All posts by Nora Guelton

Big Data for Big SMES – A user guide

Econocom 20 Mar 2015

Close to 5,000 people gathered in Paris’s La Défense district for the 4th Big Data Paris expo: a major event for a booming industry. But big data isn’t just for big business; it also affects SMEs, who can improve performance by analysing large data sets.


Just a few years ago ‘big data’ was a term reserved for mathematicians in IT departments at large companies. Now, the big data revolution is impacting all companies, big or small. The development of multi-purpose, affordable, easy-to-use solutions has opened up extraction and mining of large volumes of data to SMES. The challenge? Accessing, viewing, storing and using the data quickly and easily to extract valuable information, and therefore value. That goes for data that is structured (e.g. customer or product databases) and unstructured (images, sound files, videos, etc.). This can be done using reporting tools, dashboards or multidimensional analyses.


When SMEs improve results with big data

Analysing data can lead to increased productivity and new opportunities, a prospect not to be sniffed at by any company in today’s economic climate, which is volatile to say the least.

Sales: Big data provides a better awareness and understanding of customer purchasing habits by analysing the buying process, shopping bag contents, transactions, and more. The goal: to make consumer ‘fall in love’ (i.e. buy more), and win their loyalty.

Healthcare: The effectiveness of internal structures can be monitored and diagnoses can be made more precise by examining patient data.

Finance: Analysing data provides a clearer idea of market risks and makes it possible to scrutinize profit and losses.

Wider use of big data has been creeping up over the last few months, becoming a decisive growth factor in all areas of activity.


Is better data management on the cards?

SMEs need to remove the obstacles: big data is still often thought of as an additional cost rather than an investment. However, sources of information are growing, and SMEs can now use readily available tools to analyse data feeds or bespoke solutions adapted to their specific needs.


Providing big data training is, of course, vital. But it is also necessary to break down silos in companies and make them grow by creating a culture that constantly challenges the status quo. Abed Ajraou, Head of BI at Solocal Group, suggests moving away from an organisation based on business lines or technologies towards one defined by data or services provided.


In terms of tools, several providers use the cloud to set up flexible platforms that do not require in-depth technical knowledge. What this really means is creating an infrastructure that is capable of processing any kind of data before business-intelligence is applied (analytical algorithms) to extract meaning.


That is precisely the challenge of big data: it is easy to drown in the vast ocean of information, so it is of real strategic importance to outline indicators that will allow you to extract added value from it. It can make your offering stand out and help you beat the competition.


Phoro credit: justgrimes – data (scrabble) / / Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Big Data Paris 2015: “Data is the fuel of the digital economy“

Econocom 19 Mar 2015

Data is fundamental to society and the economy. The main industry players got together last week for the 4th Big Data Paris exhibition, an event which unveils the key trends in this essential market.


“Data is the fuel of the digital economy. Its value increases with every use; it brings about a change in paradigms. You have to have the courage to review the way you see products and services.”

French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Axelle Lemaire opened  Big Data Paris with a speech in which she encouraged organisations to take advantage of megadata:

“The value of the economy today, and even more so tomorrow, lies in data, often called the 21st-century oil. But the comparison isn’t entirely apt: oil companies in the 20th century often had the monopoly, whereas we’ll need a different model for data.”



Big Data has been the subject of much discussion and debate in recent years. But it’s still in the early stages, as Elias Baltassis, Data & Analytics Director for Boston Consulting Group, said during a keynote at the event:

“We’re in a sector that’s beginning to mature, and fundamental questions are being raised.”

At last year’s Big Data Paris, Baltassis was already concerned that French organisations were late in adopting Big Data:

“Where Big Data is concerned, France is lagging behind other countries, particularly the US. It’s mainly down to Management’s mind-set: at the moment Big Data is much more a technical issue than a managerial or organisational one.”

In 2015, the coordinator of the French government’s “Nouvelle France industrielle” “Big Data” plan, Marc Chemin, was a little more optimistic, observing:

“French companies are now active in Big Data. They’re a bit disorganised, sure, but let’s remember that last year they were still just discovering it.”

This enthusiasm should perhaps be tempered, though. For whilst a number of companies have identified the practical uses of analysing megadata, they tend to separate the technical and business approaches: one focuses on infrastructures, the other on data science. For Didier Gaultier, director of Customer Intelligence at Business & Decision, this lack of convergence prevents organisations from having a holistic approach to projects:

“You can’t define the methodology without taking into account the infrastructure, tools and data available.”


Big data AND IOT: A FLOURISHING alliance

And yet Big Data projects are beginning to flourish everywhere, from multinationals to SMBs and across all industry sectors – a development which prompted Bernard Ourghanlian, Technical and Security Director for Microsoft France, to come up with a new definition:

“Data is becoming the new currency.”

For Ourghanlian, a machine learning specialist, #IoT is indissociable from Big Data. During his keynote, he stressed the importance of structuring data:

“Ambient intelligence can only deliver on its promise if connected devices all speak the same language.”

For at the moment, there is no official standard for the interaction of devices: data can be transmitted in a variety of formats.


Table ronde sur le salon Big Data Paris

Thomas Serval, Co-founder of KOLIBREE, Hugues Severa d’Aviva, Mathias Herberts from Citizen Data and Pascal Brosset from Schneider Electric during the round table on IoT.


