Last week, Margo was invited to participate in the Tunisia Digital Summit 2018. This is the second year of this major North African event, held in the centre of Tunis, at the recently re-furbished Laico Hotel. Two days of talks were held on the topics of digital transformation, artificial intelligence, social media and blockchain. Over 40 Tunisians and international speakers attended, as did around twenty local start-ups to show their solutions and provide a specific focus on the major disruptions that digital is causing for companies. Here are some notes on the main topics to draw our attention at this two-day event.
Digital transformation is a major issue for the government and companies in Tunisia
We arrived at the summit as Anouar Maarouf, Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy, and Youssef Chahed, the Head of Government, were talking about the digital situation in Tunisia. This gave these government representatives the opportunity to make several announcements about the actions taken on digital to improve the life of their fellow citizens. As of mid-April next, Tunisians will be able to get online access to birth certificates (a major step forward for them), as well as an extract from the registry of businesses. This means people won’t have to travel or queue for hours for these government services. And from June 2018 they will be able to make a money transfer directly by mobile phone, a service supported by the Tunisian Post Office and various national banks.
Anouar Maarouf also stated that, following a recent study, digital transformation can boost Tunisia’s growth rate by 1.5 to 2.3%, whilst observing that in some countries the contribution of digital to the economy is 25%. We have a greater understanding that the corporate challenges of digital transformation are still poorly understood and that this has led to them falling far behind global competitors in the last few years. The main business concerns today are the computerisation of records, customer relations management, a 360-degree view of the customer within the company, the modernisation of merchant and self-care websites and the transformation of the culture and organisation in the digital age.
GDPR is as much a challenge in Tunisia as in Europe.
As surprising as that might appear, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) which take effect on 25 May are also a challenge for Tunisian businesses outside the European Union. In fact, during several very interesting talks, it turned out that 80% of business done by Tunisian firms is with European companies. But that is also true of Morocco and Algeria, which have taken no practical actions to comply with the extra-territorial stipulations of GDPR. In Tunisia a law should be passed fairly soon requiring Tunisian companies subcontracting for European firms (call centres, IT service centres etc) to achieve compliance and thus gain a competitive advantage over their Algerian and Moroccan rivals.
The consequences of GDPR have a direct effect on businesses working with European clients. So, according to the law firm August Debouzy: “the regulation applies to processing managers as well as subcontractors covered by certain GDPR conditions”, therefore “the regulation will apply each time someone in the EU is directly affected by the processing of personal data (including over the internet) even if those doing the processing, or their subcontractors, are based outside the EU. »
Blockchain and artificial intelligence under scrutiny
The two subjects, blockchain and artificial intelligence, were referenced several times during the two days with, each time, the focus of the speakers being mainly spreading the word. So we had several keynote speeches presenting different aspects of artificial intelligence (machine learning, deep learning etc) as well as business applications in different business sectors.
Margo’s presentation on blockchain took two forms. First of all, a workshop on “Best practices for setting up an ICO (Initial Coin Offering)” where we spent 45 minutes covering the key criteria for successfully launching a crypto-currency fund-raising. This was also a chance for participants to discover that there exist up to now just 2 ICOs in Tunisia: the one at Bitrace which aims to raise money to finance the construction of an F1 circuit between Tunis and Hammamet, and one for a future Electrify Network project to produce clean electricity and allow a peer-to-peer electricity market, while financing the building of pilot self-sustaining smart-city projects. You can download the materials used in the workshop here.
On the second day we delivered a 25 minute keynote presentation on the topic “Blockchain, myths and realities”. This was designed to make the meeting aware of the technology and thus allow following sessions, keynote speeches and round-tables to fully address their topics. You can download the materials used in the keynote speech here.
The very fact that this conference attracted the Head of Government and seven of his ministers to make a series of announcements shows how digital has become a strategic issue in Tunisia. We have noted however that the level of development in businesses is weak compared to what we see in Europe and France. In short, even if there is a specific desire for innovation areas like artificial intelligence and blockchain, the long years of delay in managing the digital transformation will continue to disadvantage Tunisian firms competing in a global market which has been undertaking large-scale work companies for several years.