This question seems to me furiously legitimate. The erratic actions and reversals of our ministers in the digital domain, especially on the history of the sovereign cloud that became a trusted cloud, is at the very least a consistent sign of this. Many will think, rightly or wrongly, that this is a gratuitous and rather unsupported attack. In this article, I will try to show you that my words are far from being far-fetched.
What is, in my opinion, the role of a state at the global level?
Any government of a sovereign state, apart from its regalian attributions which are the pillars of its functioning, has for objective to organize its internal market and its industry, in order to ensure the economic development of its country and to increase its wealth. I know that this may seem like a truism, but it is good to recall some basic truths, to clarify my point. Another element that I think is key in the discussion is the fact that the relocation of part of the value chain impoverishes, with a very negative impact on employment. I chose to talk about the value chain, because simply talking about the relocation of industries is less consensual (debate – Cairn info). Indeed, it is quite easy to understand that if for a given product the whole value chain is on your territory, you get all the benefit, whether the product is bought on your market or exported (and even more in this case). This reasoning remains simplistic, because then, of course, you have to take into account the capacity of your territory to master the different steps of this value chain. It is expected that a government will defend the industry sector it represents. Indeed, has a Minister of Agriculture ever said that French wines were less good than Californian wines? And yet, this is what our Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Mr. Cédric O, and the Minister of Economy and Industry, Mr. Le Maire, systematically do, notably with their “Trusted Cloud” project. I would therefore paraphrase Benjamin Bayart of the Quadrature du Net (see the video), by saying that this is indeed a decision of CIOs to protect themselves from legal risk, but which does not take into account a strategy of industrial orientation! This lack of industrial ambition can be found in many areas, sometimes sensitive ones such as defense, where the desire to make collaborative programs at any cost has impacts on our future operational capacity. But this is not the subject of this article.
What strategy for digital in France?
This is an interesting question, and one that does not lead to an accepted consensus. But in order to answer this question, we may need to make the starting assumptions, what is digital? Are we only talking about the software part at the top layer, that of the uses? Are we talking about the hosting of our data or applications, the famous cloud? Are we talking about the operating systems of our computers and phones or tablets (Windows, Android or IOS for the major American ones…)? Or are we also talking about hardware, i.e. computers, servers or smartphones? Or are we trying to address the entire value chain? When you ask this question, you have a certain number of French digital actors who consider that the battle is lost (on most levels) and that we must focus on the software level. This is an argument that can be heard, especially for an entrepreneur and on a simple economic vision without questioning the current doxa. Then you have others, like yours truly, who do not share this vision, and try to have a more geostrategic vision. Indeed, let’s take the example of China, admittedly we are not the same size, but what strategy has it put in place to emerge and become a major player in the digital world? I am going to oversimplify, but we can consider that there are two major pillars to this strategy, which in my opinion are the following:
- An assumed protectionist policy, which allowed them to protect their nascent companies, by ensuring them a domestic market. This protectionism included the necessity for any foreign company wishing to establish itself to carry out technological transfers, thus making it possible to catchup with the technological gap at high speed.
- An educational policy that takes into account the country’s economic needs, with a fierce selection policy, allowing us to “produce” high-level engineers. These same engineers who now make it possible to see the emergence of breakthrough innovations, and not only in digital technology.
We can therefore legitimately ask ourselves the following question: have our leaders for the last 25 to 20 years really taken the measure of the stakes?
It is therefore crucial that all French digital actors, as well as ordinary citizens aware of the importance of keeping our industrial, economic and cultural independence in the digital world, mobilize and “preach” the good word to all future candidates in the presidential election. From my point of view, this is a major and structuring issue for our nation.
For a sovereign digital ecosystem to flourish and grow in our country, several factors must come together. You need quality engineers, which we have. You also need a lot of entrepreneurial initiatives, which are abundant, as shown by the mapping of sovereign solutions. And above all, we need a political will to organize, structure and protect this ecosystem. We are not asking the state to create sovereignty solutions itself, but to offer them a relevant environment to accelerate and consolidate their growth, while remaining a demanding customer in terms of the quality of the service expected. One of the weapons proposed by the PlayFranceDigital collective is to reserve 50% of public orders for sovereign players.
We feel that there is an emerging awareness on this subject, let’s take advantage of the presidential election to advance the subject and ask the candidates of all sides to take a position in their program!