Microsoft seeks African partners for joint digital-solutions offers

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 12 April 2022 06:00

Microsoft buys Activision, in New York City
The Microsoft store sign is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Microsoft wants to find new African partnerships to strengthen its ability to deliver industry-specific digital solutions, the company’s South Africa CEO Lillian Barnard tells The Africa Report.

“We are on the lookout for partners”,  Barnard says in Johannesburg. Accelerating the digital transformation of customers is her top priority. “You can’t deliver that kind of value alone.”

In South Africa, Microsoft counts banks, insurers, retail, manufacturing and mining companies, as well as local and national government among its customers. Last June it partnered with Standard Bank to accelerate the cloud-based digitalisation of Africa’s largest financial institution. The companies are working together on new technological solutions to create financial products for African consumers, with the aim of reaching 100 million customers in Africa over five years.

Microsoft uses partnerships with multinationals such as Accenture, PwC and EY to combine digitalisation with strategic advice in different sectors.  It also draws on software vendors, and a network of about 6,000 South African small business partners, which it is looking to expand.

  • Covid-19 has shown that digital transformation is possible, says Barnard, a former board member at Vodacom.
  • She is confident in the ability of all main sectors of the South African economy to recover from the pandemic. “South Africa is strong and poised to grow in every single industry.”
  • Sectors in South Africa are likely to recover at different paces, Barnard says. In retail, shopping behaviour has shifted online, meaning that new competition may come from unpredictable new sources, she says.

Africa Transformation Office

Microsoft is pursuing digital transformation across the continent through its Africa Transformation Office, led by Wael Elkabbany. The office operates in Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt, as well as South Africa.

The office has partnerships with African accelerators and incubators including Grindstone, Greenhouse and FlapMax. It also works with venture-capital investors such as Banque Misr, Global Venture Capital and Get Funded Africa to draw in more startup funding.

  • Key aims of the office are improving skill levels in small businesses and startups, Barnard says.
  • It aims to upskill 30 million people and help 10,000 startups over the next five years.
  • The project includes a founders hub which gives entrepreneurs access to business support and mentors.

Bottom line

Microsoft sees industrial digitalisation as a one-way bet across Africa.

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