A number of startups specialising in IoT also attended this year’s conference, such as Cityzen Data. As founder Mathias Herberts explains:

“We’re surrounded by all sorts of data, in all industry sectors and in our everyday lives. Technology, which is more reliable than people, allows us to collect and measure it. But a problem that is starting to arise more and more is not having the tools to store and analyse these massive volumes of data. What Cityzen Data does is finds solutions to this very problem. We provide companies with big clouds that collect mainly the data from connected devices and find ways to process it.”

The real challenge now is exploiting big data: being able to get the added value out of large volumes of data. For Pascal Brosset, director of innovation at Schneider Electric, this is the key issue:

“The problem isn’t making connected devices but knowing what users do with them and getting the data to talk.”



“Getting data to talk” requires algorithms, of course, but not only that. Benoît Bourdé of Exalead  insists on the importance of the quality of the data, particularly from the point of view of customer relations:

“You need good data, but mainly data that’s linked to other data. Phase 1 is the “snapshot” at the end of the month. Then you need to add the data from the Internet or from outside the company, and then complete the sequences, which is customer behaviour over time.”

According to Bourdé, who specialises in innovative applications, analysing large volumes of qualitative data means companies can measure customer satisfaction and then hone their sales strategy. These sorts of indicators can also be used for prospecting: by closely observing the behaviour of current clients, it’s possible to predict how prospects will respond to a product or service. So if the methodology is right, that’s a ROI guaranteed.

The exhibitors and visitors to Big Data Paris were unanimous: the possibilities of Big Data are immense and we’re only at the beginning of a movement that could revolutionise the way our companies work. As Axelle Lemaire said in her opening address:

“We just need to nurture the potential.”

So, in other words – promote the Digital for All, Now movement.


Photo credit: Philippe – La Défense (Paris) – Night Shots – CNIT et tour SFR / / Licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The customer interface: a new industrial battle?

Econocom 17 Mar 2015

Since the industrial revolution, companies have developed complex processes from R&D to distribution and through design and production. But in recent years this model has been turned upside down: Über, the world’s biggest taxi company, owns no vehicles; Alibaba, a major valuable retailer, has no inventory; accommodation provider AirBnB owns no properties. What all these companies have in common is that they rely entirely on peer-to-peer interfaces in order to generate revenue.



“FULL STACK COMPANIES” VS. “Interface Owners”

TechCrunch puts companies into two categories:

• Full stack companies control all the “layers”: from R&D to marketing, and from distribution to sales.

• Interface owners, which use online platforms or applications to create an interface between users with needs and people who can address them.


Interface owners are the fastest-growing companies in history, thanks to their digital native savvy that allows them to be streets ahead of companies who have barely started their digital transformation. Flight price-comparison sites, for example, first seemed to provide welcome traffic and revenue to airlines before the airlines tried unsuccessfully to cut off their business and promoted their own apps and websites.


THE Customer interface WAR

Companies such as Uber, AirBnB and Blablacar reach a maximum of clients with minimal overheads and a much more agile organisation than full stack companies. For example, whilst a newspaper needs to write, fact check, buy paper, print and distribute newspapers to generate ad money, Facebook achieves the same thing by simply providing a platform for users to write their own content.


The value of a company is no longer measured in terms of the product manufactured or the service rendered, but by the quality of the software, app or platform it offers. Having an icon on every smartphone screen is now more profitable than having a store at the most prestigious address.


To stay in the game, disruptive companies therefore have to offer an optimal user experience

That focuses on the quality of their digital interfaces. Bertrand Duperrin, a director at Next Modernity, a digital transformation consulting firm, recently stressed the importance of having a holistic view of digitalisation. The digital transformation specialist mentions an incident when he was trying to get a loyalty card from his mobile: whilst the first stages went smoothly, he didn’t receive his automatically-generated loyalty number via email until a week later!

“The digital, mobile experience was remarkably well thought-out and executed but it didn’t include all the processes.”

The disappointment of this experience led him to the following conclusion:

“This proves that the digital transformation of an organisation isn’t just about slapping digital on the existing organisation but completely reinventing it.”

And this is precisely where the interface owners have the edge: as they’re completely web-based, they have complete control over the entire digital arsenal.  At a time when digital should no longer be just a skill for a company but a genuine transformation driver, the “new barbarians”, as they are sometimes referred to, should at least be credited for forcing their competitors to speed up their digital transition.


Photo credit: Nathanael Coyne –  Sketching ( / Licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

French Startups at #MWC2015: “There was a tiny Google booth behind a big Sigfox one“

Econocom 13 Mar 2015

The Mobile Word Congress in Barcelona (MWC), which took place on 2-5 March, is more than just an opportunity for manufacturers to unveil their latest innovations. MWC2015 attracted a number of CIOs and Marketing Directors, for mobility today is no longer just an issue for operators and manufacturers; it’s a key digital transformation driver that can boost organisations’ performances.


IoT, indoor location and contactless payment: a number of French digital makers went to Barcelona earlier this month to showcase their innovations in all industries, from retail to manufacturing. 




A total of 184 French companies attended this year’s Mobile World Congress, ranging from giants like Orange, Altos and Criteo to startups. The strong presence of the “French Tech” contingent led French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, who attended the event, to quip in an article in Les Echos:

“There was a tiny Google booth behind a big Sigfox one.”

