‘Tunisia has the IT professionals that Germany is lacking.’

The Tech216 initiative connects German companies with Tunisia’s tech industry. BMW Group has been a pilot partner for a year now.

Tunisia is considered a hidden gem in North Africa. The digital economy is one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors, accounting for more than 11 per cent of gross domestic product. The Tech216 initiative from the Digital Transformation Center Tunisia fosters cooperation between European businesses and Tunisian IT companies and professionals. It provides advisory services and other offerings as a central point of contact for partners. It was developed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, together with partners. The commissioning party is the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), which supports Tech216 through the Special Initiative on Training and Job Creation. Pilot projects between BMW Group and two Tunisian IT service providers have been running since early 2020. In an interview, Moritz Hunger, Tech216 project manager at GIZ, and Dr Andreas Bootz, head of system design and integration at BMZ Group, talk about Tech 216 and their initial experiences.

Mr Hunger, what is the thinking behind this initiative? What goals is it working towards? 

GIZ: Germany has the contracts and Tunisia has the qualified IT professionals that Germany lacks. With the same level of qualifications, Tunisian professions are  attractive partners for companies in Europe. This is something that people in Germany are largely unaware of, and so this potential isn’t being realised. Tech216 wants to leverage these benefits for German and European companies. 

Dr Bootz, BMW Group is a pilot partner. What motivated you to get on board? And what has been your experience so far? 

We all know that there is a shortage of highly trained IT professionals in Europe. That’s why BMW Group procures IT services around the globe. Thanks to Tech216, we developed contacts with potential providers in Tunisia quickly. We took part in a ‘discovery tour’ in the capital Tunis to gain an overview of the local provider market. Things moved swiftly and were organised really well. We have since completed several IT projects with Tunisian providers and have thus also implemented finished products. 

Why does Tunisia and its digital economy stand out? 

Mr Hunger: The government sees the digital sector and its dynamism as being key to modernising the country’s economy. After all, more than 1,600 companies are providing in excess of 100,000 well-paid jobs. Along with the country's geographic proximity to Europe and the fact that we share the same time zone, Tunisia has a large pool of IT professionals. 

Dr Bootz: Absolutely. More than 7,000 IT engineers complete university courses every year. That is a huge source of young, well-trained professionals, and adds new areas of expertise. The constantly growing number of IT companies shows just how much this market is thriving. During our tour, we visited established companies and five innovative start-ups that are using technology including artificial intelligence (AI) to compete in international markets. So they are not just developing standard apps. 

Mr Hunger: Other factors are a powerful 4G network and a booming start-up ecosystem. More than 500 new companies were established in 2019 alone, the majority of which are start-ups whose services aim to solve considerable academic and technical challenges (‘deep tech’). 

Mr Bootz, along with these positive experiences, did you encounter any challenges? 

Yes, when training up providers on our internal processes. Also, providers need to be able to carry out a project independently and come up with their own solutions. So it’s helpful if a provider has a project manager with previous experience in Germany. 

Many IT companies in Tunisia already have long-standing supplier relationships with other European companies. The language barrier was not as considerable as we expected and, in some cases, providers already met strict cooperation standards, for instance regarding data security. 

Mr Hunger, what has Tech216 set out to do in 2021 and beyond? 

We develop our offerings on an ongoing basis. As part of this process, we regularly look at what European companies need. Our goal is to get more successful projects off the ground, like the pilot project with BMW. This providing additional skills and certifications that we offer on a needs basis through upskilling. 

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