Microsoft South Africa – Windows of Opportunity

Microsoft might be the most recognisable ICT brand name out, with around 78% of the world’s computers running on its software, as that world becomes more online and cloud-based, their platforms and tools are becoming more essential than ever.

“We all live in the technological era that we call ‘the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge’, wherein there is a constant stream of data that flows back and forth between the cloud and intelligent devices that sit on the edge (connected devices with built-in intelligence),” explains Lillian Barnard, the Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa. “In South Africa, Microsoft is committed to accelerating the pace of digital transformation, in a trusted and responsible manner, through key investments to realise the economic impact. We believe that by investing in right infrastructure, innovation and skills development, we have the trifecta for enabling business, Government and citizens in South Africa to benefit from the current technological era.”

Barnard is in the perfect position to take this new era head-on. She is a seasoned professional with proven capabilities and a strong understanding of the local market. She was appointed as the Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa in March this year, having served with the company for almost two years after joining them as Public Sector Director for South Africa in May 2017. Before coming to Microsoft Barnard already had over 20 years’ experience in the ICT industry. This experience, combined with her deep industry knowledge, positions her perfectly to strengthen Microsoft’s commitment to South Africa and its wishes to drive its digital transformation ambitions and empower governments, organisations and individuals to achieve more.

Strength in Diversity

Barnard has built a reputation as someone who can build strong, high-performing teams that consistently deliver on their financial targets, while also bringing innovative digital solutions to her partners and customers. Having led large teams both locally and abroad, she is recognised for strength in developing people and creating an environment where everyone can do their best work.

Part of the reason for that reputation is that Barnard is passionate about enabling a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. It’s a passion that’s born out of her own experience as the first woman to hold the role of Managing Director in Microsoft South Africa.

“I’m honoured to be the first woman to hold the position since Microsoft reinvested in South Africa in the early 1990s,” Barnard tells us. “I am extremely passionate about the possibilities of technology and how it can transform the industry, empower society and enable economic growth for South Africa, and Africa.”

Microsoft - Building innovation

From the very beginning, Barnard was dedicated to empowering and providing opportunities for people.

“In my first week, I had the opportunity to be part of a momentous occasion where Microsoft launched the opening of state-of-the-art datacentres as well as relaunch our multi-million-dollar investment to create economic opportunities for South Africa through the evolved Equity Equivalent Investment Programme (EEIP),” she explains. “As a global organisation that is committed to finding new ways of empowering people to achieve more, we are constantly evolving and creating change from within, so we can provide the best possible service to our customers.”

Indeed, Barnard believes diversity and inclusivity among your staff are essential to serving an equally diverse market.

“We obsess over what matters to our customers, becoming more diverse and inclusive in everything we do and create, operating as one company instead of multiple siloed businesses and lastly, to making a difference in the lives of each other, our customers and the world around us,” she says. “Our business is anchored in a growth mindset. This inspires us to be curious about our customers — learning all we can about their needs and challenges — and then bringing innovative and practical solutions to meet their needs. We believe that by applying a growth mindset, we can change the world; empowering every person and every organisation to achieve more.”

By drawing on her own experiences, Barnard is working to create a culture that enables people to bring their authentic selves to the workplace and be embraced for that individuality. She has been pivotal in re-igniting the South African chapter of Women@Microsoft and spurring a culture that encourages gender equality in the workplace.

Technology for Today’s Challenges

Of course, with a diverse customer-base come diverse problems, and Microsoft South Africa is working to adapt to the socio-economic needs of South Africa in a number of ways.

They have always been committed to working with public and private sector partners to develop programmes and solutions for tackling some of South Africa’s key socio-economic challenges.

“We have already seen the power that technology can hold in terms of solving some of the world’s most challenging issues, and we strongly believe that emerging technologies, like the intelligent cloud and AI, have the potential to accelerate the impact and solve some key challenges,” Barnard says. “We have evolved our business and our programmes to ensure that we are leveraging the benefits and power.”

You can see a fantastic example of how Microsoft does this through its Equity Equivalence Programme.

Barnard explains, “Over the course of the programme, we identified, selected and engaged with eight, small, black-owned Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), with the primary objective of developing them through targeted investments based on their specific needs, IP development requirements, the market they operate in and international expansion strategies.”

This March Microsoft announced a new, evolved EEIP, which will include investment in technology solutions to enable digital transformation in agriculture and manufacturing, two sectors where key government priorities and Microsoft focus areas overlap. Microsoft’s EEIP is funding skills development among South Africa’s young software developers and demonstrating Microsoft’s commitment to digital transformation, skills development and experiential learning.

Moving forward, Microsoft South Africa’s goals are clear.

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