NECESSARY AND SUFFICIENT

Morocco 2020/21 | ICT & MEDIA | FOCUS

Morocco's Digital Development Agency has unveiled an ambitious plan to accelerate the country's digitalization efforts over the next five years. But what does it consist of, and how can it be achieved?

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LUXURY KNOWLEDGE GOOD and a necessary innovation is narrowing by the day: those companies and, more importantly, countries that realize the paucity of this distinction will live to fight another day. Those that can't, or won't, will perish. Digital transformation, Morocco's leadership knows, is one such example, a fact that was heavily stressed at the December 2019 meeting of the Digital Development Agency (ADD). Laying out the guidelines for the country's digital development through 2025, the agency, under the aegis of the Ministry of Industry, Investment, Commerce, and Digital Economy (MIICEN), will be in charge of directing Morocco's 4.0 industrial revolution, expanding and implementing digital education training programs, boosting digital research and development, encouraging social entrepreneurship, and ensuring that the country enjoys responsible and durable digital inclusion. Including the public and private sectors and civil society groups in this participative approach, in December Prime Minister Saâd Dine El Otmani stressed how important this digital leap is to attract foreign investment, creating remunerative and sustainable employment and modernizing public services. It is also crucial, he said, to reducing public expenditure, bridging the digital divide that has come to mirror so many other social, economic, and geographical disparities in Morocco, boosting transparency, and fighting corruption.

How will ADD accomplish these widespread goals? First, by launching the country's first Digital Factory in Rabat as a digital incubator to not only spur the creation of smarter digital solutions, but give young start-ups a place to test their ideas and provide the broader digital market with a “digital crossroads” where they can improve their services, experiment with recent innovations, and run novel ideas by other industry players new and old. In step with these initiatives, ADD is also launching a Digital Academy to help professionally retrain 3,000 young people with the skills needed to succeed in the digital economy, an initiative it is hoping will create an avalanche effect in both innovation and jobs created. In order to learn more about the progress of the kingdom's digitalization effects, TBY sat down with Zaidi Fouad, the General Director of Barid Media. Among other things, Fouad stressed the importance of having the right regulative infrastructure in place. Crucially, in 2008 Morocco passed legislation equating physical with digital information, a legal innovation that helped Barid become the first operator to use digital and electronic signatures, for example. This legal precedent will also be crucial to creating a platform that enables citizens and companies to access digital government services. To be sure, he stresses, a cultural evolution of sorts is also needed to train individuals and companies to do so; many of the latter shy away from digitalization because of unfamiliarity, or worse, mistrust. Hence the two-fold importance of training and hiring young people in this process, who are by nature quicker
learners and more culturally malleable, and launching programs to convince the public of the importance of digital, Fouad told TBY. Yet, the country's hard work is already paying off. Ranked among the top-10 countries in the world by the Universal Postal Union for its digitalization rates, Morocco has also launched a successful electronic tender system and is working with local municipal authorities across the country to digitalize all its services. One such example is Watiqa, an online application that allows Moroccan citizens to access public services from anywhere in the world. More than 115,000 entrepreneurs have also signed up for Barid's end-to-end digital platform for entrepreneurs, a collaborative database than can be accessed by banks, the tax department, the post office, and entrepreneurs and allows businesspeople of every stripe, especially in the informal sector, to access an “entrepreneur card” through which they can declare their taxes. As with so many other aspects of digitalization, Fouad rightly says, “This is a perfect example of how it accelerates a country's development.”