The Toulouse-headquartered company, which specialises in slow networks for the Internet of Things (#IoT) has been generating quite a buzz of late: of the billions of objects that could be connected (water meters, fire alarms, environmental sensors, etc.), the vast majority require very little in terms of bandwidth, and Sigfox was one of the first to get in on the market.


As CEO Ludovic Le Moan explained in an interview during the MCW:

“When everyone else was offering broadband for multimedia, we did the opposite: we send just a few bytes of data but in a way that wouldn’t be possible with other technologies.”

Le Moan went on:

“Sigfox is kind of the Twitter of the telecom world.”

As Anne Lauvergeon, former boss of Areva and chair of the Board of Sigfox, explained to La Tribune:

“With our network you can send short messages at low speed – short, but full of meaning! The followers might be the devices themselves: we’re entering an age when humans can connect to objects and objects can connect to each other. We have come up with a low-cost solution that will help the market take off much more quickly. It’s quite a revolutionary approach.”



Sigfox wasn’t the only notable French startup in Barcelona: Madeeli, a new agency for economic development, exports and innovation in the Midi-Pyrénées region, sent its ambassadors to the exhibition. Chairman Martin Malvy, a former minister and president of the Midi-Pyrénées regional council, said:

“If we want to develop our businesses, we need to innovate and break into new markets.”

To that end, Madeeli runs Rezopep, a network of business incubators which supports start-ups. One of these, Gaiddon Software, was in Barcelona to present an application that brings digital technology into the real estate sector through an interactive, 3D digital model that can be viewed on tablets. CEO and founder Fabien Gaiddon explains:

“Our solution is four to five times cheaper than what the competition is offering. The whole process was industrialised internally, which allowed us to offer an affordable, turnkey application. The property developers don’t have to configure anything, it’s all ready to use, so their sales people can have a modern tool for their customer meetings.

With this solution, Gaiddon, already well-established in image analysis and processing, has taken BIM (Building Information Modeling) innovation even further.

Another startup from Toulouse, Pole Star, was omnipresent at MWC: the event organisers asked this indoor location specialist to install sensors to help visitors find their way around the 94,000m² exhibition space. Back in 2013 Pole Star’s CEO Christian Carle talked about the potential of indoor location solutions in the retail sector in an interview with Forbes:

“Indoor location services bring real convenience for shoppers, helping them navigate inside buildings, while giving retailers the opportunity to increase sales and improve customer loyalty.”

With Pole Star, retailers can target customers when they’re approaching their store, for example by sending them special offers to their smartphone. Thus #Digitalforallnow is coming into shopping centres but also railways stations and airports (interactive maps, route planning, multilingual signs, etc.) or even museums and amusement parks (multimedia guides, access control, etc.):

“Unlike all the other indoor location startups that are still at the piloting phase, Pole Star has real paying customers with more than 53 million square feet covered by our technology, in 16 countries and with a 3D accuracy of 2 meters!”

CopSonic AND contactLESS PAYMENT

Another startup from South-West France that made quite a splash in Barcelona is Secom-Pixeliris and its innovative contactless payment technology, CopSonic. The only French startup to attend last year’s G20 summit in Perth, Australia, CopSonic provides secure data exchanges between mobile devices using sound waves. The solution is revolutionising mobile payment: as information is transferred through microphones and speakers on smartphones or tablets, there is no need to install a specific application, and thus avoids any compatibility issues.


According to Emmanuel Ruiz, Managing Director of CopSonic, the potential uses are endless as it turns a smartphone into a digital wallet for the user or a payment terminal for the retailer:

“The person sending payment just calls a service, keys in the amount on their phone and then enters the recipient’s number. The recipient then receives a call, and they just need to bring the two devices together to complete the transaction. A unique sound is generated at each transaction and guarantees that the payer and payee are together.”

Whilst contactless payment is still struggling to take off in France, it’s booming in emerging countries, particularly in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of the population don’t have bank accounts. Ruiz explains:

“At the moment we’re focusing on two areas: mobile payment in emerging countries and cyber-security, to resolve everyday issues such as doing away with logins and passwords.”

Thanks to CopSonic’s ultrasonic authentication system, online banks and services requiring secure access can simplify their authentication process and avoid hacking or phishing attempts – a major innovation in sectors where data security is paramount.



At MWC2015, it wasn’t just telecoms operators but players from all industry sectors who got together to find out about the latest trends, look for new partners or present their solutions. This is further proof that companies are beginning to adopt #Digitalforallnow and seeing mobile technology as not just a  communication channel but an essential driver for digital transformation that is revolutionising  customer relationships and organisation structures.


Photo credit: BTV Barcelona Televisió – Mobile World Capital Barcelona stand (, licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Belgium’s Dept. of Social Security : “No one has their own office anymore“

Econocom 9 Mar 2015

When Frank Van Massenhove joined Belgium’s Department of Social Security as Director in 2002 he was full of original ideas about teleworking and social networks. His task: to put a moribund institution back on its feet. His strategy: telecommuting. To cut costs and boost productivity of his 5,000 employees, he allows them to work from home three days a week.

In a documentary called Le bonheur au travail, (“Happiness in the workplace”) directed by Martin Meissonnier and recently broadcast on French TV,  the audacious Massenhove’s initial impressions of the working from home experiment were positive: employees were both happier and more efficient and the cost savings generated by the Service Public Fédéral (SPF) meant he was able to replenish the coffers and invest in some new open-plan, lively, connected offices.

