CEO opens company s second training academy in two years
CAIRO: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer praised Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif s government yesterday for developing clear social and economic reform plans and said his company will continue to increase its presence in Egypt to develop the IT infrastructure necessary to implement those plans.
Ballmer s first trip to Egypt lasted just 24 hours during which he attended the graduation ceremony of 40 government officials from seven ministries trained over the past year in the Microsoft-sponsored Government Leaders Academy. He also participated in opening the company s second academy, the NGOs Academy.
I think the Egyptian government has a clear plan for what its social agenda is, says Ballmer. The notion that information technology can help that agenda is truly remarkable on a worldwide scope.
As the country s potential to develop as an IT hub has been publicly promoted by Nazif s government, Ballmer said a strong base of technical talent gives Egypt an advantage, but declined to comment specifically on the government s development efforts in the sector.
The Smart Village is home to one of Microsoft s two Innovation Centers for Applied Research outside of the United States. The other center is located in Germany. Ballmer says the company does not hold plans for software production in Egypt but will continue to rely on the center to conduct software research that can then be applied to product development internationally.
We are a commercial company with a social responsibility, Ballmer told The Daily Star Egypt. We re trying to do a good job for our shareholders, our employees, our customers. If you take a 50-year view . We believe that kind of involvement is important.
Microsoft has partnered with the Egyptian government on several initiatives since 2000, including the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology s (MCIT) PC for Every Home campaign in 2002. The initiative was one of the first embarked on by the then newly created MCIT, but has proved one of its least successful ones, at least in terms of numbers.
Despite the initiative s success in increasing the number of computers in Egyptian households from 300,000 in 2002 to almost 700,000 by the end of 2005, according to Microsoft figures, it has failed to keep up the pace necessary to reach MCIT s then-stated goal of putting computers in 7 million households by 2009.
Megacom, an IT consulting company, CEO Tarek Thabet says the initiative has faced several problems that have kept it from taking off in the manner aspired by MCIT. One problem has been the complication of procedures for individuals seeking to purchase a computer including dealing with Telecom Egypt (TE), their lending institution and the computer distribution company. TE allowed their customers to use their phone lines as collateral to finance their PC purchase under the initiative. Other problems, he adds, included high computer prices relative to average income and the lack of maintenance centers in rural areas, he adds.
MCIT relaunched the initiative earlier this year with the hope of increasing private sector involvement, while amending the initiative s original conditions of operation to better address the problems it faced. The amendments included requiring new distributors to operate maintenance centers in at least seven governorates, toughening requirements on distributor selection, lowering prices and setting strict standards on the quality of PCs to be sold.
The reformed initiative will offer the public personal computers ranging in price from LE 1,585 to LE 3,300 compared with the old range of LE 3,000 to LE 5,000.
But government and IT sector analysts, including Thabet, remain skeptical.
If you really want to increase computer sales, you should support the user in purchasing rather than supporting the supplier, says Thabet, adding efforts should have been directed more toward making PCs more affordable either through better financing options or even a direct subsidy.
It s not about computer experts giving us their opinion, says Thabet. It s about the beneficiary giving us their opinion, because that s what matters.