Latin American Businesses Embrace Agility for the Digital Age

REDMOND, Wash., April 12, 2001 — Business leaders from throughout Latin America are gathering in Miami April 17-18 for the eighth annual Microsoft Latin America Enterprise Solutions Conference 2001 (ESC 01). Under the banner “Leading Through Innovation,” more than 400 executives are discussing the effects of rapid technological developments on the regions businesses and its economies. For 15 years, Microsoft has been a major player in Latin America’s economic development process, providing newer and better products, solutions and services to its business clients. On the eve of the conference, PressPass spoke with Mauricio Santill
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Mauricio Santill
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PressPass: ESC 2001 is the eighth occurrence of this forum for Microsoft corporate clients in Latin America. To what does this event contribute?

Santill

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Its main contribution has been to show users and top executives who make business and technology decisions that technology can be implemented in a Latin American environment in the short term. Attendees come to share their experiences, limitations and challenges. This encourages them to use the best technology available and to leverage their business capabilities. ESC is a forum where we learn things that can be done in Latin America using state-of-the-art technology.

PressPass: What does Microsoft offer to Latin American companies using its technology?

Santill

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Agility. Latin American businesses need agile technological solutions that enable them to respond efficiently and quickly to change. The capability of a business to respond quickly and intelligently goes hand in hand with lower costs and higher profits. Microsoft offers products, solutions and services that enable businesses to develop an agile response capability that will make them more competitive in the digital economy.

The agility Microsoft technology provides will help business customers in Latin America generate higher revenues by reaching new customers and aligning their businesses to better respond to customer needs. It also helps reduce costs and gain internal and external flexibility, enabling fluid responses to changing business conditions. Internally, it will increase employee productivity and empowerment by enabling quick action and decision-making any time, any place, on any device.

Another key benefit of Microsofts technology is a flexible infrastructure combining mainframe stability with PC flexibility under one platform. And it certainly reduces time on implementation, allowing for a sustainable long-term competitive advantage through fast, incremental short-term solutions.

PressPass: Why should Latin American businesses continue investing in IT?

Santill

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Because they need to reduce cost and activate revenue. Having more and better technology helps obtain more sales, provide better service to clients and establish a closer relationship with employees and partners.

However, the regions large corporations are not backwards. Many have very advanced and complete infrastructures that can be compared with those of corporations from developed countries. The technology some of these companies have is surprising. Take Telmex (Mexicos telecom leader) or Correo Argentino (Argentinas postal service) –two examples of leading corporations. The true challenge we face is taking these benefits to the rest of the community, and the way to do it is to create collaboration networks between corporations and the value chains they interact with.

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s proposal for Latin America?

Santill

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We have a value proposal as part of Microsoft bCentral, a set of services aimed at the small business. Microsoft is adapting the bCentral initiative to the needs and conditions of Latin America in order to provide better services and solutions. It provides a cost-efficient way to integrate small businesses with large organizations. We’ve invested more than 10 million dollars in the first year alone, aimed at solving local and regional issues by taking into consideration the lack of infrastructure, know-how and education in these small businesses. The technology, built by Latin Americans and designed for the local market, provides small businesses with simple, high-impact and low-cost access, so that they are able to interact through the Web with medium and big businesses — without having to make large investments. They are also able to look after their specific concerns.

Microsoft bCentral offers accessibility: the proposal is designed for the small businessman — mainly managers, accountants, technicians, etc. — to be able to use a friendly system that will enable them to establish communication with big corporations and the rest of the market. Also, this service central offers small businesses an economic return, based on a relationship that goes further than a simple transaction: for example, that an apple, shampoo or soap producer be able to know exactly how much merchandise is left on the store shelf and when he needs to deliver another shipment.

PressPass: What is the role of big companies in the process of integrating small businesses into the digital economy and IT?

Santill

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Microsoft bCentral enables large enterprises to automate their existing commercial relationships with suppliers and customers, which optimizes administrative processes as well as the exchange of documents along the value chain, to provide value-added services to suppliers and customers. If the big companies do not call upon the small businesses, we will not get to see these advantages put in effect.

