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Market Analysis

Jean-Philippe Courtois (Global) - Technology Has a Crucial Role to Play in Social and Economic Development

At the top of the agenda for this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos was the “Great Transformation.” Short-term economic priorities, such as de-leveraging the West’s debt-burdened economies and the quest for growth must be balanced with longer-term societal challenges such as population growth and youth empowerment. Most are agreed that at a time of rapid change, new models are required. The challenge lies in choosing the right path to transformation.

So how do we remodel our economy in such a way that it meets our evolving needs? I believe the answer is to accelerate our ability to unlock entrepreneurial capacity and talent. Entrepreneurs are important drivers of economic and social progress. Those that can recognize and act on market opportunity are vital sources of innovation and employment. And those start-up companies who rely on technology, or are part of the technology sector itself, often have the greatest opportunities to create the levels of growth necessary for economic recovery. According to IDC, the IT industry will help to create 5.8 million jobs worldwide between 2009 and 2013. Microsoft partner companies alone employ six million people worldwide.

Advances in mobile, cloud computing and data analytics are some of the raw materials that the world’s brightest entrepreneurs need to create wealth, whether that’s as agile micro-businesses, or as the fast-expanding stock market entrants of tomorrow. Of all these technologies, we believe that cloud has the biggest potential to make an impact. According to a University of Venice study, cloud computing could create 100,000 new small businesses in the Euro Zone and a million new jobs. Such promising impact on growth can be attributed to the cloud’s ability to level the playing field for entrepreneurs, enabling companies of any size to gain affordable, reliable and secure access to technology in a convenient pay-as-you-go package, and compete more effectively. For entrepreneurs looking to attract investment, having to spend less on IT acquisition and maintenance is a big advantage.

Technology is also facilitating new ways of working and enabling new business models that take advantage of more flexible and efficient workforces. The cloud, of course, plays a critical role in allowing knowledge workers to access important materials, wherever and whenever they are needed. In addition, the increasing versatility of mobile devices and advances in technology that enable people to interact more naturally with computers are also contributing to rising levels of productivity.

One of the sub-themes at Davos was economic inclusiveness – growth that benefits everybody, not just those at the very top of the pyramid. Economic inclusiveness is not purely about equal distribution of income, although that is a notable benefit. It is about redesigning economies to ensure that all segments of society are incentivised to contribute. One such critical segment is youth.

Youth unemployment reflects a growing opportunity divide – an emergent gap between those who have access, skills and opportunities to be successful, and those who do not. In the Middle East and North Africa, almost one in four young people are out of work. In Spain, that figure rises to 40%. If the youth of today are to become tomorrow’s innovators, both as employers and employees at fast-growth companies, the public and private sectors must join forces to provide young people with the right support, education and skills training they need to take advantage of these new opportunities.

That’s why Microsoft concentrates its efforts on support for young people, through multiple efforts. Our Partners in Learning initiative is a 10-year, global plan to help improve teaching and learning experiences through technology. DreamSpark is another program which provides free professional developer tools for students and educators, and BizSpark is a third example, providing free software and support for entrepreneurs.

I’ve never been more excited by the potential of technology to positively impact society. If the goal is not only growth, but a more inclusive economy, then technology has a vital role to play in ensuring a wider section of society is able to contribute. Whether through the power of the cloud, or advances in human-computer interaction, the impact on society will be profound, unlocking new levels of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

By Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International

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