Full interview with Jan Muehlfeit, Vice-President of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa

Jan Muehlfeit hopes Microsoft can help ICT in
New Member States develop by building e-government services and
empowering small businesses to become more competitive. He says
Microsoft recognises that “both open source and commercial
software are now vital components of the IT
ecosystem”.

Mr Muehlfeit, you are from the Czech
Republic and have a senior role in the
pan-European organisation of a large company.
Do you consider you national background as a
plus, a minus or neutral? Does enlargement
offer new opportunities for central Europeans
wishing to embark on a corporate
carrier?

Frankly, I consider myself to be a European
with a Czech heart. Coming from the region has
some obvious advantages in my role; I
understand languages, mentality, cultural
differences of people and customers.
Historically in Central and Eastern Europe the
technical education was always at a very high
level, but after the changes 15 years ago,
there was a shortage of sales and marketing
educated individuals. In fact, I had a
technical education myself. Whatever I’ve
learned in business, marketing and management,
it was in real life experience rather than in
school. My tenure of 11 years at Microsoft is
the best MBA you could have. I am happy and
proud to be one of the first executives from
Eastern Europe to advance to such senior
leadership position at a multi-national company
and I believe that based on the potential of
this region there will be more and more
opportunities for talented individuals in the
future.

According to the latest forecasts,
New Member States will account for the most
part of Europe’s growth in ICT in the
next few years. How is Microsoft planning to
reap the benefits of this foreseen
development? Will EU membership alone help
(opening of the internal market) or are there
other initiatives that should be taken at EU
level to further develop ICT there?

While the ICT industry in CEE is already
strong and has already experienced some
tremendous growth over the past years, as a
total our markets are still lagginging behind
the more matured Western Europe. For the EU
Enlargement countries there will be cohesion
funds available and we’ll continue to see
how IT can help countries to catch up in
e-government or local government projects,
empower Small and Medium Business to become
more competitive and create more opportunities
and bigger market for companies from both
existing and new EU member states.

The final report on the e-Europe+
Action Plan for acceding countries has
highlighted that 23 per cent of the
population does not know how to use a
computer. How does those statistics influence
Microsoft’s strategy in these countries?
As new Member States leave e-Europe+ and
embark on e-Europe 2005, do you think the ICT
gap between ‘old’ and ‘New’
Member States can be bridged? What would be a
realistic timeframe for this to
happen?

I believe there are several ways how to
achieve this: increasing ICT penetration in
education, which is still not at a sufficient
level; deregulation of telecomunication
industry and availability of Broadband or
penetration of the computer and mobile devices,
are just a few examples.

But in fact the EU Enlargement countries
have been preparing for this historical
milestone and opportunity already over the past
decade. For example it is worth mentioning the
“Tiger Leap” program launched by the
Estonian Government in 1997, which stimulated
penetration of PC and Internet by providing
connectivity from a variety of easily
accessible places. Estonia now claims 30 per
cent PC penetration in households and 47 per
cent of the population using the Internet
regularly. Internet connectivity within schools
and the Public Sector is 100 per cent. Similar
efforts are underway in Hungary, where tax
payers are benefiting from
government-guaranteed “SuliNet-Home
PC” financing scheme. I am therefore very
optimistic that the Enlargement countries can
catch-up in ICT penetration very soon.

Do you think existing European
initiatives on cybercrime are enough (Council
of Europe’s cybercrime treaty, e-security
initiatives at EU level?)

As you know, Microsoft is taking this topic
very seriously and we are playing a leadership
role and cooperating with law enforce ment
agencies across Europe. However these are
challenging times and it will take some time to
address these issues as an industry overall
with strong policy protection and enforcement
Europe-wide and worldwide. We are very
committed to help our governments succeed in
these efforts and we will do whatever it takes
to do so.

What is your opinion after the
e-Europe mid-term report. How does Microsoft
plan to anticipate the next big challenges of
interoperability, open standards and
providing quality content online? Do you
think common standards for ICT
interoperability foreseeable in the near
future in the same way as 2G enabled the mass
market take-up of mobile telephony?

Through XML and web services we are showing
cooperation with open standards. As an industry
leader we are determined to continue promoting
open standards while believing in the
commercial software model, which is ultimately
creating the commercial partner eco system.
Studies show that for every for 1 USD generated
by Microsoft, there are 8 USD generated by our
partner ecosystem. That is indeed a very strong
argument favouring the commerial software
model, especially taking into account the
positive impact on taxes, new jobs etc. At the
same time, please keep in mind that for example
only the commercial software vendors have
enough resources, and the incentive, to ensure
that their software undergoes the best and most
comprehensive security testing available.

What is your position on open source
software and e-government plans in Eastern
Europe. Are Microsoft’s IP rights at
risk?

Software piracy is still high, and there are
countries, where it is very high. Both
education and presence of copyrights
legislation and its enforecement are and will
be essential in protecting any software
vendor’s intellectual property, including
ours. We also recognize that both open-source
and commercial software are now vital
components of the broader IT ecosystem.

What impact do you think the entry of
the 10 new Member States will have on Public
Affairs in Brussels? How is the ICT industry in
Eastern countries positioning itself?

ICT industry is already performing an important
role: it’s percentage of GDP is very high.
We can play a role of a positive engine and
enable our government, customers and partners
be very successful in the New Europe. Real
difference is when you compare not major banks,
but Small and Medium Business that are still
lagging behind Western Europe and I believe
that’s where we have a very strong story
to tell and we know how to help them grow. See,
our customers expect more from Microsoft than
just features in software. They expect us to
deliver real business value. With the New
Europe just ahead of us I am both very
passionate and very confident about the great
opportunities which are opening up both for us
and more importantly for our customers and
partners.  

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