“Money doesn’t motivate people. What motivates them is to work in an atmosphere of respect and trust for an organisation that is well respected by society.”

When Frank Van Massenhove joined the SPF Social Security, no one wanted to work for what they perceived as an archaic institution. His idea was to hire Y generationers – digital natives. To attract these people who didn’t want to be told when and where to work because the ubiquity offered by digital tools is second-nature to them, he created an organisation that was geared towards their culture and requirements, and with a focus on teleworking.


A DISCREET transformation

“I knew that if I’d gone to see one of the ministers and told him that SPF wasn’t going to tell people where and when they should work, he’d have gone mad. So I didn’t say anything and did it on the quiet.”

The first step of Frank Van Massenhove’s ambitious plan involved giving employees the option of working from home up to three days a week and, consequently, allowing them to organise their work schedule as they saw fit. Of course, those who still prefer to come to the office every day are perfectly free to do so.


How it works is employees work on computers connected to the SPF’s network and communicate with colleagues via instant messaging, meaning the teams don’t have to be in the same place in order to work together effectively. They also find is easier to concentrate at home. It does of course mean that staff are required to be available evenings and weekends, but on the whole there are no unreasonable demands made on employees’ time.



One of the most common arguments against teleworking is that employees won’t be motivated. And yet at the SPF, it’s quite the opposite: the average lead-time for handling cases has gone down from 18 months to 4 and a half months and the organisation’s results have improved.


Furthermore, substantial savings have been made: now that the majority of the 5,000 employees work from home, the organisation doesn’t need as much office space. Some of the savings generated were therefore used to create a more collaborative workspace with open meeting areas fitted with sound insulation so employees can work in peace and quiet. These workspaces, ideal for “hot-desking,” was another idea of Van Massenhove’s to encourage communication and create a more dynamic relationship between employees and managers:

“No one has their own office anymore. I myself work at a different desk every day.”

And whilst certain managers don’t approve of these changes, they have little choice in the matter:

“We let employees assess their managers. If the managers had a poor performance review, then they were demoted … So they had to change, they had no alternative.”



As a result of this new organisation, managers are more receptive to employees’ needs, the teams are closer, and a number of initiatives have been launched that are difficult to imagine in a government institution: for example, at the SPF, employees are encouraged to communicate on the social networks.

“In most companies, you’re not supposed to go onto social network sites on company time. But we don’t have specific hours and we encourage our employees to go onto social networks.”

And the policy for posting content is somewhat surprising for a public body:

“We have a simple rule: always tell the truth. And it doesn’t matter if the truth isn’t flattering: as long as it’s the truth, the employees can say it.”

According to Frank Van Massenhove, only the most flexible employers will survive in this environment: soon, they will be the ones who have to convince staff, and not the other way round. Working from home and using social media sites are therefore essential factors: as Van Massenhove explained in an interview on website l’Observatoire de la vie à la maison:

“Teleworking is really just an extension of the pre-industrial era: before there were factories, almost everyone worked from home. iPads and smartphones mean that’s now possible for a lot of people in the service sector.”

Van Massenhove was quick to grasp the importance of the digital transition: Digital for All, Now is a lever that allows companies to rethink the way they are organised and adopt more flexible, effective models, whilst improving employees’ working conditions. In this revolution, everyone’s a winner: so why doesn’t every organisation take the plunge?


Photo credit : Henri Bergius – Coffee break (, licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Open Data movement: from civic engagement to driver of economic performance

Econocom 6 Mar 2015

Opening up access to public data addresses a multitude of major challenges. It is full of promise to boot, from transforming public operations to engaging individuals and, above all, stimulating economic activity. Some local authorities in France have been leading the open data vanguard since 2010, taking on the role of ‘digital makers’. A number of best practices have arisen from their experience which show just how much businesses have to gain.


Open data for all

The aim of the open data movement initiated by the public sector is to make available to everyone certain ‘key data’ about businesses and institutions. Every rung on the decision-making ladder is affected, from central government to regional and local authorities. The purpose of opening up access to transport data, for instance, is manifold: budget transparency, optimisation of public services and stimulation of the economy.


The town of Issy-les-Moulineaux, the small commune of Brocas and the entire Île-de-France region are therefore involved in the same process to catalogue, record, verify, sort and put online a whole host of data in machine-readable format. The upstream work regarding the online release of the data is crucial, as it determines how the information in these data sets is used.


Focus on function and reuse

According to Eric Legale, Managing Director of Issy Media (a semi-public company responsible for innovation and communication in Issy-les-Moulineaux),

“The provision of raw data does not meet the needs of the majority of citizens or businesses”.

If we look at experiences thus far, we can see that the ability to reuse data is vital if the process is to reach its full potential, in particular in the private sector. It requires a portal through which individuals and companies alike can view and use data. This can be done using an open API and, ideally, a data visualisation system.


When companies reveal everything they know about their customers

The UK Midata initiative launched in 2011 as part of the open data movement is particularly interesting, as it reverses the traditional roles of companies and individuals. Victor Fouqueray, head of the Île-de-France open data project, explained that,

“The twenty or so large companies involved in the programme make available to consumers the data they possess about them. The customer relationship is therefore turned on its head, and the information gives power back to the consumer”.

