digital conversion

French and digital companies: persistent delay

"One company in five is condemned to disappear if it does nothing [to enter the digital age] within three years," says the latest study by the BpiFrance Lab. Only 27 % of SMEs and ETIs declare that they are "strongly or very strongly" committed to actions for their adaptation to digital, almost a third have still done nothing in this area and 87 % of French managers do not see any strategic priority for digital. Lack of openness and the logic of silos?
Che BpiFrance think tank surveyed 1,814 managers of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and ETIs (mid-sized companies) in France. [1]. He notes that one manager in five believes that "the time for digital transformation has not yet come" for his company; 10 % even think that the impact of digital technology will be "minimal" on their business in five years time, 29 % qualify this impact as "medium". Awareness is higher in services and commerce, and remains in the minority in transport, public works and industry. Only 27 %s of SMEs and TWAs declare that they are "strongly or very strongly" committed to actions for their adaptation to digital technology, and almost a third have not yet done anything in this area.
Overall, the overwhelming majority of French leaders, 87 %, do not see digital as a strategic priority; moreover, 45 % admit that they have not "forged a vision of the digital transformation" of their company - 57 % in transport, 59 % in construction -, all the more so as an overwhelming majority of them admit that they have not put in place a "formalized watch on competitors, new offers or technological innovations", a sign, the study notes, of a lack of openness towards the outside world. And among those who have a vision of their digital transformation, two-thirds have not established a clear roadmap to achieve it. A small minority, barely 13 %s, have made it a stated strategic priority, and even fewer have launched dedicated training courses, while 24 %s explain the lack of exploitation of data by the lack of in-house skills.
One of the major problems is that only a quarter of companies use external advice and involve operational teams; even fewer (14 %) make "strong internal use of collaborative work tools". This confirms the lack of openness on the part of managers, not only towards the outside, revealed by the lack of monitoring, but also towards the inside. Beyond the exploitation of digital technology, this study by the BpiFrance Lab, which is based on some twenty interviews with enlightened entrepreneurs, deplores an organisation that listens little and favours silos. Two-thirds of managers admit that they do not favour "projects in experimental mode, with strong initiatives taken by the teams. [2... "silo logic seems to prevail! »
But silos reduce vision and degrade the available collective intelligence. And the study notes that digital transformation projects are still the business of the general management at 77 %, whereas we know that the capital of collective intelligence is the result of the mobilization of ALL the staff [3]. And the digital maturity work of CapGemini and MIT Sloan Management [4] s have demonstrated that companies that reap competitive benefits from their digital investments are those whose leaders not only have a coherent vision and action, but also know how to mobilize their people in organizations that foster horizontal collaborations.
On the positive side, 57 % managers "regularly or very regularly" involve their customers in the design of their offers, but only 39 % have actually implemented "tools or processes" to collect and use the data, and 40 % use this data to personalise their offers and customer relations. Transport and tourism are lagging behind the industry, which is a cause for concern for France's tourist attractiveness. [5].
Graph 1 - The three priority areas according to the BpiFrance Lab: using digital technology to personalize customer relations, but also to develop the organization and strategy towards partners to better exploit the opportunities opened up by digital technology.
The study distinguished three categories of managers: the sceptics, 38 %, who are lagging far behind, more numerous in structures with less than 50 employees; the apprentices, 52 %; and the conquerors, 10 %, "fully committed to their digital transformation" and whose "priority is to unite their teams around the transformation project". It shows that the gender of the respondents, the region where they are located and their age have very little impact. As Sylvie Guinard, the head of Thimonnier, who is successfully robotizing her company by relying on management by meaning, declared at the gathering organized by BpiFrance on October 12, "it is not a question of generation", contrary to what is being said about young people. Industry and size are the most influential factors.
This report does not merely photograph the situation, which is worrying in the end, of French companies, but also points out salvageable avenues to be followed, based on the testimonies of entrepreneurs classified as conquerors. The survey, carried out between February and April 2017, shows that French SMEs are still lagging behind in digital technology, as reported a year ago by Deloitte. [6] In 2008, 11.5 % of SMEs sold online compared to 47 % of companies with more than 249 employees.
Graph 2 - Adoption of digital technologies by French SMEs (from 10 to 249 employees) compared to the rest of the EU. The "efficiency" digital tools taken into account as a reference correspond to cloud computing
Source: Deloitte and Eurostat, op. cit.
This reflects a delay compared to the European average and therefore raises the question of French competitiveness: "In France, two out of three SMEs have a website. France lags behind the rest of the European Union, where an average of three out of four SMEs "have such a site. [7]. And if French SMEs practice e-commerce all the less the smaller they are, this is not the case for very small German companies, which are on an equal footing with SMEs. There is therefore no fatality induced by size. On the other hand, "French SMEs that have initiated or carried out their digital transformation are three and a half times more likely to export than the average French SME".
BpiFrance Lab's warning to companies at risk of disappearing in a few years is all the more credible since neglecting the implementation of digital contributions prevents French SMEs from exploiting a major strategic asset. At a time when the French government is preparing a programme to support the growth of SMEs and ETIs [8], it must be remembered that in the age of networks, the effective size of companies is no longer material or financial, it corresponds to the extent and quality of the synergistic relationships built with customers, suppliers and also peers. The construction of this ecosystem increases the resilience and agility of players who play the card of sustainable alliances. This would have saved small independent traders, if they had pooled resources and built central buying groups. It would have prevented the decline of so many city centres. However, we have seen that the majority of SMEs neglect to strengthen relations with both customers and suppliers.
Source: PORTNOFF André-Yves, "Entreprises françaises et numérique : retard persistant", Note de veille, 16 November 2017, Futuribles International. URL
[1] History of misunderstanding. Les dirigeants de PME et ETI face au digital, Paris: BpiFrance Le Lab, September 2017. URL : Accessed November 9, 2017.
[2] In particular, leaders should build on the work of the Process Drivers Club. See the website
[3] See in particular Portnoff André-Yves, Le Pari de l'intelligence / Betting on Intelligence, Paris: Futuribles (Perspectives), 2004.
[4] Westerman George et al, The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform their Peers in Every Industry, CapGemini / Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan Management, July 2017. URL : Accessed November 9, 2017.
[5] On this subject, see Lehalle Évelyne, "Les data, tendance 2016", NTC (New Cultural Tourism), February 4, 2016. URL : Fabry Philippe, "Le big data au service de la connaissance des touristes",, 30 October 2017. URL : Accessed November 9, 2017.
[6] Digital economy: digital, an opportunity for French SMEs, Deloitte, December 2016. URL : Accessed November 9, 2017.
[8] "Plan entreprises : le gouvernement inaugurée le "Bercy Lab" ", Le Monde des artisans, 23 October 2017. URL : Accessed November 9, 2017.
To go further :
–  Digital disruption lab report, Medef guide to global digital ecosystems, December 2017

- Book "Big Data, penser l'homme et le monde autrement" by Gilles Babinet, Preface by Erik Orsenna - Edition Le Passeur, November 2016
- Book "Digital transformation: the advent of platforms" by Gilles Babinet - Edition Le Passeur, December 2016
- Book " Le guide de la transformation digitale: La méthode en 6 chantiers pour réussir votre transformation " by Emmanuel Vivier and Vincent Ducrey - Edition Eyrolles, November 2016

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