Microsoft and the Cape IT Initiative (CITi) have launched an interoperability laboratory to meet the needs of technology-starved small businesses, entrepreneurs, developers and students in the Western Cape, and drive skills development in the IT sector.
Situated at The Bandwidth Barn, a local technology incubator and business accelerator, the Microsoft Innovation Centre (MIC) Interoperability Laboratory will combine various software approaches to assist in developing solutions for various sectors within the local economy.
The initiative is also aimed at start-ups and incubators that want to take their products and services to market in the near future.
Viola Manuel, executive director of CITi, says the CITi 2007 census highlighted the lack of access of SMMEs to ongoing research and development opportunities as they develop software, and the MIC Lab has the potential to make a meaningful change in this regard.
"We support the Lab because it brings the community together and encourages collaboration. Its technology-neutral approach gives users far greater choices in their use of IT, and makes technology access far easier to SMMEs across a range of industries," says Manuel. "We encourage students, established development houses and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the facility as much as can."
David Ives, Microsoft SA's Developer and Platform Strategy lead, says a key focus for the Laboratory will be to provide users with IT resources and a location to develop skills and employment opportunities.
"This facility is a reply to users who have always asked how our platform and those from the open source community can be integrated, as many companies operate in mixed environments," says Ives.
"Too many incubation programmes focus on only providing business skills and infrastructure support. However, given the complex nature of the software development environment, the technical support that the Lab will provide will be vital for local companies to have the best shot at success."
Prof Barry Dwolatzky, the chief executive of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University in Braamfontein, says innovation centres play an important part in developing the vital high-level technology skills that the country's IT industry needs.
"We're trying to produce start-up companies, but the real issue is that we're giving people real skills to take into the industry, whether their companies succeed or not," said Prof Dwolatzky. "High-level technology skills have a multiplier effect on employment: the more highly qualified people there are, the more people with entry-level skills can be absorbed by industry."