Also, large companies should have a strategy for their long-term relationship with small businesses, because if they maintain solely a simple transaction process, the relationship will continue to be the same as it was 25 years ago. The core issue is to help small businesses add technological infrastructure as part of their value chain. This isnt necessarily a transactional chain, nor simply a buy-sell relationship. A value chain can stand for many things. For example, big companies could outsource or hand over certain supply issues directly to the small businesses.

PressPass: How will Microsoft bCentral develop within the region?

Santill

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For historical reasons, investment was made first in Mexico. The presentation took place on March 15 and we expect to reach Argentina in the next 30 days, finishing in Brazil with a basic product at the close of 2001. Other countries will be reached after specific solutions have been designed for their needs. We dont expect to do this right away; this will be a two- or three-year process.

PressPass: How do you see the evolution of Latin American companies in terms of the Internet?

Santill

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It has been a great challenge; they have evolved differently in every sector. The sector that has made most progress in terms of a consumer relationship has been banking, considering that the presence of an Internet connection in a bank office could greatly reduce the cost of a single transaction. Obviously, it would be more profitable for the bank if a bigger share of the transactions would be made via Internet.

But if you analyze other sectors, the outcome will depend on many aspects. For instance, in “personalized” services — such as clothes — consumers want to determine for themselves the quality of products they are about to buy, and this makes it more difficult to think of these products as things to be transacted on the Internet. On the other hand, in Argentina, group-oriented services, such as ordering margarine or Coca-Cola, or vegetables and foodstuffs, can be purchased via the Internet.

PressPass: But some brick-and-mortars are entering the Internet with encouraging results. What are Microsofts solutions for these traditional businesses?

Santill

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There are undoubtedly traditional businesses as well as dot-com companies now entering the Internet arena that report positive results. I believe that businesses that have sound business models will survive in the Internet. Microsofts main contribution is to extend their internal systems to the Internet with our platform. If the technology they are currently using is not ours, it can be easily adapted to expand benefits from the local to the public network. And we possess more and newer technology that enhances the possibility to bolster the Internet infrastructure many businesses have already installed.

PressPass: Since Windows 2000 launched, Microsoft is now in a stronger position in the server market, particularly in the corporate sector. What can a large company expect from Windows 2000 and Microsoft’s other new products?

Santill

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Solutions. Nowadays, infrastructure has been installed using basic and elemental applications, such as e-mail, file transferring, resource sharing, printers, disks, etc. However, people now demand more than just infrastructure, and they want to take advantage of the Web through applications for resource planning, customer service, human resources, etc. We will focus on providing agile and complete technological solutions. A customer can expect a whole variety of potential solutions specifically designed for their countries or their markets.

Press Pass: A change for the user is scheduled for this year with the release of products such as Office XP and Windows XP. What value will these products provide businesses from the standpoint of knowledge workers sitting behind their desks?

Santill

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A critical condition we have detected in the last few years is that business people think of technology in different ways than end users And tat the user often isnt maximizing the use of technology — not using it a 100 percent. The XP family is aimed at maximizing use of technology products. How? In a friendlier environment, having assistance agents and additional tools that allow a user, in the first place, to enter easily into the Internet world, and, second, to use the product much more easily. If an average user uses a product 30 or 40 percent, now he could use it 70 to 80 percent. This spawns efficiency. Furthermore, the possibility of surfing the Web from the software application itself enables a more efficient data-search process. Hence, the main focus of XP products is to improve the users experience.

For some, XP is even more. Windows XP isnt just an operating system with which computer resources and hard-disk applications are more easily handled . It is also the medium through which many users can access countless services outside the PC, such as Internet services.

PressPass: Do you feel that Latin American government authorities should engage in specific efforts toward improving e-business conditions?

Santill

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There are several major initiatives in the region undertaken by the authorities themselves. I deem it critical that, in Latin America, suitable legal frameworks are created to drive Internet trade as well as respect for intellectual property and the promotion of electronic trademarks. There are public policy decisions that ought to be made in full understanding of the new conditions in the market in the context of the digital economy. There are also critical elements in the old economy that are necessary to enhance e-trade in those countries and the entire region — customs and tariffs policies, and logistical conditions, through which the physical distribution and supply of products sold through the Internet may be undertaken.

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