— Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner on Tuesday unveiled an online hub that will give South African small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) access to a range of free products and services from Microsoft and other partners.
The hub, at http://southafrica.biz4afrika.com, is specifically designed to aggregate all the best resources — both IT and non-IT — available to local SMEs. The baseline services offered are free and highly relevant for South African SMEs looking to bring their business online and improve their general competitiveness. The launch offer will provide SMEs with the opportunity to get their businesses online for free for the first year. This includes a free .co.za domain, a free website, as well as free email and collaboration tools.*
Speaking at the launch in Johannesburg today, Turner said the opening of the Biz4Afrika hub was a strategic component of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative announced earlier this year, when the company committed to bringing 1 million African SMEs online in three years’ time. He also noted that this launch was the latest step in the company’s heritage of investing and supporting entrepreneurs across the world.
The launch follows research released last month by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which showed that tech-savvy SMEs created twice as many new jobs and grew revenues 15 percentage points faster over the past three years than SMEs using little technology.
“Our objective is to help more SMEs transition to, and benefit from, modern IT so they can improve their overall competitiveness,” Turner said. “Our commitments under the 4Afrika banner are focused on actively engaging in Africa’s economic development, and for SMEs this means providing training on how to apply technology to their business and helping them understand how they can benefit from a broad range of available devices and services.”
Microsoft South Africa managing director and vice chair of the 4Afrika Advisory Council Mteto Nyati said the research underlined Microsoft’s belief that the best way of addressing unemployment in South Africa, and Africa, is by creating small businesses.
“If we can help small companies succeed in the first three to five years of their lives, we will help grow job creation and economic development significantly,” Nyati said. “By doing this, we’re supporting government’s national priorities of creating jobs, growing skills and giving people meaningful work, while investing in local communities to help remove some of the systemic barriers that hold SMEs back.”
Nyati said that to further support the development of small enterprises and to help address employability, Microsoft will also place one 4Afrika intern in each of the Small Enterprise Development Agency’s 43 centers across the country, where they will receive on-the-job-training on technology and other SME-related issues to become fully fledged SME business and technology advisors in needy communities.
Speaking at the launch of Biz4Afrika, Yusuf Abramjee, Primedia Broadcasting head of communications and head of Crime Line, said “a lot” hinges on getting South Africa’s entrepreneurial culture right.
“South Africa is a society of extremes. A glittering modern consumer culture sits alongside — and just out of reach of — a society mired in dire poverty,” Abramjee said. “South Africa’s unemployment rate, at 25 percent of the workforce, is one of the worst in the world. There is growing recognition that the job creation outcomes of economic development are not solely about putting unemployed people to work for a wage, as important as that is, but about offering those presently excluded a stake in society.”
The BCG report revealed that high-performing SMEs stayed ahead of mainstream IT adoption, riding new waves of advancement to improve productivity, connecting with new customers and markets, particularly outside their own region or country, and competing with much larger players.
An interesting finding was that technology leaders in emerging markets grew jobs and revenue faster than in developed markets, and are even quicker than their developed market counterparts to embrace new tools. Also, women-owned firms are among the most technically advanced, innovative and successful firms interviewed.
But at the same time, Turner said, the research revealed a risk, because adoption of IT by SMEs is decidedly uneven.
“Across the world, many SMEs, and their customers, don’t have access to modern broadband networks, and many lack the skills to get the most out of IT. Many SMEs are also still using large amounts of old and less efficient hardware and software,” Turner said.
“What we are seeing is that technology can help level the playing field for groups with historical disadvantages in business, and we would like to see more SMEs benefit from technology to help them become strong, local business leaders.”
* Connect-time charges may apply.
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