Initiatives such as these which are designed to connect companies and their customers allow both sides to make savings, thanks to the keener understanding of real needs. We are entering a new age of open data that goes beyond the public sphere. As companies open up and barriers fall down, performance and efficiency will increase. That’s the spirit of digital for all now!


Photo credit: Jer Thorp – Random Number Multiples – RGB (, licence CC BY 2.0)

“Digital“ or “numérique“? A new linguistic debate rages in France

Econocom 27 Feb 2015

In France, the latest debate on French terms vs. Anglicisms concerns the term ‘digital’: should they use the French word numérique or the borrowed English term? The French-speaking social networks are currently abuzz with heated exchanges between techies and linguists. So which is the right way to go?



According to the Académie Française, that venerable institution and the ultimate authority on the French language, the word digital means “belonging to or pertaining to the fingers; from the Latin, digitalis.” The Académie advocates using numérique in French rather than digital, but bearing in mind that the vast majority of the French population uses the English term email, in defiance of the Academy’s exhortations to adopt the French neologisms courriels and mèls, their influence on modern language could perhaps be questioned.


One of the main arguments put forward by the anti-digital league is that the term comes from the Latin digitus (finger) and thus – as the Académie pointed out – logically means ‘of or pertaining to the finger’. The French for fingerprint, for example, is empreinte digitale. ‘Digital’ in French doesn’t have any associations with ‘figures,’ as it does in English.


Therefore the use of the word digital, they argue, is a direct borrowing from the English, where the word has been used in an IT context since as far back as 1945.


In France, the word first came into use with the term affichage digital (digital display) on old alarm clocks or radios – a term which continued to be used even after the advent of dot matrix displays.


The registering of certain trademarks for technical solutions containing the word digital, (e.g. Dolby Digital and the Digital Theater System (DTS) also contributed to adoption of the word in everyday language in France.


Numérique: THE favoURITE OF THE DEFENDERS OF “bon français”

The French word numérique, meanwhile, from the Latin numerus, means ‘represented by numbers”. The term was originally used in IT to describe the binary system of the very first computers.


The meaning of the word numérique has evolved over the years, but it continued to be used in IT even after computers ceased to calculate numerically and when algorithms and symbols replaced numbers.


culture numérique vs. culture digitale

Of course, this isn’t the first time digital technology has been the source of linguistic controversy in France: a few years ago there was the whole hashtag embargo. Numérique will doubtless continue to be used in France by those who make a point of resisting the invasion of Anglicisms in the French language and use mercatique instead of marketing, remue-méninges and not brainstorming, and pense-bête rather than check-list, etc.


But in reality, digital is increasingly used by French-speakers, particularly in Communications, an area that is notoriously fond of Anglicisms, to the point where it has become part of everyday parlance and essentially has the same semantic function as its French equivalent.


And whether the purists like it or not, words and their meanings change over time, and French has always borrowed from other languages. Language today is more descriptive then prescriptive: aside from the strict etymological aspect, what determines a word’s meaning is the way it’s used. As long as there is no problem regarding understanding, the choice of digital or numérique is really down to personal taste as opposed to actual rules.


The language expert’s take

In an article on this very debate on a French-language blog, Anthony Mathé, a linguistics and communication PhD, believes there is a subtle distinction between the two terms: numérique refers to technology as it is used by engineers, whereas digital is about users’ practice of technology. In terms of the process too, argues Mathé, there is difference between numérisation, which describes the transforming of media – films, images, recordings signs – into a computerised format, whilst digitalisation refers more to communication via computerised media.

“Digital takes us to the other side of the screen.”

When we talk about Digital for All, Now, it’s about focusing innovation projects on UX Design, whether the user is an employee, client or prospect. Because in the end, it’s by addressing their needs that companies will get the best results and significantly improve their performance.


Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle – Question mark, Ipswich, 21 January 2012 (, license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Machine learning: from reading a handwritten address to predicting the items in a shopping basket

Econocom 25 Feb 2015

Machine learning is used to draw up predictive models from datasets. An email client can for example file certain messages directly into the spam folder: having gone through thousands of messages, the software has learned how to identify junk mail.

One of the conferences at this year’s Microsoft TechDays in Paris looked at how applying this offshoot of artificial intelligence can allow businesses to improve their performance.


It may sound like something out of a science fiction film, but we already use machine learning applications in our everyday lives: every time  we make a search on Google or play on a game  console with gesture recognition, for example. The concept in itself isn’t actually that recent either:  Microsoft has been working on the possibility of evolving a machine’s behaviour by analysing huge volumes of data for the past fifteen years or so.


With machine learning, machines can perceive their environment and recognise objects, whether natural language or handwritten elements, faces, shapes, etc., something which is impossible to achieve with traditional algorithms. Provided that the data set is large enough, it is possible now to create predictive mechanisms by closely reading and observing the data, whatever its nature.


In practical terms, machine learning can be used to create tools that can detect credit card fraud, determine how successful a product launch will be, conduct precise stock market analyses, classify DNA sequences, monitor whales by recording their calls or detect psychopathy by analysing tweets.



We’ve come a long way since Garry Kasparov could beat Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer developed by IBM in the 90s. The latest genius of American enterprises is Watson, an artificial intelligence programme that understands natural language; Watson Analytics is a cognitive computing platform with powerful predictive analysis tools for business use.


