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By: Attilla Szenvedi, Applications & Services Business Group Director, MEA

Over the past decade, Africa has achieved an economic growth rate of over 5 percent, according to the World Economic Forum.

However, consistent growth rates have not yet impacted large parts of the African population. Many African people continue to live in poverty and income inequality in the region remains among the highest in the world.

Furthermore, productivity levels across the agricultural, manufacturing, telecommunications and utilities sectors remain low. African economies urgently need to make more productive use of their workforces to sustain economic growth, create quality employment, and turn this progress into sustainable and inclusive growth.

 What’s hindering productivity in Africa?

The right tool for the right job

Businesses that embrace technology grow twice as fast. However, not all productivity tools are created equal. Some are better suited for certain tasks than others, and different employees will need different tools, devices or apps to get work done efficiently.

Office 365 is a great example of a simple and affordable tool that gives employees the freedom to work when, where and how they need to – on their favourite devices. Among a host of other great features, Office 365 makes meetings easier to set up while allowing for easy sharing of desktops, annotation of presentations and recording of meetings.

Forrester recently conducted a Total Economic Impact study to examine the potential return on investment (ROI) small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) may realise by deploying Office 365. Besides experiencing a 152 percent ROI, a 13 percent increase in efficiency when conducting meetings and a 13.5 percent reduction in time spent making informed decisions, the organisations also reported other benefits to their business. These include reduced costs on IT expenditure, less time spent travelling to meetings and improved collaboration both online and offline.

Africa’s largest roofing material producer, Mabati Rolling Mills (MRM) based in Kenya, the flagship company of SAFAL group, adopted Office 365 to help the business improve productivity, manage collaboration regardless of whether an employee is in or outside the office, while simultaneously guaranteeing a stable and secure environment for workers.

“With Microsoft Office 365, our people will experience a more dynamic and mobile work environment. With the service, we have the added benefit of working together with familiar tools on almost any device and can make quicker decisions when needed,” says E.V. Rao, MRM General Manager, Marketing.

Microsoft has also just announced the general availability of Microsoft Teams, a new collaboration workspace in Office 365 that brings together people, conversations and content. In the current landscape, people collaborate and are part of more teams than ever before. Gone are the days where people work in isolation on certain tasks. The new tool is set to revolutionise teamwork by helping people work together more effectively to manage collaboration tasks across more teams. Microsoft Teams is now available to Office 365 business customers in 181 markets, including the Middle East. Since announcing the preview in November, more than 50 000 organisations worldwide have started using Microsoft Teams to improve productivity and collaboration.

 Empowering people to reach new levels of productivity

Organisations have an opportunity to improve productivity by modernising the ways people collaborate and share information using technology. Technology is a key enabler in facilitating the evolution of productivity by providing seamless, always available services that allow people to leverage new processes and collaboration techniques. Business owners are increasingly realising that reaping the full business value from their digital transformation efforts, requires them to use these technologies while also driving transformation of their company culture.

 Understanding collaboration and productivity technology

While procuring the right technology is an important step in the right direction, implementing these tools effectively across any organisation is vital to reaping the benefits these new ways of working bring. It’s equally important that software providers produce software that’s easy to understand. Microsoft has recently made some improvements to the Office 365 administration experience to ensure this is the case.

The Office 365 Learning Center is an invaluable tool to help organisations leverage the benefits of these new technologies by providing demo videos and step-by-step guides on all of the features and benefits of Office 365.

 Security benefits

In an age where security breaches dominate headlines, managing security risks in an enterprise or small business is, and must be, a priority. Leveraging the security and compliance capabilities of large cloud providers such as Microsoft will provide more resilient security capabilities than organisations will be able to achieve with smaller on-premises datacentres.

Just last month, Microsoft announced several new security features for Office 365 which take advantage of state-of-the-art machine learning and the intelligent cloud capabilities.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and productivity for the future

As we head deeper into the 21st century, we must be cognisant of how the future workforce want to work. I expect we’ll see artificial intelligence dramatically boosting economic growth and productivity.

Office 365 already has some built-in AI features to automate many tasks. For example PowerPoint and Sway have a QuickStarter functionality that prepares a curated outline in response to a topic chosen by the user. Excel can turn raw geographic data into maps powered by Microsoft’s Bing service, and Microsoft MyAnalytics is another feature with in-built AI that lets you track your personal productivity.

As we look to the future I expect we’ll see more of this evolution around social collaboration and an even richer experience of being able to work from anywhere, at any time with anyone.

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