With its special geographic location near Europe, the Republic of Tunisia holds a strategically favourable position. Tunisia is one of the countries with the highest potential for the outsourcing of IT services in North Africa. This is especially due to the following advantages:
• Trade agreements with Europe
• Low wage levels
• Wide-spread knowledge of foreign languages
• High quality of education in natural sciences and in the IT field
• Political support for local IT service providers and IT learning centres
The information and communications technology sector (ICT) is a dynamic economic field with a high priority and the fastest growth rates. Between 2007 and 2011, the industry has experienced a growth of 17.5 per cent and contributes significantly to the gross domestic product.
Moreover, Tunisia was one of the first nations in Africa and the Middle East to define and implement an ICT strategy. The country’s focus has been placed on information technology, software for industrial technologies, services and the multimedia field. This strategy comprised, among other things, the development of human resources and a reform of the regulatory and institutional conditions.
• 600 software companies
• 300 IT system integrators
• 400 retailers
• 11 Internet service providers
• 10,000 in software companies
• 17,000 in call centres
• 2,000 in ICT hardware sales
• 5,000 in installation (SW+HW) and maintenance
• 7,000 in telecommunication operators
On a global level, Tunisia ranks seventh in the quality of higher education, ninth in availability of scientists and engineers and fifth in the efficiency of the management of public spending. Thanks to its economic successes, Tunisia received the following investment grade rankings: BBB (Standard & Poor’s), Baa2 (Moody’s), BBB+ (Fitch-IBCA) and A- (R&I).
The Tunisian state guarantees the education of all children and has made remarkable progress with regard to the education standard. Nearly seven per cent of the budget is used for education. There are 192 higher education institutions and one virtual university. In 2010, the number of students increased by a factor of eight to 370,000, of which 58 per cent were female. All of the higher education institutions are equipped with Internet and PCs, and more than 50,000 students are enrolled in ICT degree programmes – this corresponds to approximately 14 per cent of all students. About 10,000 students graduate annually from an ICT degree programme. This means that the Tunisian job market is characterised by a high availability of ICT experts.
The budget for research was 1.25 per cent of the GDP. School education is mandatory and free of charge up to the age of 16 years. The school enrolment rate for six-year-old children exceeds 99 per cent. The basic education in schools takes nine years.
Economic competitiveness. In the 2009/2010 ranking of the World Economic Forum, Tunisia was No. 40 with regard to the global ability to compete, thus ranking higher than many industrialised countries. In Africa, Tunisia ranks first, even before South Africa, Mauritius, Egypt and Morocco.
This ranking is based on 12 qualitative and quantitative criteria: institutional framework (legislative and administrative context), macroeconomic stability, infrastructure, health and primary education, innovation and market efficiency (financial sector, job market and goods), technological capacity, size of the market, complexity of the economy and the higher education, further education. Furthermore, Tunisia benefits from competitive wages and salaries of its labour force.
In 2011, Tunisia was No. 23 (of 50) in the AT Kearney Global Services Location Index (GSLI). This key figure indicates the appeal of countries to the offshore industry. The index is comprised of three categories and eleven subcategories which, in turn, are measured by several indicators. The main categories are:
• Financial appeal of the country (for example, average wages, electricity prices and taxes)
• Qualification and availability of personnel
• Economic environment (for example, infrastructure, IT service quality, cultural and institutional framework conditions).
Knowledge-based society. Well aware of the crucial factors for economic and social development – namely knowledge and technology – the country continuously increases its investment in the sector of knowledge and ensures the adaptation of the education system and the area of further education. The objective is to ensure the necessary qualifications for the world of employment. Because early on, there was an awareness of the importance of the certification of companies and qualifications in order to guarantee a high quality of services and products as well as a consistent improvement, Tunisia started participating in the ISO certification programme a long time ago.
Certain programmes of corporate certification were also established. This includes CMMI, ITIL and CISA, for example. As a result, the first CMMI Level 5-certified enterprise in Africa is in Tunisia. An ambitious programme for the certification of qualifications has also been set up. It aimed at enabling 70,000 graduates to obtain certifications in information technology and telecommunications (CISCO, Microsoft, ITIL, LTI, Oracle, etc.). To encourage enterprises to participate in the certification processes, the appropriate incentives were created. 50 to 70 per cent of the cost incurred for the certification was covered.
Infrastructure. For a long time, Tunisia has placed great importance to its telecommunications infrastructure, which is the most modern in the Mediterranean region and Africa. As a result, the telecommunication network covers the whole country, and it is the only network in North Africa that is connected to all neighbouring countries. Consequently, good telephone and Internet connections as well as multimedia transmission are ensured. Between 2001 and the end of 2009, the bandwidth was increased from 72 Mbit/s to 27.5 Gbit/s. Moreover, Tunisia has the highest density of telephones and number of PCs in North Africa.
To promote the founding and development of companies with a high innovation potential, Tunisia started an ambitious programme for the development of ten technology parks. This programme includes three parks that have specialised in ICT.
In addition, Tunisia also has a modern real estate portfolio at particularly competitive prices. This also includes real estate which, thanks to its equipment, allows companies to provide activities and services primarily related to or focussing on ICT (such as call centres, BPO).
The Network Readiness Index describes the IT-related state of development of a country. Especially after the Tunisian Revolution two years ago, which was aided by the Internet, new opportunities can arise for the ICT market, provided that the political situation remains stable.
Prospect. Today, we have witnessed fundamental changes in Tunisia. The Tunisian people have ushered in a new era in their country with the democratic revolution. The atmosphere is positive and a spirit of optimism is clearly noticeable. The people, employers and employees are proud and motivated to build their own Tunisia, not directed by others.
German businesses can take advantage of the opportunities arising from this change. It can be expected that Tunisian enterprises are more willing to invest. Now it is essential for the German and the Tunisian economy that the new opportunities are made use of and that they are implemented with commitment in a cooperative manner.
The author studied Electrical and Information Technology Engineering in Stuttgart and obtained an MBA from Grande Ecole de Commerce ESSEC Paris and Mannheim Business School. Mabrouk is director of research at the private Swiss “Monarch University of Graduate Studies in Management” and teaches Management and Strategy.