Microsoft invests in South African talent

26 April 2010

In one of the biggest equity-equivalent deals seen in South Africa to date, Microsoft is to invest almost half-a-billion rand in the local software industry over the next seven years as part of the company’s broad-based black economic empowerment (BEE) programme.

The deal, announced by Microsoft South Africa MD Mteto Nyati and Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Maria Ntuli in Sandton this week, will see the multinational software giant spending R472-million to help small, black-owned software development companies to grow into global businesses by 2017.

Participants will be chosen from responses to a nationwide request for proposals, slated for issue in early May, and it is expected that between five and 10 companies will be part of the initial programme.

“The country can only be transformed if empowerment plays its rightful role in business,” Ntuli said. “We need to ensure it is linked more effectively to the development of skills, and to growth of local businesses. The Microsoft programme covers both aspects well.”

Enterprise development, job creation

Nyati said the investment would directly address some of the key challenges facing the government and South Africa as a whole – namely creating jobs, developing enterprises, building the local software economy and developing scarce technology skills.

“We’re looking to take existing software development companies and transform them into companies that compete in South Africa and around the world in areas like cloud computing,” he said.

“We want to create a new model for entrepreneurship and set a new benchmark for developing talent in the local software industry.”

It’s anticipated that the deal will take Microsoft from a Level 4 to a Level 2 BEE contributor, subject to the relevant audits.

‘Highest levels of support’

Microsoft Middle East and Africa President Ali Faramawy said at the launch that there was overwhelming support for the move from the highest levels of the company, with global CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft International president Jean-Philippe Courtois and other senior leaders completely behind the move.

“In the conversations with our global leadership team in Seattle, they made it clear that this was South Africa’s moment, and this was the time to step up our commitment to the country,” said Faramawy.

“The best way to do this was to ask the right questions within unique context of South Africa. So we asked: what does the market need? What are the government’s priorities? And what is the greatest impact we can make? The result is the significant investment being made for economic development seen here today.”

Financial muscle, expertise

Arthur Goldstuck, the MD of technology research house World Wide Worx, welcomed the deal as a significant step for BEE in the technology industry.

“This is the first time a major multinational is willing to put both financial muscle and expertise behind the growth of the SME sector, as opposed to a generic offering of money that is not applied to a specific outcome,” said Goldstuck.

“Research from our annual SME survey points clearly to the fact that small businesses that think like big businesses, and use so-called big business tools, are far more likely to be highly competitive in their given field. If this deal is able to give the chosen companies that business approach and tools, it has a good chance of achieving something different in the BEE environment.”

Rigorous vetting process

The selection process kicks off on 28 April with the issuing of the nationwide requests for proposals, inviting black-owned software development companies to apply.

After a rigorous vetting process by external consultants KPMG, the shortlist will be identified, interviewed and selected. Microsoft then hopes to select the finalists and start working with them as soon as July.

Nyati said Microsoft would focus “significant time, energy and resources” on growing the fledgling companies, which would build partners in new, potential high-growth areas and hopefully generate greater competition in the South African technology industry overall.

“We anticipate these small companies will learn and collaborate with our existing partners, and in doing so create new software solutions and approaches for the unique challenges we have in South Africa – and for those of international markets,” said Nyati.

SAinfo reporter

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