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Microsoft Slovenija Boss Argues Slovenia Needs More FDI (interview)

Portoroz, 31 May (STA) - Director general of Microsoft Slovenija Biljana Weber has told the STA on the sidelines of the company's annual NT conference in Portoroz that Slovenia needs to attract more foreign investments, as its record in this department is rather modest.

Weber, who previously worked at another US computing giant IBM, says that "foreign investments in Slovenia have never been very high, but right now they are at an extremely low level". Some surveys put Slovenia among the countries with the lowest shares of foreign investments.

She argues that Slovenia needs some boldness in introducing new approaches and innovation, both in terms of services and products. The Slovenian economy has long generated its growth from the local market and SE Europe, which is now in a very difficult economic situation.

Now Slovenia needs to focus on new markets. "This is very hard, because entering foreign markets costs a lot, but the examples of the most successful Slovenian companies confirm that this pays dividends."

As this year's conference focused on cloud computing, Weber says that Microsoft sees cloud computing as a revolution in the IT sector. For every player in the IT sector this is a new business opportunity, but also a major change in the business model, she said.

Cloud computing enables users to pay for services when needed in the desired amount instead of using licensed software. This is a very user-friendly model, and for IT service providers this means that a new market is opening up, which is an opportunity for growth, Weber adds.

When it comes to private clouds, Microsoft Slovenija has a significant number of clients and partners, while public clouds are still in the development phase. A number of pilot projects are aimed at introducing public clouds by the beginning of 2012.

According to Weber, there is a great interest among software developers in the Windows Azure Platform for cloud applications. Currently there are 28 Slovenian software providers developing solutions for individual clients.

Microsoft and Maribor University presented in March a cloud computing project for Slovenian educational institutions. The free programme Live@edu will enable almost 24,000 students to use modern web tools for communication and cooperation.

Weber also discussed the issue of storage of data outside the borders of one country, as the public cloud is a service offered from Microsoft's European databases in Amsterdam and Dublin. "There are obstacles in the legislative area, in a number of countries, not only in Slovenia".

She expects that the company will soon publish its public cloud service in Slovenia, and that the first clients will be businesses. "Like elsewhere in the world, the public administration opts for its private cloud."

As the Slovenian public administration is mulling a transition from licensed office programmes to open-source software, Weber says that public administrations around the world, given the economic crisis, are careful with their finances and investments in projects.

"This is why it is important to have open - not open-source - standards and prepare calls for applications in a way which dos not discriminate any bidder, regardless of the business model," Weber notes, adding that an opportunity should be given to all who have good products and services.

Asked about the company's ambitions regarding the announced calls for applications as part of the eZdravje project for digitalization of health care, Weber says that Microsoft, together with the Slovenian partners, will certainly participate.

"We have set up a group of experts who are familiar with health care as such and who have worked on similar projects around the world. We want to join good practices with the know-how of the network of our partners in Slovenia."

The director general has downplayed concerns about the abuse of data on health care in such systems, saying that Microsoft's data centres comply with the highest security standards, and that the contracts with its clients demand the uttermost availability and security of services.

Weber argues that the benefits outweigh the concerns as any physician at any place in Slovenia would have an insight in a patient's file and would also have direct contact with specialists and other colleagues.

She has also discussed the decline in funds companies invest in IT, saying that the data for large companies for 2010 suggest that the investments were down by 7.6% on the annual level.

Weber says that the economic crisis has hurt the IT sector in Slovenia as some of the companies established five or six years ago do not exist anymore. She thinks that there is not an end to changes, and that new mergers or takeovers in the sector will take place in the next two to three years.

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