VISIONARY GROWTH

Morocco 2020/21 | ICT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

APEBI's successful initiative, Hackcovid, resulted in dozens of technological solutions to help the country during the pandemic.

Amine Zarouk
BIOGRAPHY

The holder of a master's degree in distributed information systems from Paris-Est Créteil University, Amine Zarouk is also the co-founder and general manager of Alten Delivery Center Maroc, the Moroccan subsidiary of the world leader in engineering and consulting in technology.

Can you give us an overview of APEBI?
APEBI represents digital, telecommunications, and innovative companies. We connect this community to the largest players in the market, which together represent more than 80% of the turnover in the sector. Since the beginning, we defined five pillars for our mandate: digitally transforming all sectors of the economy; gathering data; nurturing a close relationship with neighboring countries; promoting digital ways of doing business; and sustainability.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way of doing business in Morocco?
Every revolution arises after a great crisis. Now is the time for the digital revolution. Before the pandemic, we realized that certain groups in the country were hesitant when it came to digital transformation, e-commerce, e-governance, and so on. Digitalization was rarely framed as a priority for the country. The pandemic has shaken the foundations of our system, forcing us to adopt approaches and ways of doing businesses previously unthinkable. For a long time, we have mainly been discussing how to digitalize, and now that we are forced to do it, we are discovering that digitalization represents not only a comfort, but also a tool to ensure the physical and psychological wellbeing of the world's population and the global economy.

From your experience at APEBI, what solutions can digitalization offer to the current situation?
During the outbreak of the pandemic, we sought ways to use technology as a means to inform the public and limit the spread of the virus. We turned to a start-up that works on AI and big data. In three days, we developed a prototype with abundant information based on trends in the worst-affected countries to help the Ministry of Interior anticipate the different phases and introduce the right measures. At that point, we realized Morocco was ripe with skills and potential to develop other similar initiatives. We launched a nationwide call for projects, Hackcovid, targeting any start-up, student, or individual with an idea to assist the country during the outbreak. Within 48 hours, we received 150 digital projects, of which we selected about 30 in fields such as security, food safety, health, and economic competitiveness. Successful examples are the COVID-19 tracker, mobile payment solutions, chatbots that can answer questions about COVID-19 in Darija (a Moroccan dialect) or French, a solution that will connect all the grocery stores in the neighborhoods to transmit aid, and a social network for the healthcare industry that allows information to be conveyed in real time. Our role has been to mobilize a large number of computer specialists and
coders to bring these ideas to life, and to create connections with private or public partners. We are now looking to launch Hackcovid Africa with about six Northern and Western African countries. Morocco is among the first countries to be affected by the pandemic on the continent, so it is important we share any progress we have made. Equally important, Hackcovid Africa will support our ongoing project for the creation of an African confederation of technology to mutualize our common problems and share our progress.

What is your vision for the Fez Smart Factory project, which you are launching as the director of Alten Maroc?
We launched competitions at several universities to find innovative start-ups that could nurture Moroccan competences and respond to the future needs of the market. In this context, we landed on Fes, which could be Morocco's Silicon Valley and also happens to be the birthplace of Alten Maroc. We wanted to create an Industry 4.0 pole to boost the digital and creative industries in Fes and bring the market closer. Within the framework of the CGEM, we brought together the digital commission, the digital economy commission, the start-ups commission, the employability commission, and the VSE-SME commission, to create a technology park. Besides being a space for the incubation of star-ups, this is primarily an integrated zone where
suppliers and customers share the same space and where jobs and opportunities are created.