The information technology (IT) sector’s contribution to the Egyptian economy has been significant in recent years. A research by the International Data Corporation (IDC), a market intelligence provider, has found that the country’s total IT spending, which stood at $1.02bn in 2017, is expected to reach close to $1.17bn in 2022. This reflects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.85%, according to Mirna Arif, General Manager of Microsoft Egypt.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Arif said that such insights demonstrate that Egypt is undergoing remarkable progress in areas of IT Infrastructure growth and development. She also said that this is a result of the government’s vision for sustainable development, as well as the purposeful efforts undertaken over the years by the country’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
“Microsoft has made significant investments and partnerships in Egypt to enhance the country’s IT posture, to accelerate its digital transformation journey,” Arif said, “For example, our collaboration with Telecom Egypt (TE) is an effort to extend the Microsoft cloud network to local organisations, by providing enhanced connectivity and faster delivery of our solutions.”
She also provided a further example in the form of the Cairo-based Microsoft Advanced Technology Lab (ATL), which brings world-class engineers and applied researchers together. The ATL seeks to work on cutting edge projects from the early stages of experimentation and incubation all the way to implementation.
The ATL specialises in harnessing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud facilities, with the power of data science and advanced analytics to accelerate research and development.
“The lab also encourages talent development by offering internship programmes, to students from the entire region, with an opportunity to work hand-in-hand with our engineers and researchers, and to gain hands-on experience with state-of-the art technologies,” she added, “Moreover, since 2011 we have established our Customer Service Support Centers in Egypt, an operation that has been growing ever since to serve our customers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”
Daily News Egypt sat down with Arif to learn more on the digital transformation and the challenges that it faces due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The interview also touched on Microsoft’s presence in Egypt, its partners and its plans.
Could you brief us on the presence and history of the strong relationship that Microsoft has with Egypt since its arrival in Egypt?
Microsoft established its presence in Egypt in 1997 with its head office in Cairo, and the history, as well as our commitment, of over two decades in the country has been towards accelerating the adoption of technology across all sectors. This has been to foster digital transformation, economic growth and the prosperity of Egypt, in line with the country’s Sustainable Development Strategy: Vision 2030.
Over the years, we have collaborated closely with the government and industry leaders across all sectors, to promote technological innovation and significantly contribute towards the advancement across areas. This has namely been in infrastructure, job creation, education, upskilling and youth empowerment, as well as our philanthropic initiatives to make a difference in society.
In your opinion, how did the COVID-19 pandemic impact technology companies in Egypt? Is digital transformation a must in the current circumstances?
The pandemic has challenged governments, private organisations, and individuals across the world with a public health, as well as an economic, crisis. Whether it is a public sector entity or a nascent startup, all have had to step up their capacity to sustain and adapt to maintain continuity. And our role in Egypt became that of a first responder in the digital world, to empower every organisation to address their critical needs, whether through cloud infrastructure or tools and applications to keep them connected.
From first responders to public and private sector enterprises ensuring continuity of services, or educational institutions pursuing distance-learning programmes, we saw years of digital transformation happening in a matter of months with human ingenuity and technology paving the way forward.
And while we’re empowering our customers to respond, and recover from the crisis, we have an opportunity to rebuild and re-imagine together. For every industry and for every organisation, there is a unique opportunity to reinvent on the back of technology and thrive in the digital economy.
How many partners do you have in Egypt?
The Microsoft partner ecosystem plays a vital role in the success of our customers across the world. In Egypt, we have over 1,000 partners, independent software vendors (ISVs) and startups that are working closely across public and private sectors. They are working to accelerate digital transformation, enabling our customers to better harness technology and engage customers, empower employees, optimise operations, and transform their products and services.
The Microsoft partner ecosystem also makes a strong impact on downstream revenue and job creation. For example, for every $1 that Microsoft generates, our partner ecosystem makes $9. IDC research found that almost 64% of IT professionals in Egypt are either part of the Microsoft ecosystem, or work with or on Microsoft products.
What are the most recent and prominent government projects that your company have implemented?
Over the past few months, we have worked with several organisations across the public and private sectors, to empower them with our solutions to stay connected and collaborate during unprecedented times. Whether it is our cloud services to support critical infrastructure services, or tools and applications for remote working and learning, it has never been more important to connect people and keep organisations running with secure and modern tools. This enables them to sustain and scale, all while preparing for the new normal.
Some of the examples include the Egyptian Government that has adopted Microsoft Teams to ensure remote collaboration amongst employees, and maintain continuity in citizen services. Microsoft Teams is a unified communications platform that brings people together to chat, connect via audio and video calls, share files and integrate processes, all in one secured and modern workplace.
In light of the health crisis brought on by the pandemic, the Ministry of Health implemented an AI-powered health bot that reduces the burden on the existing healthcare infrastructure, enabling people to take self-assessments to screen for COVID-19.
In the education sector, Microsoft has helped deliver on the Ministry of Education’s goal for distance learning, and we have worked closely to support the ministry’s new online education platform that is set to provide 20 million students with free access to Microsoft’s range of Office 365 apps including Microsoft Teams.
Moreover, Al Azhar University, one of the region’s oldest and the largest institutions, has adopted Microsoft Teams as its communications platform for faculty and students to connect, engage and learn every day.
