The collapse of the Tunisian government in the face of unrest could mean an opportunity for technology companies that had previously shied away from the country.
Tunisia had set up several technology parks, such as the El Gazala Communication Technologies Park and Sfax Technology Park, all to attract hi-tech industries seeking a highly skilled population and lower labor costs. For example, Paris-based Vermeg, a software company that provides back-office services to banks, has an entire research and development division there, and Alcatel-Lucent has a presence as well.
But a history of corruption and capricious local officials have made other companies reluctant to invest there, says Dominisque Raviart, research director at the outsourcing analysis firm Nelson Hall.
He notes that the Tunisian call center industry, which mostly serves telecom operators, is large by local standards. But other business process outsourcing has not taken off.
Raviart says that while business of any type does not like unrest, It is also good news because it gives an opportunity to reduce the level of corruption caused by the families and friends of Ben Ali and therefore make life for business less complex, he wrote in an email. The riots in Tunisia... were not highly disruptive, provided the situation in Tunisia is stabilized and promotes further democracy.
Vermeg's CEO is Badreddine Ouali, himself a Tunisian, and over a number of years has built Vermeg into a sizeable presence in the banking software industry. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
Corruption is one reason the Ben Ali family was forced to flee Tunisia. Leaked cables from the U.S. state department say two of Ben Ali's nephews, Imed and Moaz Trabelsi, stole a yacht from Bruno Roger, Chairman of Lazard Paris. (The yacht was returned). Other cables detail problems of nepotism and off-the-books payments in the banking sector.