International focus driving Microsoft Middle East

Ali Faramawy, head of Microsoft's MEA operations, talks to ITP.net about the development of Microsoft in the Middle East.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  October 2, 2007

itp.net recently spoke to Ali Faramawy, long time head of Microsoft's operations in the MEA about his new appointment, the development of Microsoft in the Middle East and the company's latest technology plans

In June you were promoted to Vice President, Microsoft International with responsibility for Middle East and Africa region - what does this mean to Microsoft's operations in the region?
The move is all part of the evolution of Microsoft in the MEA region, putting us at the same level as Europe and so on. We are moving to a more flat management structure, to reduce the layers between the field and corporate. For me personally, I am part of Microsoft's international leadership team, and I am still responsible for MEA - it is direct contract between MEA and corporate. In the MEA region, we are still enriching our presence, resources and capabilities in many countries, we are making more investment in people in Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Tunisia, Pakistan and so on. Last year we added more than 300 employees in the region.

What is driving Microsoft's growth in the region?
The growth is driven from all over- enterprise grew very nicely, our server products database, messaging, collaboration, integration - the acceptance of Microsoft's direction has been phenomenal. Our business in the government sector has grown very well, and there are tremendous opportunities in the SMB sector, which has been identified as critical for the development of countries.

How do you reach that SMB market, especially with more complicated solutions and applications?
SMBs by their nature have their buying and purchase patterns determined by local partners, so partner awareness is crucial. We have launched partner academies to give detailed training on technology and sales and marketing to help develop these. Along with readiness, we find that we are more convincing for SMBs with the approach that affordability and reliability have to go hand in hand. Certain applications are very useful for smaller and medium businesses - usually the myth is that enterprises are more sophisticated users, but the need for SMBs to get the best return on their investment is very pressing, and we see some incredible improvements that can be achieved by SMBs very quickly at the office and desktop level. Areas like accounting, customer management, inventory, marketing and so on - with our partners we are going to SMBs and emphasizing what they can do to improve their business.

Partners from the Middle East were recently recognized at Microsoft's global partner awards - is this an indicator that partners in the region are improving?
I think it reflects how our overall aspiration to have more expert partners is developing nicely at a global level. The finalists of our worldwide partner awards included two partners from Turkey, one from the UAE, two from Egypt and two from South Africa, with winners from Egypt and the UAE.

Where do you see the next big development in computing?
What we believe, where we are leading our efforts to, is where software plus services will be the cornerstone of real life computing. As a company we have to be able to give users smart tools to compute anywhere, anytime and to offset some of their routine tasks, by handlings some services on their behalf. We imagine an environment where the software is contracted to the user, a lot of computing tasks are done on their personal machine, a lot are done automatically at the server level and by the hosting provider, and then a lot is also done in the cloud - rich, internet applications.

It is not a new message - when we first began talking about .Net, the whole vision Bill Gates presented was much more would be done on the web than just browsing and websites. We are looking at being able to do more on your behalf it is an emerging eco-system.

Google is quite clearly moving into the office applications space, how do you feel about competition there?
Competition at any level is always more than welcome, it makes sure we improve and don't relax. What we offer is customer confidence, that we will meet their varying needs, with the richness and quality of the solutions we offer. The growth in our business in the past two years has been faster than the previous few years, I think that shows the richness of what's on offer from Microsoft, and that we are on right path.

Is Vista on the right path in the region?
Our desktop business with annual licenses has not slowed, and our business with new PC sales has not slowed either. We see more and more demand for Vista, and very little demand for non-Vista operating systems, we particularly don't see much demand in the market for open source - again, I think that's an indicator of what the customer wants.

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