Jean-Luc Fouco led ADI, the development and innovation agency of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, based in Bordeaux, for ten years. Member of IHEST’s Scientific Council, he previously spent 15 years in large international groups until the early 1990s, then a business manager at the head of industrial SMEs until recent years. Maintenance.
Alliance. As an actor and observer of our country’s economic life, how do you see Gafam’s rise in recent years against so-called “more traditional” companies?
Jean-Luc Fouco. The fact that a good part of my professional life took place before the advent and emergence of digital technology makes me more sensitive to the change Gafam brings to most traditional corporate economic models.
When I ran ADI, which I had just left, we quickly became interested in digital technology, especially in cultivating companies, and in particular SMEs that carry full weight with the arrival of such groups. Digital can be extremely destabilizing for these bosses, as it is embedded in their own technological and economic models …
We have also worked a lot on cybersecurity issues, because in our region, the fabric of aeronautics subcontractors remains very exposed to cyber dangers and, before acting, we need to be aware! And that takes time, as happened in the health crisis to worry us about the importance of strategic value chains in industry in France.
Jean-Luc Fouco. In the digital sector, so too. For a long time, this domination of Gafam was very strong … But what is Europe doing? The Commission is just beginning to tackle this as it has been heavily mobilized over the years by the classic questions of unfair competition … With these “invasive” innovations (such as the cloud), which are fundamentally changing in economic and geopolitical balances, we are too slow to react. All of these technologies were completely not made to deal with the changes and now, we have very little time left to deal with Gafam and their dominant positions. In addition, countries within the Union with very different positions …
Do you see the actions that need to be taken to thrive?
Jean-Luc Fouco. This is a difficult question, because in fact, Gafam is very good, as in the field of artificial intelligence for example. So how can you escape it? This is only possible if we create a European cloud. Then, you have to evangelize French companies and there too, it’s complicated! We can warn them, we can alert them to the availability of alternative solutions, but not force them … However, at the very least, everyone should be aware of what they are doing when they use the services of a Gafam.
Do you think this awareness exists today?
Jean-Luc Fouco. It starts. But before, it was very difficult. Evangelism has progressed slowly. It is also a question of generation in leaders where despair is sometimes explicit. In general, we change our behavior when we get our hands on the roof of our house. We see this today on a European scale in questions of defense or energy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
During the health crisis, many hospitals, such as AP-HP or Ameli… have suffered cyberattacks at the expense of our personal health data. On this subject, do you think the State should be exemplary?
Jean-Luc Fouco. That the State does not know how to defend collective data in its custody is surprising. However it is a virtual domain that is really very important. The damage can be overwhelming… and that is not new.
On a regional scale, is it really possible to advance French or European solutions? How can this be achieved?
Jean-Luc Fouco. In this area, French or European public procurement is important and can be a lever. But, on “real” ground, for what I have seen, all the solutions used are largely foreign! However, it will require a broad awareness that I don’t see emerging.
An example: the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine wants to create its own datacenter, but has not yet succeeded due to the difficulty of integrating several institutions … However, this is a necessity and it is in all regions. But, to achieve this, you need both strong players in the sector on a European scale, and a strong scientific culture among decision makers, which IHEST also helps.
Now, the loss of scientific reference at the highest level of the State is obvious: first of all, they have an administrative culture and think that in this way, we can get there. No, it is not possible. Recently, a Minister of the Economy was appointed who is also responsible for industrial and digital sovereignty. We can rejoice that industrial and digital sovereignty is finally being recognized as a national priority. But a politically defined problem is an unresolved problem.
Do you believe that implementing “core programs” (kind of Airbus at the time) can work again?
Jean-Luc Fouco. I don’t know if this is achievable, if only for a European Cloud. Should we combine our assets into one sovereign and strategic subject, while remaining agile and innovative? This is a difficult subject. Elon Musk invented SpaceX and not NASA …
The same goes for responding to the talent war. National Education is very good at selecting the best elements in mathematics. Back then, the system knew how to choose the best from an early age! But even that is gone.