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Vodafone and Microsoft partner for gen AI

A 10-year strategic partnership will leverage the likes of M-Pesa and Copilot to target “more than 300-million businesses and consumers”, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Vodacom’s M-Pesa and Microsoft’s Copilot are at the heart of a 10-year deal struck between Vodafone and Microsoft this week.

Ostensibly, they will offer scaled digital platforms to more than 300-million businesses, public sector organisations, and consumers across Europe and Africa.

The goal is ambitious: “Through the partnership, the companies will collaborate to transform Vodafone’s customer experience using Microsoft’s generative AI, hyperscale Vodafone’s leading managed IoT connectivity platform, develop new digital and financial services for businesses, particularly SMEs across Europe and Africa, and overhaul its global data centre cloud strategy.”

Vodafone says it will invest $1.5-billion over the next 10 years in cloud and customer-focused AI services developed in conjunction with Microsoft, which suggests it will become a Copilot shop. Microsoft, in turn,  will use Vodafone’s fixed and mobile connectivity services and punt its M-Pesa mobile money service.

That would give the sub-brand a much-needed boost. While it has been wildly successful in East Africa, it has been less well-accepted in markets like South Africa, where financial inclusion is more of a given.

Vodafone’s managed IoT connectivity platform, set to become a separate, standalone business this year, will also become an element of the Microsoft offering. It will target devices, vehicles, and machines.

The most significant aspect of the announcement is “a highly personalised and differentiated customer experience across multiple channels… built on unbiased and ethical privacy and security policies under Vodafone’s established framework for responsible AI”.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella himself weighed in on the topic: “This new generation of AI will unlock massive new opportunities for every organisation and every industry around the world. We are delighted that together with Vodafone we will apply the latest cloud and AI technology to enhance the customer experience of hundreds of millions of people and businesses across Africa and Europe, build new products and services, and accelerate the company’s transition to the cloud.”

The following information on key areas of collaboration was provided by Vodafone and Microsoft: 

Generative AI: To increase customer satisfaction, the companies will apply the power of Microsoft Azure OpenAI to deliver frictionless, real-time, proactive, and hyper-personalised experiences across all Vodafone customer touchpoints, including its digital assistant TOBi (available in 13 countries). Vodafone employees will also be able to leverage the AI capabilities of Microsoft Copilot to transform working practices, boost productivity and improve digital efficiency.

Scaling IoT: Microsoft intends to invest in Vodafone’s new, standalone global Internet of Things (IoT)-managed connectivity platform, which connects 175-million devices and platforms worldwide. Vodafone also plans to become part of the Azure ecosystem making the IoT platform available to a vast developer and third-party community using open APIs.

Africa digital acceleration: Microsoft intends to help further scale M-Pesa, already the largest financial technology platform in Africa, by housing it on Azure and enabling the launch of new cloud-native applications. The companies are also launching a purpose-led program that seeks to enrich the lives of 100-million consumers and 1-million SMEs across the African continent. The goal is to enhance digital literacy, skilling and youth outreach programs, as well as offer digital services to the underserved SME market. The partnership aims to boost financial services innovation, building a community of certified developers.

Enterprise growth: Vodafone will extend its commitment to distributing Microsoft services, including Microsoft Azure, security solutions and modern work offerings such as Microsoft Teams Phone Mobile, as part of its strategy to become Europe’s leading platform for business. This enables business customers to deploy Microsoft’s cloud-based services at pace with low adoption and running costs, as well as support the estimated 24-million SMEs across Europe through the provision of a managed platform that grows with their business.

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