CAIRO: Seldom will you meet a senior executive in a multinational corporation that will candidly compare the global economic crisis to a car accident.
This is precisely how Ali Faramawy, Microsoft International vice president for the Middle East and Africa (MEA), described the way in which the company confronted the credit crunch and its plans for the future.
“Driving on a highway, you see an accident and the first thing you do is hit the breaks, then pass by and watch carefully, finally you start moving at a slower speed, he said. “The first month, it was bad, now people are watching the accident and moving at the same time.
The information technology (IT) sector is considered among the lucky few as people begin to understand that certain technologies can help businesses save money. Many companies are freezing new hires, when in fact their main aim should be increasing efficiency and productivity, he said.
“That’s why in many countries that were affected by the economic crisis, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) [an application that brings companies closer to customers and partners] sales are increasing, he explained.
Even though the wheels of business will continue spinning, “there is an effect.
“In the region our performance will be better than our worldwide performance, due to the region’s constant IT need. We expect our revenues and profits to grow in double digits, but that growth is 10 to 15 percent less than what we had planned for, he explained.
Like many global companies, Microsoft is delaying hiring decisions, looking at candidates carefully and taking a more cautious approach. “We have not taken any decision in the region to reduce headcount, but at the same time when things are tough we look inside and you need the strongest and the best. If there are people not displaying the right attitude you have to think about it, he said.
The key to protecting their revenue stream, which will in turn help accelerate the hiring process, he said, is to stay “close to our customers and partners and make sure they understand how IT can help them during these times.
With Egypt’s huge IT potential, the nation may have found a ticket to dodge this crisis. “The mobile part has taken off in a positive way, you would look for a similar breakthrough in PCs because that would drive a lot of applications and make the market for online content, online advertising and e-government services would be more widely used, he said.
He noted government efforts to defy the crisis, namely the ICT stimulus packages, and called for capitalizing on our cost advantage to drive sectors such as tourism. “With 80 million people, Egypt is promising. We have taken great steps with some breakthroughs but they are contained in size, we want to make it a much wider circle, he said.
Egypt’s political future does not concern Faramawy and will not hinder any expansion plans Microsoft has for the country. “We started in Egypt 10 years ago and continue to expand adding new functions to the country. A more important indicator is that we are assigning projects to Egyptian companies to do on behalf of Microsoft in other parts of the world. Some of the Egyptian call centers are doing work for Microsoft across Europe, he said.
“That kind of commitment comes from our belief that countries will find a way to stabilize and there is a clear commitment from everybody to make Egypt a better place, regardless of the political situation and who rules the country.
“There are 80 million people here and IT can do great things for them and we are in a position to rein by growing our market share, he added.
Faramawy is directly responsible for Microsoft’s operations in the MEA area, one of 13 areas that comprise Microsoft’s worldwide operations. The area represents one of Microsoft’s fastest growing and dynamic markets and, certainly, its most diverse.
Microsoft MEA operates through 30 offices and covers more than 70 countries across three continents. Identifying growth opportunities and defying challenges across the region are amongst his key specialties.
“We look at growth in sectors, even in the most advanced countries in the region. The opportunities are everywhere and all of these resemble a robust growth path. There are challenges related to financing, prioritization and capacity building, but we are overcoming them, he said.
Faramawy hopes that Microsoft will soon have larger presence in Iraq and people on the ground in Afghanistan. “The economy and poor income is not a factor because IT can help countries develop so it’s not a barrier to entry.
Physical danger and the political situation is the biggest issue in any certain part, he said.
One area that Microsoft is especially “passionate about is software plus services. “Giving people the freedom to use software in the way they have traditionally used on their personal computers or on servers that are posted in an enterprise within a company but at the same time offering people a consistent and easy development platform to make the user experience special, he explained.
Enhancing Egypt’s e-government projects has also been an area of opportunity for Microsoft. In cooperation with the government, Microsoft has been working on the automation of certain government sectors, such as the design of the government gateway and the Egyptian portal.
“As a result, Egypt’s E-government applications index, monitored by the UN has jumped from the 100s to 28th place.
Through the Egyptian Education Initiative (EEI), Microsoft is not just providing software, tools and trainings; it is also automating the education curriculum.
“The more you do the more you realize there’s more to be done, we are keen on continuing that, he said.