Microsoft Partner Summit, Durban – Makng its intentions clear that it wants to be a major player in the telecommunictions arena, Microsoft SA yesterday announced a partnership with Vodacom Business whereby customers will have access to business software services on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Mteto Nyati, MD of Microsoft SA, says the company has traditionally had a lower penetration into the telecoms operators and that this is a situation he is looking to change. The deal struck yesterday with Vodacom Business is just such a case.
"We think we have a huge opportunity to help telecom companies as voice revenues come down by helping them to save on their costs," Nyati says. "We can also help them get into the data space. We've always been good in the SMB sector and we're now intent on moving up to the enterprise, and telecoms operators need solutions that they can host.
"This partnership with Vodacom Business is strategically very important for us as we move forward, both as a customer and as a channel into this market."
The partnership will see the mobile provider positioning itself to act as a virtual Chief Information Officer (CIO) for many businesses by offering bundled business applications along with its mobile voice and data offerings.
Vodacom will offer Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange, the de facto email and collaboration solution for business, and Hosted SharePoint, a document collaboration and information management solution, via its data centre. Companies can then access those solutions according to their needs and be invoiced by usage.
According to Wally Beelders, the executive director of Vodacom Business, the driving force behind the move is that modern businesses need more than phone lines and Internet connections.
“Voice-over-IP, Web hosting, email, instant messaging, collaboration, and managed security services – such as data backup and firewalls – are fast-becoming integral to business,” he says.
“While almost all SMBs recognise this, the challenge has long been price. Small companies cannot invest huge amounts in technology. That’s why Vodacom Business has teamed up with Microsoft to effectively provide a pay-as-you-go way to access these critical business applications.”
For larger companies, including top 500 corporates, the value proposition is also strong.
“With fibre deployments and broadband becoming much cheaper and mail becoming commoditised, we can effectively outsource a large corporate’s collaboration and messaging requirements more cost-effectively than they can. Over time, this eliminates the need for in-house skills, infrastructure and licensing,” says Beelders.
Nyati says that hosted offerings will make it easier for SMBs to benefit from solutions often reserved for larger enterprise companies.
“This move means SMBs can build their businesses without having to make a significant, upfront capital investment in their own infrastructure, server hardware, facilities, or support staff,” he says.
“For larger companies, we’re also anticipating strong demand -after all, in the current economic downturn, cost savings and productivity enhancements are more important than ever. Companies that invest in innovative solutions during that downturn look set to emerge strongly – we think this news will make a tangible difference.”
For Vodacom Business, offering bundled services is the way of the future. Plans are already afoot to provide cloud-based services such as Hosted Office Communications (an integrated presence and VoIP solution for businesses) and Hosted Dynamics CRM, a fully-fledged customer relationship management solution.
“We’re making these complex technologies accessible and manageable to a range of businesses,” adds Beelders. “We think the convenience of having a single, reliable point-of-contact for critical communications and collaboration infrastructure can be a very compelling sales pitch.”
The greater Africa region is the next frontier for Vodacom Business’ hosted portfolio – something which could complement Microsoft’s presence across the West, East and Central African region.
“With our acquisition of Gateway Communications, we now have a footprint in 40 countries,” says Beelders. “With the backing of Vodafone we plan on aggressively tackling the African business market, offering them high quality software as a service (SaaS) business solutions at affordable prices.”