Interview: Abdelhamid Benyoucef

What are the challenges limiting small and medum-sized enterprises (SMEs) from better utilising ICT services in their everyday tasks?

ABDELHAMID BENYOUCEF: Given their limited liability company status and a strong cash culture, Algerian family owned businesses have not been fully integrated in ICT development programmes, and the vast majority of SMEs do not feel concerned about adopting the use of ICT in their daily operations. Accordingly, ambitious SME upgrade programmes enacted by the Ministry of Industry should include the introduction and development of ICT services in companies’ management systems.

What are the major obstacles to the development of e-commerce in Algeria?

BENYOUCEF: E-commerce is governed by rules and procedures of security of exchange which are not yet being implemented in Algeria. This is mainly due to the pre-eminence of cash culture as a principal means of payment. To bring Algeria to the e-economy, laws and regulations must be implemented for the dematerialisation of the currency, as this is a substantial factor for the relatively slow development of electronic trade. These can be carried out only through an organisation or agency in charge of the standardisation of trade in accordance with international banking standards. The promotion of the e-economy in Algeria will succeed through increased investment in major logistics equipment, the facilitation of entrepreneurship, financing and the adoption of new modes of consumption. It is necessary to raise awareness about the benefits of e-commerce within Algerian society and promote the implementation of electronic ways of doing business, whether for small, medium or large businesses, and for government to play the lead role in this.

What efforts are required to further support research and development (R&D) in Algeria?

BENYOUCEF: R&D, particularly in the field of fundamental research, is heavily supported through large “administrative” budgets of research centres. No targeted financial support or incentives are planned for the R&D of private SMEs in particular.

However, R&D is an expensive activity with substantial benefits visible only in the medium and long term and in many cases, SMEs do not have the necessary financial possibilities to undertake this type of activity. Furthermore, the promotion of effective foreign economic partnership with technical assistance and national and international research organisations could also reduce both time and cost.

What are the current challenges to developing a start-up culture in Algeria? In what ways can these challenges be addressed?

BENYOUCEF: Launching a start-up can be really challenging indeed, whether it is roadblocks imposed by regulators, the lack of a qualified workforce or the weaknesses of infrastructure, the path to success for launching a start up can be harrowing. On the flip side, it can also be a great opportunity for those willing to negotiate their way through those challenges.

However, we have to admit that the culture of start-ups is still not part of the Algerian socio-economic environment and training bodies do not put enough focus on giving sufficient assistance and support to young graduates willing to start their own businesses. To nurture a community of start-ups, the national education system must change. Universities are teaching business and technology but not doing enough to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship.

Education should not only prepare students to take jobs working for large corporations or public bodies, but should also encourage them to find ways to be innovative. We should note that public authorities, through incentives as well as investment funds, have shown considerable progress in this matter. Going forward, further efforts are widely expected from SMEs and banks as they remain below the threshold that could allow significant growth of start-ups in the ICT sector.