Interview: Riad Hartani
How is the Algiers Smart City project a catalyst for the development of innovative firms?
RIAD HARTANI: The Algiers Smart City project shall be seen as a means and not an end in itself. Its primary goal is to fast track the development of a technology-based ecosystem, and for the city and its citizens to take advantage of that. In other words, it should be a catalyst for bringing together various players in the ecosystem. It aims to reinforce synergy between the various stakeholders — from actors in technology and business, to those involved with legal and policy decisions — and progressively craft a win-win situation for all the entities along the value chain. The project allows for, among other things, the emergence of a demand-driven start-up ecosystem, the linking of local players to the global tech landscape, rapid transfer of value from research and development to industrial applications, re-enforcement of the legal and regulatory frameworks, and improved dialogue between academia and industry.
What strategies does the ICT sector need to put in place to avoid technological dependency?
HARTANI: In the world of ICT, it is necessary to keep a significant level of experience to ensure technological sovereignty. If we fail to keep relative control over key segments, we will be obliged to follow a path of technological dependency. When we analyse the curve of technological evolution, we realise that it reaches an inflection point once every two or three decades, representing a window of opportunity to take the lead in a few specific segments. The emergence of leapfrog technologies, especially those centred around intelligent data platforms, alternative wireless internet innovations, blockchain information models, cloud-based service delivery mechanisms, the internet of things, internet scale content delivery platforms and open-source software deployment business models, provide a unique chance for Algeria. To lessen our technological dependence, we must take appropriate measures and build a roadmap for the emergence of a progressively sustained domestic technology ecosystem.
How will Algeria combat its relative technological delay and enhance its competitiveness?
HARTANI: We live in unique times. Much of today’s technological development is concentrated in the hands of a few technology leaders, which is a direct consequence of the “winner take all” theory at the core of internet business models. One strategy that is characteristic of these leading corporations is the deployment of leapfrog technologies to strengthen their position of domination over incumbent players in adjacent industries. Leapfrog technologies accelerate the obsolescence of legacy technologies, as they can skip over inefficient technological stages and speed up disruptions in competition among businesses. These are primarily in the realm of ICT, but also affect other industries, such as energy, transport, finance and education.
What changes has the ICT sector seen in recent years, and what is the outlook for the future?
HARTANI: The ICT sector is at a defining crossroads. While significant efforts have gone into evolving it over the last few years, greater efforts are required to continue in that trajectory. The foundations for successful development in the ICT sector have been laid, and the short-term strategic decisions that need to be taken will either build upon that foundation or weaken it.
The dynamic of the ICT sector is no longer independent but will in fact become the most critical variable that defines the maturity levels of other socio-economic sectors. This will affect the country’s overall development as well as see ICT maturity prioritised as the benchmark for measuring global competitiveness.
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