version of windows that had embodied a lot of the feedback they had provided. You have to bear in mind that we solicited feedback from our customers from our windows insider feedback programme, we had over 5 million subscribers to that programme, even before we launched, so the point that I’m making there is that there is a lot of input from a broad range of customers from around the world into the final product of Windows, so lots of excitement leading up to the Windows 10 launch. Then have of course having the launch in Africa, there was a lot of excitement among our consumer in general. I would say that from a consumer’s standpoint, it was well received, customers liked the new interface, liked the fact that we enabled this free upgrade period for retail versions of Windows and also for small business owners. That just shows Microsoft’s commitment to enabling a broad base of our customers to get on to the most recent the most updated the most modern version of Windows, so that was great. For the commercial customers who are always looking for incremental value, the fact that we focus so much on adding new security features that essentially make the environment more secure was a very key point. We doubled down on security, making the current version of Windows 10 the most secure operating system Microsoft has ever produced. So yes, it’s been very well received.

So have you seen real life examples of Windows 10 in action across the continent?

Sure, so if you think about where we are – one of the things about Africa that I love (I spent some time back on the continent) we need to use technology to get stuff done. We don’t have the luxury of having very strong private markets where there’s a lot of foreign direct investment coming into the private market, so the government is the native employer in most African companies. The government has the most jobs. The government is the biggest investor in many scenarios. Private sector investment isn’t as good as it should be, there’s a lot of enterprising folks out there, in small business environments, trying to do more, they need to do more with technology, they need to use mobile devices to get things done. For many people, their phone is their form of sole form of communication, it’s their business tool, you know what I mean? So the whole concept of using mobile scenarios, mobile devices and applications is so key, so the fact that we were able to help provide an operating system that works seamlessly across our phones, our tablets, our phablets, between desktops under one same consistent experience and then we have this great productivity application from our office suite, that is actually something that is a paradigm shift. We’ve seen more and more business owners use our products, they use our products, use our applications, use our products in different scenarios. I’ve travelled across Africa extensively I’ve been to at least 15 – 20 countries in sub-Saharan region in the last 18 months and everywhere I go I meet with customers and partners and have seen potential for Windows to really help folks get more done. So that’s exciting.

Can you talk a bit about cloud computing market in Africa?

Yeah, it’s a very interesting topic. I would say Africans as a whole; I think there’s probably three groups. You’ve got your public sector workers, folks who work in the government. [13:23] They know about the benefits of cloud-based solutions like being able to utilise data that’s stored, not having to make these large scale investments in hardware. There’s still some ambiguity regarding where’s the data stored is it going to be secured, is it going to be reviewed whether that cloud vendor is, it’s safe and so on. We get a lot of questions about that. Microsoft has the highest standards of transparency and compliance in terms of how we take care of our customer’s data in our cloud environment. We have well over 20 data centres around the world and we are world leaders in terms of the data centre footprint and in terms of the functionality we’re enabling, so we talk a lot about that. We basically give our public sector customers a lot of information about how they can utilise the cloud solutions or at least have a hybrid cloud environment. This means they can take advantage of the benefits, cost savings, economies of scale from the cloud, while still keeping whatever data needs to be sovereign for a particular country on site, so that message is being received well and gradually we’re getting governments coming online. South Africa and South African countries are probably a little bit ahead of using clouds solutions, but we’re seeing a lot in sub-Saharan Africa. In Kenya there’s some interest in the government with leveraging cloud solutions to certain degrees, Nigeria the same thing, and some other markets as well.

Now, moving over to the consumer space, small business owners, there the benefits are really clear. We’ve already been using cloud based services for years, with Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and so on, so there’s already some familiarity there. Now we start to use applications, whether it’s Android, Windows, iOS - all of those have a cloud element, there’s a lot of popularity there for cloud solutions in general. For the private sector, I think the customers are really starting to see the potential. But the concern has always been: “Can I utilise cloud solutions safely?” The opportunities are clear – allowing employees to work from anywhere enabling device scenarios, improving employee satisfaction and efficiency, but can I do it safely? We all know about these cyber-attacks all over the world. Can it be secure? And that’s where Microsoft solutions come in. A lot of our investments, we’ve made over a billion dollars of investments just over a little while specifically in a security functionality to enable these mobile scenarios, so based on investment, we’ve seen a lot of pick up a lot of interest in cloud. I believe that will continue to grow. And it’s not just us, you’ve got Salesforce – that’s fairly popular on the continent. Amazon web service - they’re becoming increasingly popular, and that’s all good. Can you conduct your business within cloud solutions in a safe environment? That’s the key and I think that is the need that we are filling across these different segments.

With the African launch, did you have partners on the ground, or where they foreign partners?

If you think about Microsoft as a model, the vast majority of our offerings are through partners. We have a large ecosystem of partners all across the world and in Africa, so we have a growing base of good partners all across the region, and what we try to do, more than ever before, I think we reached out to partners before the launch of Windows 10, via the OEM’s or the multinational partners that develop their devices or the applications for the ecosystem as well as the partners that actually transact, and we let them know: “Here’s what we want to do. What would you be looking for in a modern operating system? What sort of productivity benefits are you looking at?”

So we got a lot of that feedback upfront, and that helped us a lot in terms of mindshare and support leading up to the launch of Windows 10. Now, when we launched all across the world we involved our partners in many scenarios. In fact, many of our partners had their own events where they would invite partners to talk about Windows 10 functionality across the world.


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