So machine learning isn’t just for analysts and data scientists: marketing, sales, finance and HR professionals without a scientific background can now understand and interpret company information by making simple natural language queries.


Product managers, marketing professionals, Account Managers and HR Directors can thus ask questions such as: what are the main sales drivers for a product? What sort of perks are likely to keep an employee in a company? Which prospects are the most likely to become customers?

To come up with an answer, Watson Analytics looks at the data supplied by the user, gives a score on the cleanliness of the data and says how much potentially interesting analysis could be derived from the set. It then looks for any interesting correlations that may be occurring and displays them as graphs. Based on the type of results the user chooses to visualise, Watson Analytics gets a better idea of their areas of interest. It will then come up with tailored analyses to optimise a marketing campaign, offer better services to clients or more generally, to make decisions based on various predictions.


Watson Analytics’ rival over at Microsoft is Azure Machine Learning, a predictive analysis application which, like Watson, enables users to explore data and make forecasts, irrespective of their level of data scientist skill: it uses an intuitive interface, drag-and-drop gestures and simple data flow graphs.


The algorithms are the same ones used for the Xbox game console or Bing’s search engine, but it offers the same potential as IBM. The only difference is Azure Machine Learning is designed to be incorporated in to other Microsoft tools such as Azure Storage, its cloud-based storage solution, or more technical services such as HDInsight which can process huge volumes of data.



“Machine learning has the ability to totally transform business models.”

For Bernard Ourghanlian, Director of IT Security at Microsoft France and master of ceremonies at TechDays, machine learning will soon be vital for businesses.


A few cases in point: machine learning means that the US Post office, USPS, can now automatically process 98% of mail with a handwritten address (compared with just 10% before). ThyssenKrupp Elevator, meanwhile, can repair lifts before they break down, thanks to the technology. And IBM’s Watson was enlisted by a cancer centre in New York a few months ago to read and analyse millions of pages of medical journals and clinical reports.


Of course, not all uses of the technology are quite so spectacular: the most common applications of machine learning are far more prosaic, typically in the e-commerce sector: predictive analyses of shopping baskets, cross-selling and recommendations (“You may also like”), estimating shipping costs and lead-times, and fraud detection and prevention.


During this year’s TechDays, French startup Alkemics claimed to have reinvented the client experience thanks to machine learning. Alkemics’ collaborative platform enables e-tailers to enter detailed information about their products and add photos etc. and subsequently coordinate and target their merchandising more effectively. Distributors, meanwhile, have added-value product information and users enjoy an enhanced purchasing experience.



To describe this technology, which is ubiquitous and yet virtually invisible, Bernard Ourghanlian talks of ambient intelligence and quotes Mark Weiser, the ‘godfather’ of ubiquitous computing:

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”

It does naturally raise a number of ethical questions: will these smart machines invade our private lives? How is our personal data protected? The French government debated this very issue last September and published a report on digital technology and fundamental rights.


Photo credit: r2hox – data.path Ryoji.Ikeda – 4 (, licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

Is UX Design the key to digital transformation?

Econocom 20 Feb 2015

User experience (UX) is a set of practices designed to make software, a website or business application more ergonomic, accessible, intuitive and pleasant to use. With the advent of the digital revolution, UX design has become vital to the success of digital transition projects. During Microsoft TechDays, Thierry Raguin, a mobility and UX design expert at Econocom, gave a keynote on this very subject. So what exactly is UX design and what’s it used for?


UX: A STRATEGIC, multi-disciplinaRY APPROACH

Developed in the US, UX design arrived in France in around 2000. Far more than just a process for designing interfaces, UX occurs at every stage of a digital project.

 “UX is an iterative, ongoing approach involving analysing, designing and assessing, whilst constantly focusing on the user experience.”

–  Thierry Raguin at TechDays 2015.


UX is a wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary field that, as the name suggests, is entirely user-focused. The aim is to enable users to achieve their objective in using a product, be it looking for information, purchasing or using a business application. This requires focusing on the technical (interface performance), ergonomic, statistical and affective (i.e. the user’s feelings and perception of the product) aspects.


Magnus Revang, an American UX specialist, has identified seven criteria for assessing user experience: findability (the ease with which a site or application can be found), accessibility (ease of reach, use and understanding), desirability (making users want to use the product), usability (ease of use and learnability), credibility (how much users trust and believe in the product) and usefulness (how valuable users consider the features and functions of the product).


The concept of UX design, however, is not purely a pragmatic one as it includes an emotional dimension: above and beyond usability, the user experience needs to be perceived as pleasant. Although intended to be a holistic approach, UX approaches often address just one of its components, typically UI (User Interface) or HCI (Human–computer interaction), which are based on technical standards that focus chiefly on ergonomics and overlook such elements as trust, desirability and credibility.


5 factOrs TO ENSURE optimal design ux

Integrating UX into a digital transformation project requires starting with an accurate analysis of users’ needs: surveys, workshops, observing their environment, etc. This vital stage, which encompasses aspects of cognitive psychology, will enable designers to create a set of tools which can be used in succession: user profile types, user experience maps, lists of obstacles to overcome, etc. This data will also enable the designer to draw up a list of specifications for designing the project architecture and the associated interactions and interfaces.