In the private sector, several organisations, including Ghabour Auto, Dar, and Misr Insurance, are leveraging our innovations to ensure remote collaboration and productivity amongst their workforces.
What are your digital solutions to support SMEs in the coming period?
Microsoft has been a strong advocate for supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), because we believe they are the lifeblood of any economy. We understand the pain points of small businesses that range from tackling rising costs to acquiring technical talent and managing IT infrastructure. This is in addition to ensuring security, scalability and compliance in order to support their customer needs in a growing digital economy.
Fortunately, the advent of cloud and emerging innovations has eliminated such obstacles while empowering SMEs with the opportunity to focus on growing their business, while leaving their technology needs to a trusted cloud provider.
With over 60 regions worldwide, the Microsoft Azure Cloud has a wider global presence than any other cloud provider. It offers the scale needed to bring applications closer to users around the world, preserving data, alongside comprehensive compliance and resiliency for customers, so they can innovate freely.
Recently we partnered with the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce in its Digital Future (“Mostaqab alRaqamy”) initiative. This falls in line with the government’s efforts to provide SMEs with the necessary platforms, resources and industry know-how to lead their digital transformation journeys.
As part of our efforts in this initiative, Microsoft will provide the country’s SMEs with cloud, productivity solutions and business applications to better digitise and streamline their business processes, while remaining cost efficient and agile.
What strategic plan does Microsoft have for the coming period?
While this year got off to a challenging start, our focus remains on supporting our customers to sustain and navigate the new normal. And as we continue to enable them to respond to these crises and plan a journey towards recovery, we aspire to empower them in reimagining their organisation or industries on the back of technology to overcome uncertainty.
Just as hybrid-learning and working environments are becoming a norm, there is an opportunity for every industry and organisation to rebuild and reinvent. Whether it is health bots and telemedicine to empower caregivers; retailers adopting contactless payment methods, harnessing data, and AI to better understand consumer behaviours; financial services organisations moving to enhanced and secured customer experiences; or manufacturing sector harnessing Internet of Things (IoT) for smart and optimised operations, there is opportunity everywhere to digitally transform and innovate to achieve more. That is what we aim towards accomplishing for our customers.
How many job opportunities do you offer youth in Egypt?
IDC research has found that the Cloud and Microsoft Ecosystem will generate over 100,000 jobs in Egypt by 2022. This creates an abundance of prospects for the country’s youth, as well as individuals in the existing workforce to make the most of such opportunities.
While this job creation will spell economic growth, we also see a rising skills gap that must be addressed, and Microsoft has been working very closely to that end. Our partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Ministry of Youth and Sports on the ‘Tawar w 3’ayar’ initiative is part of our efforts in the country that have upskilled youth in areas of digital skilling and computer science.
To date, the programme has built capacity of more than 900,000 youth through 500 youth centres and non-profits across 27 different governorates of the country, while placing more than 16,000 youth into job opportunities.
Moreover, just recently, Microsoft has partnered with Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education on the Bina Insaan initiative, to empower young graduates with access to the Microsoft and LinkedIn skilling programme. The move will equip young graduates with the right skills and enhance their employability to land the top jobs that are in demand globally.
This effort is part of our global skilling initiative that aims to empower 25 million people worldwide to acquire the digital skills needed in a COVID-19 economy. As part of this partnership, Microsoft and the Ministry of Higher Education will work together to initially upskill over 20,000 fresh graduates, by providing access to learning paths, as well as low cost certifications to develop these skills and pursue new jobs.
How many CSR projects do you implement? What about future projects in this regard?
Making a profound and positive impact in society with the power of our technology has been one of our key priorities at Microsoft. It is part of our mission to empower every individual and organisation to achieve more, and we have worked towards this end across multiple facets, from community impact, to fostering diversity and inclusion, to driving sustainability.
For example, in the last five years Microsoft has provided over $13.5m in cash and technology donations to non-profits in Egypt. And there are over 80 non-profit organisations in the country that are part of our technology donation programme. One such example is Misr El Kheir that is harnessing the Microsoft Cloud to accelerate its digital transformation to better support its beneficiaries.
In our efforts to empower women, earlier this year we partnered with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Care Egypt Foundation on an initiative that will contribute to social, economic and human capital development in the country. This will take place by equipping the upcoming and existing female workforce with future-ready skills.
As part of the ‘Qodwa Tech’ initiative under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology’s Central Department for Community Development, the effort will focus capacity building for women in digital fields of study. It will strive to encourage female entrepreneurship, as well as enable them to work across the country’s public and private sectors, including in heritage handicrafts. It is also aimed at raising awareness on AI and other technologies among the nation’s female workforce.
From a sustainability perspective, Microsoft has partnered with MCIT to implement AI in the country’s agricultural sector. The effort is part of Microsoft ‘AI for Good’, and aims to transform traditional methods of agriculture through the application of artificial intelligence techniques. These will contribute to rationalise decision-making to optimise the use of water resources and reduce waste.
Globally, we have long been committed to environmental sustainability. Since 2012, Microsoft has operated on a 100%-carbon-neutral model around the world. By 2030, Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 we will remove all the carbon the company has emitted since it was founded in 1975.
Moreover, 100% of the energy for the carbon-emitting electricity consumed by our data centres, buildings and campuses, will shift to renewable energy by 2025.
We are not building technology for the sake of technology, but to ensure it is inclusive, trusted, and empowering.