How has Microsoft Lebanon evolved over the last year?
Microsoft has been transforming the way it does business, its priorities, and its objectives. The most important change has been the expansion of the cloud. The cloud has helped our customers reduce costs and increase their effectiveness. In terms of the local market, we were able to grow despite all that is happening—we are still able to grow the business due to the industries that have remained sound and healthy, such as financial services, retail, and manufacturing. Microsoft is the largest foreign investor in the IT sector in Lebanon today. We are committed to the country by maintaining our investments, by investing in talent, and I am proud to say that Microsoft Lebanon is considered as a main source of talent.
What is your assessment of the progress of the IT sector over the past year?
Unfortunately, there has not been much of a change in most of the sector due to political stagnancy—policies are not being implemented and decisions to make the sector work have been avoided. The entrepreneurial side, nevertheless, is booming as ever. Startups are leading the transformation of the sector in Lebanon and now we must place our efforts in assuring a high level of quality for those startups. The support from Banque du Liban has been crucial in the development of startups with initiatives such as Circular 331, which has prompted a positive coherence between investors, accelerators, and incubators.
How has Microsoft endured the adverse environment successfully?
Our partner eco-system has been key in how we have successfully made it through these harsh times. When I look at the eco-system and compare it to last year, the country has made a big step toward going from providing or consuming IT as a capital investment, to start consuming IT as a service. We have more than 200 partners today in Lebanon, and most of them have transformed into IT service providers to the enterprises and the consumers. They have contributed to the resilience of our operations here.
What role does Microsoft play in the promotion of entrepreneurship in Lebanon?
Part of our mission is to work closely with the Lebanese youth. We encourage employability and entrepreneurship among them through connecting with universities, providing training and free software, and pushing them to start their own business. We organize different projects targeting youth, such as the Imagine Cup, a university competition focused on developing students' ideas, whereby the winner gets to represent Lebanon worldwide. We also have an initiative called BizSpark, which allows startups to have access to our software for free, which helps them develop their ideas on the cloud. This is why we partner with accelerators, with incubators, and with many network partners to help all startups reach their full potential.
How would you assess human resources in Lebanon and what strengths does the country have to become the regional hub for IT?
From a human resources and talent perspective, Lebanon has all the necessary assets to become a regional IT hub. Talent here is often exported, universities are fairly good, and the Lebanese are natural born entrepreneurs. They are also trilingual and work well in international environments. What is needed is much more infrastructure—the great weakness of the sector is that the costs of connectivity and communications are particularly high, which has pushed many companies to neighboring nations. The political situation and insecurity also represent big challenges to overcome before the IT sector here reaches full proficiency.
Microsoft has followed a truly successful strategy in Lebanon. Do you think this strategy can be applied to other countries in the region?
We operate what we call “new markets," namely Afghanistan and Iraq, from our Lebanon office. In those cases, we apply the particularities Microsoft has applied here in Lebanon, looking at their potential and building a partner eco-system to make things work properly. The strategy we have used in Lebanon can be applied to other countries indeed. What we have learned with the time we have spent here is that patience and passion are crucial when working in emerging markets—it is necessary to cope with the adversities that might be present here and then turn those adversities into countless opportunities.
Do you have any new products coming and how successful has Windows 10 been?
Windows 10 is the main driver for more personal computing and is the best Windows ever. It covers all types of devices—mobiles, tablets, PCs, and bigger devices. Its adoption has happened faster than that of Windows 7, and people are responding positively to it. The second pillar is around reinventing productivity through Office 365, which is a mix of the classic Office with email, unified communication, and collaboration services, in addition to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. Then we have the third pillar, namely the smart cloud, which gives customers the possibility to procure their infrastructure or platform as a service, while securing privacy and data protection. These are the main three pillars we are working on.
What are your plans for Microsoft Lebanon in the next year?
We will continue on the same path, working on our partnership network, driving for cloud adoption, and transforming the company to new endeavors. Hopefully the situation in the country will improve and we will be able to be more aggressive in terms of business. This would also allow us to invest more and to fully engage in looking for national development. We could engage in strategic projects with the government to modernize its institutions and provide efficient solutions for citizens and enterprises. We also plan to keep supporting SMEs and the youth and helping them access new technologies, introducing them to the e-revolution, and pushing them to foster their entrepreneurial spirit.