If you were not at the iHub on Thursday the 21st between 6pm-8pm, you missed out on an opportunity to interact with Mr. Louis Otieno- Microsoft’s GM for East and Southern Africa.
Mr. Louis Otieno was quite engaging. He began with a brief background introduction where the audience learned that he studied architecture in the United States. Mr. Louis mentioned that his first pc was an Apple IIc. To support himself while in the US, he applied for a part-time job and started working in a law firm. It had one person working in the IT department at that time. The law firm’s specialty was in helping hospitals take legal action to collect debt from patients who had been treated and not paid their medical bills.
From his description, the way the system worked was that when one got injured/sick and went to the hospital, they had to be treated regardless of whether they had enough funds to pay the bill or not. Billing was done at the end of the treatment. Billing had two forms: self pay and state funding. To qualify for state funding one had to prove that they genuinely could not afford to pay and was also a member of that state. In order for the hospital to reclaim these funds from the state, it was a lengthy process to prove to the state. Majority of the hospitals ended up classifying the debt as bad debt when they had to chase these tedious requirements.
Mr. Louis informed the audience that the law firm developed a system that enabled the collection of : each patient’s social security number, address and work details prior to treatment at registration. This made the tracking system much faster and they were able to recover monies several hospitals had classified as bad debt. As their clientele improved, the law firm developed such a huge data bank that the law firm grew into a data company. By 1997, the firm had grown from less than fifty employees to over 1000 employees and he was VP in IT.
“There is a chain of activities going on anywhere, and chose any, understand they supply chain, ask yourself why you cannot scale from any point.”
Looking around the room filled with developers, Mr. Louis asked how many had read the Kenyan Vision 2030 document. He mentioned that it was crucial if the developers were looking into areas to tap into to create IT solutions and also make a quick buck. Mr. Louis said that in order to tap into any industry, one had to observe that there is a chain of activities going on anywhere, and chose any, understand they supply chain, ask yourself why you cannot scale from any point. It could be boring but you’re making a living, the alternative is it could be exciting, but you’re broke. He urged the community to make a living by pursuing the opportunities available.
A snapshot of his life in 1997: Mr. Louis heard Microsoft in Kenya was doing some great work, so when he visited Kenya he got several interviews with them. Around that time he had just had first daughter and first house. He got an offer to work with Microsoft Kenya. While Mr. Louis was still thinking about whether or not to accept the Microsoft job, his then boss advised him to try out the Microsoft Kenya Job. One of his first projects was creating a Swahili version of Microsoft windows in Kiswahili. Mr. Louis has championed several developments like formalizing various partnerships, advocating for Intellectual property rights and copyrights among others, And the rest is history.
His title remains the same however in the 15 years the work has evolved. He has proceeded to expose himself and Microsoft to the rest of Africa.
During the Question and Answer session, see below some answers to some of the questions asked.
1. Who were your role models growing up?
His dad- doctor, mom- in banking, successful manager, made some talented friends from Lenana School. Outside Kenya: Lance Armstrong, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates among others.
2. Have you met Bill Gates?
Yes, first time they met was at a conference in New Orleans. Professionally, once a year during the first week of April every year they meet with the team leads.
3. What were your challenges?
He sees so many problems and he knows they can be solved. He advised the audience : ” Come up with one thing that you can apply all your energy, talent, solve it and get things forward. ” Challenges in Kenya- we don’t have one number that can be used to identify people- we use ID, passport numbers.etc. If there was a simpler way to identify someone and verify his details that would make life much simpler. How we can apply some working international standards into our systems.
4. Please emphasize why you think a document like vision 2030 is important for the community to read?
[www.Vision2030.go.ke] The quickest thing to do is find out what projects are going on, then plug yourself in, offer your services. We have the assets, the labor, we have the labor, and we just need to move up the chain.
5. What is Microsoft doing in terms of helping Kenyans be more innovative? When recruiting, how does Microsoft nurture graduates/ developers who don’t have experience in the field?
As an entrepreneur, he sees the general trend moving towards the area of service development and supply chain. Microsoft has Imagine Cup, an international competition for innovation. DEMO will be in Kenya on the 22nd. At the World Economic Forum in May 2012 they announced lions@frica. It is a platform to give developers an opportunity to present what they have done to venture capitalists. Developers are encouraged to register. Mr. Louis also sits on the enablis board- for east Africa. An Engine for growth in Africa around entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship fails because the person with the ideas is not business survey. It provides funds for ideas insurance and matches them with an experienced entrepreneur who mentors them at early stages.
See you at the next fireside chat!