Paul Bunting, general manager of Microsoft Indian Ocean Islands and French Pacific, spoke to AfricaMoney on how Microsoft’s ‘adventure’ in Mauritius has been progressing well for the past 16 years now. Our tech expert also expressed the opinion that with new emerging and affordable technologies like the Cloud, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are finding themselves on the technology bandwagon.

  • What are the main milestones that Microsoft has achieved in Mauritius?

Microsoft has been present in Mauritius for the past 16 years now. It has been a human adventure at so many levels, we started in 1998 with 4 employees and we are now a team of nearly 30 managing the Indian Ocean Islands and French Pacific region. We have been doing business in Mauritius but we have contributed in the development of the ICT industry by helping to improve access to technology, to build skills of the youth and to promote entrepreneurship. Through our partner the e-inclusion Foundation (Microsoft registered refurbisher) we have equipped hundreds of PC with our software for free that were donated to NGO’s. Through our education programs we have trained nearly 700 teachers and impacted more than 160,000 students. We have created 17,170 for the youth through our YouthSpark program over the past two years, for example we trained 150 unemployed youth through our IT Academy in Rodrigues. These are only few examples.

I would also like to highlight that we have been collaborating closely with the government to help them realise their government modernization project. We have brought to them the best in class technologies for governments as well as regional experts to help them in that endeavor.

  • Microsoft (Indian Ocean Islands and French Pacific) did a campaign to celebrate World Intellectual Property Day, which felt on April 26th. Can you tell us more about this campaign and how far it was successful in generating awareness of, and respect for IPR?

Microsoft has always been involved in promoting Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) which is important for us as software editors, but we want people to realise that IPR is also important for artists, designers, song writers, entrepreneurs and film makers among others. We have therefore invited local professionals who earn a living from their intellectual property rights to share their experience in their respective industry and also learn from each other by participating to a round table on the topic.

We have also worked with the famous blues man Eric Triton to produce a short video where he shares his views on the protection of IPR as a singer and a song writer. This video has been shared on the social media and went viral.

The video was very well received by the public and we reached nearly half a million people on Facebook. The round table was very enlightening for the participants who were glad to be able to hear from each other what their challenges were and how they were doing to protect their IPR. They told us that this initiative should be repeated and we look forward to follow-up on this in April 2015.

  • The main problem Microsoft faces today is software piracy. How big is this problem in Mauritius and in what ways does it affect your business on the island?

It’s true that when Microsoft arrived in Mauritius in 1998, software piracy was a main concern with a software piracy rate of 78%, as estimated by the IDC. But with our awareness campaigns and enforcement actions from the authorities this rate went down to 55% in 2013 while in Reunion this rate is estimated at around 39%. Mauritius has undergone much progress and we need to continue on that trend.

  • What is Microsoft doing to tackle the issue of piracy and to decrease the piracy rates?

Microsoft invests heavily in technologies and programs to make piracy more difficult while making it easier for customers to recognize and avoid counterfeit software. To address the increasing sophistication of software counterfeiters, Microsoft focuses its efforts on three fronts:

Education – Microsoft is raising awareness among customers and resellers about the serious risks of counterfeit software.

Engineering – Microsoft is continuing to invest in forensic technologies and anti-counterfeiting product features.

Enforcement – Microsoft actively supports government officials and law enforcement agencies in taking action against software counterfeiters.

The key success factor here has been our partnerships with other software vendors, various governmental and non-governmental organisations, our distributors and resellers and the media.

We have had successful educational campaigns in Mauritius where people understood that counterfeit and pirated softwares were dangerous for their users. This resulted in pirates and counterfeiters being caught and sued for selling counterfeit products. Resellers became more conscious around being genuine resellers. We now see customers knowing how to check if they are buying a genuine Windows OS for example or coming to us because they realised they had counterfeit software on their PCs and they want to legalise them.

  • According to the latest Affordability Index report, Mauritius was found in the top five global economies on Internet Affordability Index among 46 African countries benchmarked for the survey. Can you tell us what, according to you, are the factors boosting Mauritius’ status as an ICT hub?

Mauritius has been able to put in place a number of conditions that makes it an attractive investment destination in the African region. In the ICT sector a number of infrastructure projects have put the country in a good place to be a regional ICT hub: the creation of the cyber city, the connection to undersea fiber optics cables. We have also a good work force that is bi-lingual.

