Thomas Hansen is the vice president for worldwide small and medium business at Microsoft. He explains why cloud technology and the company's Office 365 suite have been such a hit with start-ups in the UAE and across the globe.
You did a survey about the adoption of technology by start-ups. What were the findings?
One third of respondents said technology is one of the core drivers that made their new business successful. In the past, there was a tendency as a smaller company to do business locally rather than regionally or internationally. The cloud is changing everything in a very, very real-time way. It enables you to collaborate, to communicate, to share with customers and suppliers across the world. A tough economic climate is not good for anyone but on the flip side it's been good to see that a new set of small businesses were formed.
Microsoft launched Office 365 in January last year and you say it has been widely adopted by small and medium enterprises. Did you cater to SMEs before Office 365 came along?
This is a business we have been in for more than 30 years - since the inception of Microsoft. It's a multimillion-dollar business, a super healthy business. Office is the Microsoft product used most by SMEs out there. A big change that is taking place in the industry right now is the fundamental change from companies trying to get IT solutions in place that are on-premise - software running on their servers on their PCs - to solutions that are running in the cloud.
Does being able to access the cloud change the way SMEs work?
Office 365 gives you the best Excel, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint in the Cloud. It's Office coupled with a number of business services: email, collaboration software that allows you to work on shared documents or presentations with colleagues, as well as high-definition video conferencing. One user can access those applications on five different devices. I can gain access through the cloud to all Office files, presentations, Word documents and emails I have sent or received on any device. That means anywhere you are, you can be productive. The beauty of the cloud is that these servers are run by Microsoft global data centres around the world. In the past, this was only for customers that were larger enterprises, who had the manpower and money to afford very expensive infrastructure servers and IT departments.
How much does this cost?
I'll give you prices in US dollars: it's about $6 per month. You can add some additional features to the package so it goes on to a higher rate. But the reality is, for $6 a month you can get an IT solution that previously only Fortune 500s [companies] could afford.
And are customers buying?
Office 365 is the fastest growing product in the history of Microsoft to get to a billion dollars of turnover. We've never seen a product get to this scale this fast. Here in Dubai, we are seeing customer adoption across the board from small companies up to the largest of the large Emirati companies such as Emirates Airline.