By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor
Microsoft’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer for Middle East & Africa Multi-Country Cluster (MEA MCC) covering North, West, East & Southern Africa, Levant & Pakistan countries, Chrystèle Dumont says together with her team, she is working tirelessly to realize the company’s mission of empowering every person and every organization in the region to achieve more. In this interview, she explains what the company is doing to maximize the opportunity the 4th industrial revolution presents, data development and the skill sets that can give Africans a chance in the new revolution.
What does it feel like, combining two top positions like COO and CMO for a company like Microsoft?
My role is mainly to ensure that from the solutions perspective, we have a thorough plan in place to serve our customers and partners. This rings true from top organisations in the market to small and medium businesses.
In-addition to this, I also lead and drive the marketing team, ensuring that they gain a thorough understanding of our plans. The interesting part of the challenge is to remain at the core of how we are enabling our customers, our markets, through our top range of technology solutions.
We make sure we are providing the right resource along with the right skills needed to upskill them.
Digital facilitators like Microsoft are at the centre of the much talked about 4th industrial revolution, what does it have for a growing digital economy like Africa?
I strongly believe that for Africa and indeed Nigeria, the 4th industrial revolution is a key vector and enabler of economic growth. For example, with technology like AI, it’s said that by 2020 more than two million jobs will be created within the Middle East and Africa. This has the potential to have unprecedented positive impacts on overall economic growth. I also believe that with the potential of implementing digital information across Africa with different customers, that the continent will ultimately leapfrog some steps that other markets have needed to pass through.
This can solve some very pressing challenges that markets in Africa currently face, such as to optimising agriculture based on sun sets, crops, frequency, weather and the use of analytics for data with the purpose of not only predicting better planting seasons, but also to, optimise the agricultural sector.
Skill appears to be the connecting factor between data revolution and digital revolution. Do you think Nigeria has got the right skills to go into digital revolution?
Yes, Nigeria is well on its way to make progress in this regard. In fact, outside of Africa exists a lot of digital scarcity in those technologies we are talking about.
So, it is not an African or Nigerian problem, it’s a worldwide problem. To provide you with some insight, we know that through digital revolution, there is a lot of things that are going to be automated and this will ultimately impact jobs that are repetitive or low.
It’s estimated by the Worldwide economic forum that 66 million jobs will be eliminated by 2025. However, through the digital revolution, 133 million jobs could also be created – this is where the topic of skills enters the conversation. Today, 60 percent of the young graduates that are unemployed is mainly because of lack of digital skills.
Where does Microsoft come in?
At Microsoft, we have a very strong mission on providing skills, across ages, to markets that we are operating in. We achieve this through various programmes created for our own customers. We have launched a skills initiative, the Enterprise Skill Initiative – where we work with our customers and plan with them – based on their own projects and technological experiences and digital transformation journeys. They get certified at the end of those training courses.
We also have a plan where we sign up top management of companies to support them in delivering AI strategy within their Digital Transformation plan, with the AI Business School.
For our partners, we have what we call the partner accelerator framework which serves as a Bootcamp on onsite and online courses to get them properly immersed and experienced in our technologies.
Furthermore, Cloud Society is a platform where you have free online trainings on the technology of Microsoft that people can access as and when they need. With the support of 4Afrika Initiative, we propose a set of program themes and resources that are dedicated to the development of our markets, through skills, as well as delivering the necessary access to technology and resources to startups, fresh graduates and any other individuals who desire to gain real life experience with new and advanced technologies.
The Nigerian economy is practically run by SMEs. How flexible are these technologies to them, and is this the easiest route for your initiatives to make impact?
We do not only focus on elite or the blue-chip companies – one of the mandates in my role is to be able to make sure we are reaching out to SME businesses, which make up more than 95 percent of each market – and this is where the most potential for economic growth lies. Baring this in mind, our various products tailor to the needs of SME’s as well like Microsoft 365 business editions.
How will digital transformation impact the workspace of the future?
Digital transformation will push Nigeria to have more growth. It will come with a fresh generation of technologies and cultivate a new workforce with different habits.
Locally, there is an abundance of willingness to leverage technology. The gap is around skilling and we are helping to re-skill the current workforce to adopt the technology of today, to be ready to embrace this new way of thinking.
How can we change the perception of the HR function to accept that workers can work remotely?
This is a conversation that we are driving through our modern workplace initiatives to empower employees with modern tools for them to be more productive, creative wherever they are, as we certainly see this as a contributing factor to success in the digital age.
But that is not something that can happen overnight, and we are taking steps ensure that this change is driven.
What kind of flexible regulations should be in place for us to get to where we are going faster?
I think the government in Nigeria has driven a lot progress in terms of modernising policy, adopting modern technology, in enabling productivity, agility and decisions.
For any government to embrace digital transformation it needs a forward-looking policy around data.
How data is collected, stored, used and for what purpose, requires the law. Where there’s no law, the will is vague.
Where will Microsoft’s competence in the digital revolution impact on a country like Nigeria?
Impact will be experienced across all the industries. For example, in Nigeria, Microsoft technologies have helped Sterling bank leverage the richness of their data to understand the customer better.
They are able to get better insight of the customer’s profile, who they are and what they require. This helps the bank to make the right offering to the customers, resulting in better customer service.
After using our cloud technology which is based on the Azure platform, they have seen a significant increase in efficiency and as well in the growth of their service offering.
For a young digital economy like Nigeria, growth is systematic. Do we need industrial revolution or data revolution, first?
For us, it’s just to reposition what industrial revolution is bringing, and why data is part of it. So, what the first industrial revolution provides is the test tools of technology that are able to do things that were, before, not possible at human level.
Today’s technology revolves around the cloud which enables cost-effective and powerful computing capacities.
To your point, it could be said that data is at the center. Data is what will make digital transformation possible from anywhere, meaning, if we’re able to collate data and connect with cloud computing power and artificial intelligence services that analyses this data, extracting some insights in models, in patterns – then we can predict better, take more informed decision that impact the businesses growth.
How ready is Microsoft to enable technologies that’ll see to these predictions?
Microsoft is fully ready and already deploying these technologies in all sectors.
For instance, we help airline operators maintain their aircrafts by deploying our IoT services to enable them to have a full map of the aircraft, maintenance data, issues, and challenges. In so doing they are able to optimize checks before the aircraft embarks on its journey. Ultimately, preemptive action is possible.
There are many examples of this in the continent within Middle East and Africa where we’re really helping our customers to deliver services and achieve powerful impact.
Another example is a Kenya-based start-up M-KOPA, delivering solar power to households, that we supported from the beginning. Today, they have leveraged our Azure services to grow and optimize the services they’re delivering to households in Kenya.