We now need to increase the training of appropriately skilled workforce for the ICT industry so as to sustain its development. Internet affordability is important and as you said we are well positioned but for the sector to develop further with the development of ICT services with higher values we need to improve the bandwidth and the quality of the connection as well as the redundancy. We also need to keep an eye on African regional competitors who are moving fast.

  • At the Microsoft panel discussion held at the Maritim Hotel on October 14, 2014, there were discussions on Cloud, with focus on how this technology can benefit SMEs. In what ways are cloud services important for SMEs?

What we see around the world is that the Cloud is an enabler for SMEs. With cloud services, SMEs now have access to technologies that used to be inaccessible to them since it required heavy investment in hardware and licences and they needed to have a minimum number of users to be able to justify such investment. The cloud model is scalable, that is enterprises pay for what they use on a monthly or yearly basis. This means that it is much more affordable than previous technologies and it evolves as the company grows.

  • Seven Mauritian graduates have benefited from a one-year internship in Microsoft through the Microsoft 4Afrika Program. What are the objectives that Microsoft seeks to achieve through this internship?

The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is designed to improve the continent’s global competitiveness. By 2016, the 4Afrika Initiative plans to:

  • help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth,
  • bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online,
  • upskill 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce,
  • and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills, 75 percent of which Microsoft will help place in jobs.

It is with this fourth objective in mind that we have hired those 7 interns for a period of 1 year. The aim is to help them develop employability skills so as to help them to find a job after their internship. On completion of their internship we will help them to find a job either at Microsoft or with our partner in our local ecosystem.

  • As country manager at Microsoft Indian Ocean Islands and French Pacific, how do you feel Mauritius is performing in the era of new technology, with focus on cloud services and big data?

Cloud services and big data are two very important topics in the world of new technology today and Microsoft is offering tools to Mauritian organisations to tap into these opportunities. With the introduction of Office 365 last year Mauritian companies have started realizing how they could benefit from the cloud and we can now see that they have moved from a skeptical attitude to enthusiasm.

Therefore there is a local demand for cloud services and we are seeing more and more partners betting on cloud as a growth strategy. We have partners offering Microsoft cloud services such as Office 365 which are provided from Microsoft’s data centers in Europe and other partners offering locally hosted cloud services such as hosted Microsoft Sharepoint, hosted Microsoft Exchanger or hosted Dynamics CRM. I think that if the quality of our connectivity was improved we would see a more interesting growth in usage of cloud locally and it would also create opportunities for local data centers to sell their cloud services into the African market.

As for big data there is an interest from a number of industries locally such as the financial sector, we are confident that this will be a growing activity as the amount of local data available online grows. It’s a matter of time.

  • Finally, as a country manager at Microsoft Indian Ocean Islands and French Pacific, can you please tell us more about how the company assures its customers that their data is protected when they are storing it in the Cloud?

Microsoft has a longstanding commitment to privacy and takes steps to responsibly manage customer information, promote transparency, and offer meaningful privacy choices. The company’s approach includes the following priorities:

First we promote privacy fundamentals, we understand that respect for privacy is essential to a computing environment that is trustworthy. Microsoft employs more than 40 full-time privacy professionals and several hundred more employees worldwide who are responsible for ensuring that privacy policies, procedures, and technologies are applied company-wide.

We ensure the protection of user information. We believe that people should have control over their personal information and that organizations should be responsible and accountable for how they collect, use, and protect this information. Microsoft privacy principles and privacy statements provide clearly worded explanations of what information Microsoft collects, why, and how it is used. They also offer guidance on how consumers can manage the information they provide to Microsoft.

Finally, Microsoft provides policy leadership and collaboration. We work with governments, consumer advocates, businesses, and technology industry leaders to advise on legislative proposals, help create interoperable laws across jurisdictions, develop responsible privacy practices, and strengthen self-regulatory mechanisms that support greater protections for individuals and their personal information. The company’s public policy efforts include advocating for new and updated regulatory approaches to promoting a safer, more open cloud computing environment, and baseline federal privacy legislation. Microsoft also works with law enforcement agencies and consumer and advocacy organizations around the world to combat fraud, spam, spyware, and other threats to privacy online. And the two workshops we held in February and last weeks are in line with this priority.

[Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview]

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