Disruptive technologies and trends such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality (VR) and robotics are the main drivers of growth and competitiveness in modern corporate world. This is what is called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
But Microsoft general manager for Middle East and Africa (MEA) Ibrahim Youssry warns that Kenyan companies appear slow to adopt the latest technology, a development which may hurt their competitiveness in the region and beyond. He spoke to the Business Daily during his recent visit to Nairobi about the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on the growth of companies.
WHAT SPACE IS MICROSOSFT OCCUPYING IN THIS ERA OF FOURTH INDISTRIAL REVOLUTION?
We are a key component because we provide the right technology. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is based on access and hyperscale computing. This is the only way it becomes relevant, impactful and useful to the community. If we don’t use this technology, we are not into the new era. What’s the difference between Africa and the United States, for example? Nothing. It’s the adoption of technology which will make the difference. If we are using technology with the means that we have and can afford and on every product, we can be as productive as any global company.
When I am here, for example, I am as productive as I can be at my workplace with (the help of) cloud computing.
HOW CAN SMES, WHICH ARE DOMINANT IN KENYA, LEVERAGE ON THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY FOR GROWTH?
We are giving access to all governments and private entities, especially the SMEs. This is the working power of any economy. Giving this technology to the SMEs is positioning them at the same level as large corporations. Before they couldn’t afford technologies that were with multinationals. Now, any SMEs will have the same tools, computing power and technology like any multinational. As Microsoft (for instance), we have artificial intelligence in every solution through our hyperscale cloud computing. Using it is part of using technology, embracing it and being productive and impactful.
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE UPTAKE OF TECHNOLOGY BY FIRMS ,ESPECIALLY IN KENYA?
I am not happy to be honest. And one of the reasons I came here was to meet with my team to ensure that we are on track. I also be met with partners and customers, both government and private entities, because I believe that we are not quick enough, we don’t see the urgency of using the latest technology.
WHAT IMPACT WILL THAT HAVE ON COMPETITIVENESS?
If these companies are not using it and others are using it, competitiveness will be impacted. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there has to be scale, reach and speed. If you are not using it, you cannot be competitive in the long-term. This is because we will have the multinationals or more agile companies in the region that can come from other countries such as Nigeria, and if Kenyan companies are not taking up this latest technology, they can lose some momentum. Time is really very precious.
WHAT’S DAMPENING ADOPTION OF LATEST TECHNOLOGY?
It’s a complicated story. There’s no clear answer, every customer has own challenges, rhythm, bureaucracy or priorities. But we want to ensure that we provide and make technology available to everyone, and help them make informed decisions. If they don’t see return on investment or the value, we will never force them. I see it in many other countries across the region, and I see that adoption of technology in Kenya can be accelerated. And with the level of maturity of the Kenyan market, adoption of the right technology will bolster growth and position leading companies to become competitive not only in Kenya, but in Africa and beyond. For example, as a farmer if I adopt technology, I can sell products online rather than walk to the market. That’s how technology is powerful and how it can be used to boost competitiveness.
HOW CAN GOVERNMENT SPEED UP THE UPTAKE OF TECHNOLOGY?
Clarity in policy will help. The ambiguity in policy will not helping. The government should be aware that this is a new era, and all countries globally are using the latest technology. As Microsoft, we endeavour to provide the highest levels of security and privacy. But taxing innovation is a bad idea.
WHAT DID YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE AT THE END OF YOUR VISIT TO KENYA?
We are looking to develop our partnership with the government and private entities. But I come frequently to Kenya because it is the main hub for our enterprise business. We have a lot of resources here in Kenya covering the whole of Africa and even Middle East. Partners are a key component and one of the priorities we have is to upscale the partnership ecosystem, allow them adopt and to articulate the technology in a proper way.
We now have Africa Development Centre, which is our Microsoft unit working on product enhancement, research and development that covers our products and projects aspect. It is a hub not only for Africa, but for the Microsoft business in general.
WHAT INFORMED THE CHOICE OF NAIROBI FOR THE INNOVATION HUB?
Basically, it’s the skills that we have here in Nairobi. It’s a very welcoming country, it’s politically and economically stable, and it’s growing. The quality of education is one of the best in Africa. It’s a combination of many aspects that informed this choice.