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SKILLS AND DEVELOPMENT
By 11 June 2014 | Categories: Skills and Development

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We recently sat down with Clifford de Wit, developer experience director at Microsoft South Africa, who provided insight on the company's approach to enterprise mobility and renewed efforts in the cloud services space. Which is great news for local developers.

The current state of mobility is changing as the rise of effective cloud service solutions has placed a greater importance on accessibility to information on a consumer and corporate level. According to Clifford de Wit, developer experience director at Microsoft South Africa, this is achieved by providing skills and experience to South African startups and developers through government incentivised initiatives as well as partnering them with trusted service providers to ensure Microsoft’s local commitment.

Development is key focus

For Microsoft, the first step in ensuring sustained growth within the South African ICT sector, is the maintenance of the local developer ecosystem from end-to-end. That’s where De Wit and his Developer Experience (DX) team come in to play, as they are charged with taking local developers and startups through the entire lifecycle they would normally encounter, and provide them with the access to Microsoft specific tools and resources.

This mentoring process has two benefits, with fledgling developers gaining vital experience as far as their business acumen, technical skills and competency goes, while also helping Microsoft in fostering relationships and interconnected networks within the South African IT space. A good example of this is Microsoft’s partnership with the Development Bank of South Africa and National Treasury, to provide the necessary capital (roughly R1 million) in order to effectively pair upcoming startups with the necessary incubators to help grow their business or concept.

Cloud services for everyone, on every device

Another integral aspect in developing the local ICT sector is increasing user adoption; on this front the Microsoft DX team is actively targeting three key services - Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Azure cloud services. These areas are intrinsically linked to enterprise mobility and form part of Microsoft’s “Cloud services for everyone, on every device” vision.

This approach to increasing both enterprise mobility, as well as Microsoft’s status as a mobility service provider, is being targeted in two specific ways. The first is through consumer cloud services, which is already an area that Microsoft is well versed in, thanks to its OneDrive cloud application.

In order to ensure the best possible level of mobility, these cloud services and solutions must be accessible across a range of form factors. Microsoft’s Office 365 is another such application which is available across a variety of devices.

The second aspect, which presents a bigger challenge, is enabling developers to build their own solutions for the Microsoft cloud service range. In order to meet this objective, De Wit advocates a simple approach: make sure solutions work on every platform and that they offer value for users. He stressed that this concept may sound simple, but requires a greater deal of tact, as it is vitally important to give developers the capacity to create their own cloud services, “not only in a Microsoft specific way, but in a platform agnostic way.”

De Wit notes that this is where Azure comes to the fore, as it affords developers the ability to bring their own language to the platform. Developers are then left to focus fully on creating “the business logic” of their solution, with ancillary concerns, like data storage, servers and latency issues, put in the hands of Microsoft.

Local Commitment

Microsoft prides itself on being an IT company with a large presence in South Africa, as a result of maintaining close contact with its clients on an ongoing basis. This continuous dialogue from an enterprise standpoint means “you don’t get a different experience here, than you would in Europe and the US”, according to De Wit. He went on to say that Microsoft is not simply a business that sells software, but prides itself in ensuring that they invest in the local software economy. An illustration of this, is the Start Up, Small Business and Medium Business portal designed for the 4afrika investment programme, providing IT solutions and services to small and medium businesses within the African market.

However, one aspect where Microsoft is perceived to be lacking, is the absence of a dedicated data centre in the country. But De Wit is of the opinion that this will soon become a moot point, as Microsoft mitigates this issue through partnering with local data centre service providers like Global Micro Solutions.

Any growing concerns from Microsoft’s end regarding a data centre presence in the country has been largely negated by virtue of the increased levels of connectedness taking place in the Southern African region, with certain Azure cloud service clients expressing that latency rates do not present a problem. De Wit noted that most of their customers who have moved to Azure hosting services, have said that their performance has in fact increased.

Looking forward

Based on recent acquisitions and the change in the mobility space as a whole, the next 18 months will prove to be vitally important for Microsoft, and De Wit tends to agree, as he highlighted some key projects and initiatives piquing his interest. Firstly, on Microsoft’s recent purchase of Nokia’s mobile division, he was very excited to see what new devices will be released in the near future. More specifically the release of devices aimed at targeting certain price points, such as the Lumia 520 for entry-level smartphone users. Then, keeping with the focus of creating a greater level of mobility, Microsoft is making strides in designing applications catered specifically to the South African users experience, such as the voter app developed in conjunction with the IEC.

Lastly, De Wit mentioned Microsoft’s efforts with developers to yield two things in particular. One being the capacity to target multiple platforms through applications such as Cordova and Xamarin, which allow users to design a single ‘source code’ and port it across all operating systems. The other is a renewed focus on the convergence of the client front end experience to ensure that all services and solutions work well on various form factors.

We walked away from our discussion with De Wit feeling assured that Microsoft is certainly keeping its attention firmly fixed on the local ICT market and ensuring the best measures are in place to develop it further at a grassroots level.

Article first appeared in TechSmart Business - May 2014

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