The actual design phase will begin with mock-ups and prototypes, which are often interactive, and ends with adding visual element to the approved prototype to make the content easier to understand.

“Discovering, learning, efficiency, performance, enjoyment.”

This is what Thierry Raguin considers to be the five key elements for optimal UX design. But this can only be possible if the user is involved throughout the project and can assess the various interactions and interfaces. Analysing the user’s behaviour during this test phase will allow the design team to determine whether or not the project addresses the requirements identified at the outset, which will in turn be crucial for end-user satisfaction and adoption.


At TechDays, Thierry Raguin stressed the effectiveness of the System Usability Scale (SUS), a 10 item questionnaire with five response options, in measuring user experience quickly.  Another frequently-used method is A/B testing whereby two variants are compared to see which one produces the best results. These tests can be used, for example, to change the name or colour of a button, reorganise a menu or, in certain cases, review the entire ergonomics of a software program or application.



“70% of failures are due to user rejection whilst 83% of KPIs are improved by UX.”.

These figures quoted by Thierry Raguin are extremely telling: for developers and manufacturers, the benefits of creating ergonomic, intuitive products far outweigh the costs. Raguin adds that not including user profile types into the design process can result in up to a 400% loss of ROI, and usability tests can help reduce user support requests by as much as 90%.


Although for the moment, UX is the preserve of IT organisations, Marketing and business are showing a growing interest in the subject. Service providers are thus adjusting their approach to address these new targets, and Marketing and business, meanwhile, are already rethinking their working methods and focusing increasingly on user experience when starting digital transformation projects.



Photo credit: Brian Talbot – you Can’t Depend On Your Eyes (, licence CC BY-NC 2.0)

#DigitalSNCF: Full speed ahead for digitalising the SNCF’s services

Econocom 18 Feb 2015

3G and 4G onboard trains and in stations, digital project incubators, hackathons, smartphone apps… The French national railways, SNCF, is looking to improve the digital services it provides its 10 million clients (15 million by 2020) by giving itself a major digital overhaul. #DigitalSNCF, the programme supporting the digital transition, was unveiled on 10 February 2015 at a press conference held by the SNCF’s chairman, Guillaume Pepy, and his Digital and Communications Director, Yves Tyrode.


Tweet Axelle Lemaire

SNCF: can we talk about Wi-Fi on trains? Thanks ;-)


Did this tweet posted by the French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs prompt the SCNF’s digital transition? Not necessarily. The French national railways has been very digitally-oriented for the past fifteen years. The first wave, from 2000 to 2010, saw the beginning of e-commerce with the ticket booking site, launched in 2000, then iDTGV, a subsidiary that sells high-speed train tickets and SNCF’s first 100% digital product, in 2005. The next five years saw the advent of the SNCF’s second digital phase: that of the mobile app. By 2011, it had established itself as a pioneer of open data with the launch of a series of hackathons and digital exchange newsrooms and platforms designed to promote e-transparency. The project was a success, with 10 million people currently downloading SNCF apps and an eTicket sold every three seconds.



“Digital is central to our business as a rail travel provider. It is now the main driver for changing the company and goes way beyond eCommerce and customer relations.”

For Guillaume Pepy, digital technology should be leveraged to improve efficiency and quality of service delivered by SNCF. The company’s digital transformation is already underway, thanks to the arrival of Yves Tyrode, Digital and Communications Director.


For this digital expert, making employees’ job easier and providing clients with simple tools to get information and prepare for their journeys are at the top of his list of priorities, which is why, a few weeks ago, he launched the SNCF app which unifies all the existing travel apps.

“Digital begins with high-speed mobile internet access”

Axelle Lemaire’s tweet made an impact. Like her, two out of three passengers own a smartphone and have lamented the lack of onboard internet access. As far as Yves Tyrode is concerned, the solution to this problem is not Wi-Fi but having 3 and 4G available in all the trains and stations. In order to achieve this, SNCF will be working with ARCEP (Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des postes, an independent French agency in charge of regulating telecommunications in France, Ed) and the country’s four main internet service providers to deploy network antennae and Wi-Fi on the TGV tracks and at some of the busier train stations.


“Co-construction”: THE KEY TO THE SNCF’S digital transformation

The SNCF won’t be implementing this digital mutation alone, but will be collaborating with the entire digital ecosystem. The schedule for this “co-construction” project, as Yves Tyrode calls it, involves:


• End of May 2015: open data. Companies will be able to buy real-time data on train times, changeovers, etc. The pricing system is designed to be clear and fair: free or cut-price for startups, higher rates for web multinationals.


• End of H1 2015: launch of, an application development platform to give internal and external developers support in using APIs and whereby users can rate the various projects.


• Creation of Digital SNCF ventures, a private equity fund of €30 million over three years to help the most promising startups implement the SNCF’s digital strategy.


MAJOR digital projects IMPLEMENTED AS OF H1 2015

In addition to the platform, SNCF will be rolling out other digital projects for both customers and employees:


• offers a range of services for customers (train information, booking tickets, etc.)


• to collect, structure and analyse data and thus monitor the company’s activity and improve customer service.


• Maintenance ré to ensure more accurate monitoring of the state of the railnetwork. SNCF agents are supplied with mobile tools to analyse and process data.


• Maintenance maté a tablet to ensure all the group’s maintenance staff have the right documents.


