How Microsoft SA's new boss will steer ship

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Microsoft South Africa's new MD Lillian Barnard.
Microsoft South Africa's new MD Lillian Barnard.

Newly-appointed Microsoft SA MD Lillian Barnard is looking to take advantage of emerging technologies to drive the business forward, while her predecessor Zoaib Hoosen says he played a pivotal role as the company underwent global leadership changes when he took over.

This week, Microsoft SA announced the appointment of Barnard as its new managing director, replacing Hoosen who resigned after nearly five years at the helm of the local operation.

ITWeb spoke to Barnard, who will take over as MD on 1 March, about her plans in her new role, and Hoosen about his career highlights at the software company and what his plans are for the future.

Barnard joined Microsoft in May 2017 and the company says she was "immediately earmarked as a potential successor to Hoosen".

She has more than 20 years' ICT experience, having been in leadership roles both in South Africa and internationally.

Succession plan

Microsoft South Africa's outgoing MD Zoaib Hoosen.
Microsoft South Africa's outgoing MD Zoaib Hoosen.

Although Hoosen would not disclose his immediate plans after his resignation, he pointed out that he had to make way and find new challenges because of Microsoft SA's succession plan at leadership level.

"I've been in the business for almost five years. So now we were thinking about the succession plan and what we should do next. For me, it was time to take on new challenges," Hoosen said.

"Looking back at my time at Microsoft, the company had changed its global leadership from Steve Ballmer to Satya Nadella when I took over here in South Africa. The business went through a big shift that time. So for me, that transformation of business and culture is what we managed to accomplish as a business."

Hoosen was a finalist in the Institute of Information Technology Professionals SA's 2016 IT Personality of the Year Award. He said he focused on Microsoft SA being the productivity and platform business for the cloud-first, mobile-first world of today, striving to empower all people and businesses to do and achieve more.

On her plans, Barnard said: "I've been with the business over the last six quarters, and if I look at the company from a business point of view, Microsoft South Africa is in a strong position. We have about five months before the closing of the financial year. If I look at the forecast, I would describe it as healthy.

"The next five months will be about making sure we continue to drive the strong momentum that we currently have in the business," she noted.

Cloud gap

Barnard believes cloud computing presents the biggest opportunity for Microsoft in SA.

"Public cloud services are set to triple in the next five years. This is because a lot of businesses are looking to drive innovation from cloud services. So we think public cloud will be a big revenue-generator."

It was expected Microsoft would open data centre facilities in SA last year. However, the company missed its self-imposed deadline and pushed the date to this year.

Barnard said the company is focusing on bringing the right solutions to its customers in the country.

"We are working on bringing the enterprise-grade data centres in South Africa in 2019. We believe these data centres will have a big impact on our economy and that's why we are focusing our efforts to make sure these data centres are available this year."

According to Microsoft, the new facilities would provide highly available, scalable and secure cloud services across Africa with the option of data residency in SA. The cloud services include Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics 365. With the SA expansion, Microsoft will have a total of 42 announced Azure regions.

"Some of the technologies that we think will also make an impact on the local market include mixed reality, which is a combination of augmented and virtual reality; artificial intelligence; Internet of things; blockchain; and big data. We believe these emerging technologies will have a profound impact on transforming businesses in this country," she added.

Skill sets

On the challenges she expects in her new role, Barnard cited the fourth industrial revolution. "Those things that we often talk about as opportunities, especially emerging technologies, can also present challenges.

"If you think about our own country, it's about what are we going to do to make sure we continue to build the requisite skill sets so that South Africa can continue to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution and become an emerging giant in this space. How we will skill our people to prepare them for the job of the future will also be a challenge," she pointed out.

Prior to joining Microsoft, Barnard served as chief sales officer at Vodacom and worked for IBM for 15 years, seven of which were at the European headquarters in France and Switzerland, where she held many key positions. She has also served on the boards of Vodacom South Africa, Mango Airlines and the Dad-fund non-profit organisation.

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