France announced an ambitious action programme in 2017 entitled ‘Action Public 2022’, which aims to digitalise the public sector, improve the quality of public services and their digital accessibility to French citizens, offer civil servants a modern working environment and cut public spending due to the optimisation of resources. French President Emmanuel Macron, a true believer in technology and entrepreneurship, sent a tweet on Twitter in 2017 saying that he would like to transform France into a start-up country, a country that would think and act like a start-up and be a home to at least 25 unicorn companies by 2025. How much progress has France made today?
Author: Jelena Rudi
There are a great deal of strong global players in the private sector and among start-ups; it feels like something is brewing. France’s technology sector is attracting an increasing number of investors – French start-ups raised a record amount of 5.4 billion euros last year. There were just three unicorn companies in France in 2017, now there are 16 – for example: Deezer, a music streaming platform, Doctolib, an e-health platform, OVH , a cloud developer, and BlaBlacar, the world’s leading community-based travel network.
Reaching the desired standing as a start-up country is another story. It seems that the ambitious strategies planned by ministers are held up by the public sector’s antiquated bureaucrats and their unending public discussions. Using personal data in IT systems is also a hot-button issue because all related projects must get approval beforehand byt CNIL., the Data Protection Authority for France. That acronym has been a nightmare for a number of French start-ups in recent times, for example – Fidzup, a start-up which had a fantastic start in the advertising technology field but is now blaming CNIL and their tardiness for the company’s bankruptcy.
The lack of a unified digital identity is hindering development
The pandemic caused a crisis situation that brought about an even greater need for digital resources; private companies had few problems adapting to the new reality. However, the crisis exposed the shortcomings of the French public sector, for example, even last year, paper certificates were still in use, which allowed people to leave their homes for emergencies during lockdown periods. Much time passed before they finally started using digital certificates, and the e-school solution got off to a bumpy start, too. All of this before even mentioning the shortcomings regarding the electronic monitoring and analysis of epidemiological data.
Nevertheless, many services have been successfully digitised and the new telemedicine and digital registry have received a great deal of attention, especially regarding vaccinations. Private company Doctolib is the primary factor in the digital registry’s success, but generally, the services market is rather divided and the primary issue is the lack of safe and secure authentication. France will introduce a new ID card with an electronic chip this year, but true digital identity will still not exist and the development of a new identification system is deadlocked again.
Digitising the country has cost more than seven billion euros
Despite the abovementioned factors, digitalisation is still France’s main priority, as reinforced by the fact that France will use the recovery plan entitled ‘France Relance’ to inject 7.1 billion euros into the digital sector. Of this money, 3.7 billion euros will be invested to fund the growth of start-ups and unicorn companies in order to create a favourable ecosystem for them.
Additionally, the state will invest 2.5 billion euros in breakthrough technology such as quantum computing, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, e-health and so on. Furthermore, 2.3 billion euros will be invested to support the digitalisation of businesses and government services in order to create a secure digital identity for French people that they can use for administrative activities. Eight hundred million euros will be invested to reduce the digital divide, for training people and providing broadband Internet access to everyone.
How can we break into the French market?
France knows Estonia as a strong digital nation, and due to our digital success story, Estonian companies have an easier time gaining a foothold in the French market.
This is certainly not an easy market in which to succeed, and sadly it must be mentioned that there are only a few Estonian companies selling their IT services in France. The language barrier is perhaps one hindrance, but English is generally the chosen language in the IT sector and start-up companies alike; the situation is different in companies located in more traditional sectors.
The French public sector is extremely interested in Estonia’s state information system and several delegations have since visited Estonian IT companies. However, working with the French state is a difficult task and taking part in public procurements in France can be a serious headache.
Therefore, people and companies should work with local French partners who have a network, capability and access to ambitious projects. The cooperation between Cybernetica and IDEMIA is a fantastic example of a partnership – they are developing a smartphone-based secure identification digital signature system for both the public and private sector.
The management structure and hierarchies are extremely important in large corporations; therefore, it would be wise to establish good relationships with decision-makers. People must be consistent when communicating with French companies, writing only a couple of e-mails is usually not enough to make progress. French people love to communicate via phone and face-to-face, but video conferencing has become commonplace in the last few years.
France is worth visiting, even if just to experience the market and make new contacts, particularly through high-level visits. For example, Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt recently visited France between 8-9 June as a VIP speaker at Paris Cyber Week, and he was in charge of Estonia’s business delegation in the cybersecurity field.
Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt’s visit to France
Export Adviser in France
Read the original article in Estonian here: Prantslased ootavad Eesti digieduloo kordamist - EAS
Publication of this article is financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).