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    Tunisia's Boom in ICT

     

     
     
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2007,
    Interview with Férid Baklouti, Founder, Xtensus Tunisia

    © WNS

    This Tunisian businessman is representative of his country's effort to position itself in Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

    Q:How did you come to set up Xtensus Tunisia?

    A: I left Tunisia in 1993 to pursue my computer studies in Canada - Quebec City - to learn about robotics and computer imaging. In my eight-year stay, I obtained an MBA in company management and became an Assistant Director of an IT company. Meanwhile, I kept in touch with friends in Tunisia, so I was always up-to-date about the efforts being made to encourage IT here. It seemed to me an obvious business opportunity, so I persuaded some friends to invest in setting up Xtensus in 2001. We started with the business of creating web sites. Since then we have expanded, to e-business portals of all kinds, from company and government websites to fully e-enabled sites such as one enabling people to pay online for their test at the driving licence division.

    Q: Who are your customers?

    A: Apart from businesses and authorities in Tunisia, we have clients in Belgium and France as well as Canada.

    Q: How difficult was it to obtain contracts as a company in Africa?

    A: Some companies were hesitant to trust their business to an African company, and particularly not an IT company in Africa. They did not believe we had the infrastructure to carry out the job. We made great efforts to get testimonials from people who were satisfied with our work. But sometimes we had to work first through third-parties, such as foreign companies that were established in Tunisia. In this respect, it has been helpful to be based in a technopark - we are situated between Tunis and Carthage. The Companies here could vouch for us and we could exchange experiences.

    At the same time, we have been able to turn our African roots to our advantage. Tunisia is multi-lingual and multicultural. We have links with the Mediterranean, with Arab cultures and with the rest of Africa. In fact, our latest project is an online Arab-African Business Directory (http://www.2abp.com) making use of Tunisia's wide variety of contacts across the continent to introduce these businesses to people in Europe and North America.

    Q: What is the biggest problem you face in overcoming the prejudices against Africa's image?

    A People don't realize how advanced Tunisia is in ICT. The World Economic Forum has positioned us at No. 1 in Africa for Network Readiness (government policies, telecommunications, penetration and use of Internet, etc.). About 50,000 students are studying ICT each year and the government is now introducing ICT courses into primary schools. We have 11 technoparks, a network of 20 business incubator centres and 10 cyber-parks throughout the country. In all, Tunisia has some 600 computer and engineering companies, employing some 7,000 people. We have also had to show our foreign clients that we understood their culture in terms of how business is done in Europe and North America. That was where I could make the best use of my experience in Canada was very useful.

    Interview: Peter Hulm, Trade Forum contributing editor.