Originally published in the Business Guardian on May 22, 2014.
“Cloud first, mobile first,” Barry Ridgway says emphatically when I ask what Microsoft’s priority strategy is in the Caribbean and Latin America.
“It’s the mission that Satya Nadella has outlined, and it’s our primary strategy in the region.”
Ridgway is new to the role of Vice-president of the Sales, Marketing and Services Group of Microsoft Latin America, but he’s no novice at the company. He’s an 18-year veteran at Microsoft and has taken his first year to properly understand the markets now under his care.
Last week Ridgway made his first visit to Trinidad and Tobago after an earlier trip was postponed and his first mission was to be present at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Microsoft and its community partner Caribbean Industrial Research Institute for the establishment of Microsoft’s first Innovation Centre in the Caribbean.
Microsoft has established 110 centres in 80 countries throughout the world, 20 of which are in Latin America. This is the first centre to be established in the Caribbean region. The Innovation Centre, scheduled for opening in August 2014, will offer capacity building opportunities to the whole Caribbean region.
“Latin America is a big growth engine for Microsoft,” says Ridgway, “and Trinidad and Tobago is one of our biggest markets and a gateway for us to the Southern Caribbean.”
“Microsoft needs a strong hub to build partners who do well in Trinidad and Tobago and in the region. We definitely see T&T as a platform for expanding our presence in the region.”
Talking to the media wasn’t Ridgway’s first priority on this initial visit, he came to visit Government and big Microsoft customers to share the company’s strategy, which has been evolving quickly since Satya Nadella took over the helm of the company.
The company may not have had major successes with Windows Phone 8 in Trinidad and Tobago, but is reassured by its market presence in Mexico, where its share is growing toward 25 per cent of the mobile market with a double-digit presence in other Latin American markets.
Microsoft’s immediate thrust is in improving its push into cloud services under the Azure brand, a platform neutral menu of services that finds its most public presence as Office 365, which also happens to be the company’s fastest growing cloud based service.
Microsoft forecasts that as much as 25 per cent of its traditional Office suite business will move to the cloud and points to 10 million users in Latam who are already using Office 365. Microsoft currently counts more than 1.6 billion Office 365 users globally.
Microsoft T&T recently announced a significant price drop on Office 365 subscriptions, a strategy that Country Manager Frances Correia describes as being one that ensures the company “gets our fair share of the market.”
“The more people who get on the cloud,” adds Ridgway, “the more efficient it becomes.”
Azure, which the company positions as Infrastructure as a service, has experienced 200 per cent growth in Latam over the last year.
Ridgway acknowledges that as a fairly recent player into this specific market it benchmarks its progress against Amazon’s cloud services, noting that it is experiencing faster growth rates than its incumbent competition.
Microsoft is focusing its growth efforts for Azure on small and medium businesses (SMBs) who can make efficient and cost-effective use of the flexibility of such cloud based services.
To that end, Microsoft is investing in ensuring that it provides cloud based infrastructure that’s automated on the back end to ensure quick response and to simplify customer engagement with the system.
Regarding the absence of Microsoft’s Surface tablet from the T&T market, Ridgway noted that “Surface was an iPad competitor, but iOS is not the dominant player in Latam.”
“The tablet market is dominanted by sub-US$200 Android tablets, and we know we need to have products in that space to be properly competitive.”
“A lot of our current strategy is changing the way we think about our products,” Ridgway explained.
In April, Microsoft announced a programme to offer Windows for free on devices with screens smaller than nine inches, “Windows for the Internet of Things,” as the company described it.
“Windows was considered a socket, it was the device and what you add to it. Cloud services are going to become the socket, and the devices will plug into it.”
For that reason, Microsoft’s new emphasis is to drive services that are available cross platform.
“Our devices must be competitive, but our first mission is to have services that are interoperable with the devices that people are using,” Ridgway said.
“We continue to address concerns about cloud based services,” adds Correia.
“We bring subject matter experts to address customer concerns and to build understanding and confidence in the platform.”
“We’re just getting started with cloud opportunities,” Ridgway promised.