Automotive, trade, energy… Over the past ten years, technology has reshuffled the cards in all areas of the economy. A twist not always easy for companies, but one that makes some ESNs happy, those digital service companies better known as SSII in the past. While its competitor Atos is going through a dark phase with the split of the group into two entities, Capgemini ended 2021 with record figures (18.16 billion sales and 1.16 billion euros net profit), confirming the relevance of the Altran acquisition. But the digital boom is also creating a tech talent shortage that the company is particularly confronted with (23.5% of employees left last year). Its managing director, Aiman Ezzat, gives his analysis of these transformations.
L’Express: Which technologies have changed companies the most in recent years?
Aiman Ezzat : The cloud has changed the game. This environment makes it possible to work faster because it often has pre-programmed applications for finance, customer relations or management, especially logistics. Instead of building a building, you basically buy one already equipped. The cloud has become the central platform for business operations. The other area that has transformed many sectors of the economy is artificial intelligence and data. AI has been around for a long time, but it’s only recently that we’ve had the computing power and storage capacities to really make use of the vast amounts of data available today. We often fear that AI will automate certain functions and thus make jobs disappear. But it also creates many new features and new uses.
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What new applications does AI create in business?
With AI and a camera, one of our automotive partners can now detect engine faults that a human could not see with the naked eye. Until now, such defects were only discovered in use, so that vehicles had to be returned to the factory for repairs, which was very expensive. We’ve created a large library of possible AI uses that helps manufacturers align with the applications that have proven themselves in their industry, even as we continue to develop new ones. Businesses often dream of a feature that radically improves the way they work, but it’s more of a series of small improvements from AI that collectively make the difference. However, at Capgemini we have set some red lines in relation to AI. For example the European GDPR framework, we have chosen to apply it everywhere because we do not want to work on projects that do not sufficiently respect the privacy of the public.
Which innovations are you currently following exactly that you think will change companies the most in the coming years?
5G will play a pivotal role as we move towards a world where intelligence is built into every system and product, whether cars or furniture. The most appropriate data storage locations must be identified. What do we process remotely in the cloud and what locally because operations cannot suffer from latency? Securing that 5G connectivity will also be crucial.
Quantum also has interesting potential in certain sectors, particularly financials and pharmaceuticals. It allows solving certain calculations that are too complex for standard computers. This will be useful for the development of new molecules, since this discipline requires sophisticated calculations. Quantum technology will also disrupt the security of communications: it risks being used by hackers to breach existing protection networks, but in return it can help create more secure communication channels.
Many companies are wondering if they should embark on the metaverse and blockchain, what do you think of these innovations?
There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the Metaverse. Not every idea examined will be viable, but there are many exciting clues for the gaming and retail industries. There are already people buying products in the Metaverse. In industry, more and more teams are partially trained in virtual reality or use digital versions of their factories – digital twins – to monitor them more effectively. All of this fits naturally into metaverse. But each sector will be able to envision specific immersive experiences. For example, we are currently developing a virtual reality application that customers of a car dealership can use to put on a helmet and virtually configure the car according to their wishes. Color of the vehicle, upholstery of the seats… In this way you can immediately visualize the different renderings.
Healthcare is also a sector where immersive experiences can be useful, for example for operational simulation training. However, the decisive factor will be how the manufacturers will succeed in perfecting their virtual or augmented reality glasses and headsets: these devices can – and must – be improved. There are also applications with interesting potential on the blockchain and Web3 side. Blockchain can improve traceability by giving full transparency into where an object’s components came from. This can be very useful for measuring a product’s carbon footprint.
As technology has evolved, so has your industry. They and the other companies previously referred to as “SSII” will also be renamed “ESN” for Digital Service Companies. To what extent have your professions changed?
When we talked about SSII, we immediately thought of “IT management” and “cost center”. And it’s true that ten years ago we had most of our discussions with the IT department. It has diversified. We now also work a lot with the departments that are responsible for marketing or customer relations. Internally, we had to greatly expand our expertise in data management by recruiting data scientists. As our customers’ demands evolve to seek revenue, acquire customers, develop new products or improve the services provided, creative people help shape new interactions with customers. Look at the automotive industry: Software now accounts for 60% of the cost of developing a car. The focus of the vehicle development process has shifted.
We work a lot on the concept of Smart Industry, where the physical world and the digital world converge. The digitization of the manufacturing process of a component, for example, makes it possible to reduce costs and make them more ecological. We are currently working on this with a customer who manufactures batteries.
The ESN sector has always seen significant revenue. But in 2021, it rose to 23.5% at Capgemini. What is it related to and how to deal with this phenomenon?
Companies like ours have always had a turnover rate of between 15 and 20%. But that’s not a handicap. This movement of talents allows us to renew ourselves. If sales dropped below 15%, we wouldn’t function as well. It should be noted that this circulation is very beneficial for companies in other sectors. Groups like ours are strategic links in the development of tech talent. Startups and Gafam are hungry for our profiles. Most of our customers would not have the capacity to train them in-house. Recruiting these talents after gaining experience in groups like ours is therefore crucial for them. However, it’s true that there’s been more tension around tech jobs lately. This is because the sector has seen strong growth, but these tensions should be eased.
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However, many French stakeholders, notably the Numeum trade union, warn that the number of French educated in the technical field is well below market needs. Do you make the same observation?
Yes, the digital professions are very diverse and there is a lack of profiles compared to the overall needs of companies. This problem needs to be solved. To do this, we need to stop focusing solely on engineering profiles. The entire economy has gone digital. We also need digital trainees and people who have completed a shorter tech education.
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