Jean-Luc Fouco headed ADI, Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s development and innovation agency, based in Bordeaux, for ten years. Member of the Scientific Council of IHEST, he spent 15 years in large international groups until the beginning of the 90s, then he was a business manager at the head of industrial SMEs until the last few years. Maintenance.
Alliance. As an actor and observer of the economic life of our country, how do you see the rise of Gafam in recent years compared to the so-called “more traditional” companies?
Jean-Luc Fouco. The fact that a good part of my professional life took place before the arrival and rise of digital technology makes me even more sensitive to the changes that Gafam is inducing in most of the economic models of traditional companies.
When I headed ADI, which I just left, we quickly became interested in digital technologies, above all to acculturate companies and, in particular, SMEs that are bearing the brunt of the arrival of these groups. Digital can be very destabilizing for these bosses, because it is embedded in their own technological and economic models…
We have also been working hard on cybersecurity issues, as in our region the fabric of aeronautical subcontractors remains very exposed to cyber risks and, before acting, we need to be aware! And it takes time, just as it took the health crisis, for us to be concerned about the importance of strategic value chains in manufacturing in France.
Jean-Luc Fouco. In the digital sector, it’s the same thing. For a long time, this Gafam dominance was extremely strong… But what is Europe doing? The Commission is just starting to deal with this when it has been very mobilized for years on the classic issues of unfair competition… On these “invasive” innovations (such as the cloud), which fundamentally change economic and geopolitical balances, we react very slowly . All these technocracies are absolutely not made to face changes and today, we have very little time to face Gafam and its dominant positions. With, in addition, countries within the Union with very divergent positions…
Do you see actions to be implemented to evolve?
Jean-Luc Fouco. This is a difficult question, because in fact, the Gafam are extremely efficient, as in the field of artificial intelligence for example. So how do you escape it? This is only possible if we make a European cloud. Then you have to evangelize French companies and that’s also complicated! We can alert them, we can alert them to the existence 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 is progressing slowly. It is also a generation issue among leaders where lack of anticipation is sometimes flagrant. Generally speaking, behavior changes when you take the roof off your house over your head. We see this today on a European scale in matters of defense or energy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
During the health crisis, many hospitals, such as AP-HP or Ameli… suffered cyberattacks at the expense of our personal health data. In this regard, do you think the State should be exemplary?
Jean-Luc Fouco. It is astonishing that the State does not know how to defend the collective data in its custody. However, it is an absolutely crucial virtual domain. The damage can be enormous… and that’s nothing new.
On a regional scale, is promoting French or European solutions really possible? How to reach it?
Jean-Luc Fouco. In this area, French or European public procurement is crucial and can be a lever. But, in the “real” field, from what I’ve seen, all the solutions used are mostly foreign! However, it would require a broad awareness that I don’t see emerging.
An example: the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine wanted to build its own datacenter, but it still hasn’t been able to do so due to the difficulty of bringing together several institutions… However, this is a necessity and this happens in all regions. But to achieve this, strong players in the sector on a European scale are needed, and a strong scientific culture among decision-makers, to which IHEST contributes.
Today, the loss of scientific reference at the highest level of the State is evident: they have, above all, an administrative culture and they think that’s how we get there. No, that is not possible. Recently, a Minister of Economy was appointed, also responsible for industrial and digital sovereignty. We can rejoice that this industrial and digital sovereignty is finally recognized as a national priority. But a politically identified problem is not yet a solved problem.
Do you believe that the implementation of “big programs” (of the Airbus type in its day) could work again?
Jean-Luc Fouco. I don’t know if this can be achieved, even just for a European cloud. Should we pool our assets into a sovereign, strategic affair while remaining agile and innovative? It’s a tough subject. It was Elon Musk who invented SpaceX, not NASA…
The same goes for responding to the talent war. National Education was very efficient in selecting the best elements in mathematics. At the time, the system knew how to choose the best one from an early age! But even that disappeared.