Feb 23 - Mar 01, 2009

When economic hardships translate into diehard struggle of low-income groups to make both ends meet and confine noose of incomes hardly to satisfy basic needs, product with a resolve to satisfy need at a secondary level loses its significance, at least for them. However, if its utilization signals creation of income sources then its relevance ensues in public at large. This relevancy is the underpinning that has stirred Microsoft to enter in Pakistan this time with a new and timely concept of creation of 'sustained social and economic opportunity' through spreading affordable and quality information technology. Outside Pakistan, this is not anew initiative rather taken by Microsoft thirty years ago and aimed at to introduce provision of computer on every desktop. In Pakistan, Microsoft Secondary PC Pilot Program focuses to make available affordably priced refurbished personal computers from Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers across the country.

Ali Hoballah, General Manager Middle East & Africa, Microsoft Unlimited Potential expressed his utterance customers were eager to have quality technology in Pakistan during an interview with PAGE. He was on a visit to launch officially the program in the country. "We understand why one invests in computer in presence of other unfulfilled social needs, but at the same time we have made out relevancy," he replied when asked what brought the extension of the program to the country. Pakistan is one of world's largest importers of technology besides it registers approximately 560,000 PCs refurbished and sold in a year-70 percent of which to home users-, he said referring to an international survey conducted back in 2007. Refurbished computer is not brand new but repaired and overhauled to a certain degree, for example by hard-disk replacement, to function like new one.

The launch in Pakistan likens to international program of Unlimited Potential of empowering underserved strata socially and economically through provision of affordable technology. 'Ideally we would love everybody to have PCs in Pakistan. In reality, affordability does not mean that consumers sacrifice on quality, he said adding people need quality technology and 'our stress is on sharing quality experiences with them'. We have covered one billion people under this program around the globe, 'now have set our sight to reach next five billion people to enable them to enjoy socioeconomic benefits of information technology. Microsoft Unlimited Potential focuses to deliver solutions through conducting trainings for teachers so that infusion of technology becomes practical. With assistances of NGOs, governments, and academics, it saddled four million teachers with technology updates in 101 countries according to a company's published paper. Aimed at to developing sustained socioeconomic opportunity and seeing provision of computing solutions beyond low-cost technology, the different MS programs running globally promote solutions to transform education, foster local innovation, and enable jobs and opportunities, it says.

Ali is critical of quality of hardware and refurbished personal computer available for sale in Pakistan. "The level of quality of hardware is not at par with certain standards," he criticized. The program is successfully running in Czech Republic, Nigeria, and South Africa. Saying that refurbished PCs find lucrative market only in emerging and developing economies is sheer misperception, he raised a notion and spelt out that US was one of the top consumers of refurbished computers in the world. 'Getting an affordable computing solution is a basic priority.' Many schools in developed countries are also adequately doing well of the program, he maintained.

Microsoft Secondary PC Pilot Program runs in collaboration with refurbishers who have great experience in the IT industry and resources. While we engage in capacity building and training and development of refurbishers, abiding by rules and codes set by the MS is imperative for them. 'To date we have qualified 20 MARs in Karachi and Lahore.' Once done with modalities names of these MARs will be made public.' Application criteria do not require refurbishers to deposit any money. There are business codes they have to adhere to after becoming a part of MS ecosystem.

Microsoft has a history of localization of resources and it preferably recruits local people, it is another thing that employee has international exposure, he answered lucidly to a question. 'Not us but refurbishers determine prices. And, I'm sure of its competiveness.' We will monitor regularly whether claims are entertained on time. A refurbished PC bears six-month warranty, he said. 'Yes, control over service delivery is difficult when somebody else has permission to sale one's name. Therefore, there will be vigilance. The dispatchers will check if there is any aberration in performances and genuine license holder in operation,' he said while explaining ecosystem faultfinding mechanism.

"The program does not want to brand Microsoft, nor it is splitting its way to hardware," he vehemently replied when asked if refurbished PC carries MS emblem over it. It will be a co-marketing effort that provides packaged computing solution to customers through carefully selected sales-network. Microsoft will attach its flagship services with hardware against discounted price. Up to 75 percent discounts are applicable on preinstalled software in PCs. About software piracy, he said it was an issue built across the world. MS is ensuring to prevent infusion of pirated software worldwide. 'For that, we are reviewing 30 percent reduction in prices of software sold in markets of developing nations,' he hinted.

He could not tell about size of investment pertaining to the program but he said investment would be both monetary and non-monetary. 'It is hard to quantify investment.' He expressed his confidence over positive outcomes of the program in Pakistan. 'Desirable starting of the venture makes us believe that it will be successful. Given the preliminary results, we are sure that we will have substantial market share in refurbished PCs, concluded Ali.