30,000 agents (ticket inspectors, train drivers, maintenance agents, line monitoring staff) currently have smartphones or tablets. Yves Tyrode initially plans to increase this number to 80,000 employees.



In Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Nantes and San Francisco, SNCF plans to set up startup accelerators to foster in-house and external talent (researchers, ergonomists, developers, etc.) and help them develop new ideas for mobile services. Dubbed 574 (after the world record for high speed train travel), these startup incubators/expertise centres will focus on four main areas: Big Data, open data and APIs, design, and the Internet of Things.


In order to monitor the implementation of this major digital programme, SNCF has set up a number of indicators which will be measured on a monthly basis:  customer and employee satisfaction rates, the number of apps submitted/approved/downloaded, high-speed mobile internet coverage, number of employees with tablets, and the size of the digital community.


The Digital and Communications Director’s message is clear: digital everything, for everyone! And by focusing on digital development, SNCF is proving to be a truly #digitalforallnow company!



See the full press conférence online: conférence de presse #digitalsncf [45 minutes, in French].


Photo credit: Toshihiro Gamo – Girl Waiting for The Train / 電車を待つ少女 ( / Licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

E-services will “completely change our relationship with ou clients“: Airbus Helicopters makes the digital transition

Econocom 16 Feb 2015

In order to cope with a downturn in sales, aeronautical giant Airbus Helicopters is undergoing a major digital transformation. Online tech magazine L’Usine digitale gave an overview of the “digital transition” the company is launching…
The results reported last week by Airbus Helicopters, the world’s leading civil helicopter manufacturer, were unequivocal: the group’s sales are the lowest they’ve been in eight years.


In a difficult market, with customer orders currently suffering from the effect of falling oil prices, Airbus is planning a major structural change, with a distinctly digitally-oriented strategic focus. Whilst the details are being kept secret for the moment, one thing is certain:

“The digital strategy we’ll be unveiling in a few months will be one of the company’s key elements”

CEO Guillaume Faury told l’Usine digitale.


E-services to “transform customer relationships”

Services currently account for 42% of Airbus Helicopters’ revenue, and this figure is set to rise further. Profit for this area of business often outstrips that of helicopter sales, with manufacturers often being forced to cut profit margins in order to boost orders.


E-services are sure to be central to Airbus Helicopters’ strategic transition:

“They will completely change our relationship with our clients in terms of exchanging information, spare parts and technical data”

explains Faury. The company plans to set up a permanent web connection with all its clients and launch a digital after-sales service to facilitate aircraft maintenance.


Predictive maintenance: a powerful performance driver

Airbus Helicopters’ boss also announced another digital project that will play a key role in its new strategy: predictive maintenance. It plans to manage the helicopters’ technical data in such a way as to

“anticipate orders for spare parts, improve the helicopters’ performance, reduce fuel consumption and ultimately optimise availability,”

says Dominique Maudet, Executive Sales Director for Services at Airbus Helicopters.


Adapting to new clients via digital technology

“Our clients have changed; we should change the way we operate too,”

say Airbus Helicopters: the new digital strategy will affect the whole company organisation. R&D, Marketing and Communication in particular will have to keep pace with the changing clientele.


Airbus Helicopters officially unveiled its digital plans just after Safran announced it had created a dedicated Big Data entity – further proof that the aeronautical industry is undergoing a major digital transformation.


Photo credit : Christian – Airbus cockpit ( / Licence CC BY-ND 2.0)

Digital: a booming job market

Econocom 13 Feb 2015

Despite consistently rising unemployment figures in France, certain sectors such as digital technology are hiring: over 10,000 job offers were advertised in Q4 2014. Two profiles are particularly sought after: Developers and Specialists.


Measuring the impact of the digital transformation on the job market to ensure better human resource allocation

Conducted jointly by Cap Digital, the French business cluster for digital content and service, and Multiposting, one of its members, the very first “jobs in the digital industry” survey was published on 29 January  (in French).


Stéphane Distinguin, Chairman of Cap Digital, wanted to conduct the survey in order to assess the “actual impact” of the digital transformation on employment and thus gain an “overview of the vacancies available and skillsets in demand, but also the advantages of the industry for potential candidates.” Analysing this data will prove valuable for advising graduates, job seekers and employees looking to retrain for the skills and jobs of the future.



Developers and Specialists: digital’s Most Wanted


The dynamism of the digital market is reflected in the job market: 10,000 job offers were posted in France in Q4 2014, according to Cap Digital. The most sought-after areas of expertise were the following:

– administrators

– project managers

– developers

– marketing, communications and sales staff

– specialists

– IT analysts


These skills are greatly in demand on the job market: Developers and Specialists in particular account for two thirds of offers (38% and 24% respectively).


– Developers

In this category, data jobs (Data Scientist, Big Data Engineers, etc.) are on the rise (25.5% in a year). The demand for big data, dubbed the “new oil of the 21st century”, is particularly high in the healthcare sector.


– Specialists

The need for Specialists is a result of the digitalisation of all industry sectors, generating new requirements, particularly in terms of enterprise server and personal data security.


Interestingly, the more traditional areas such as marketing, sales and communications only account for about 1% of the total job offers: with these industries becoming increasingly digitalised, the skills required for them are also shifting over to the digital category.



Training is key

“The number of applicants isn’t increasing fast enough, which means the recruitment market is increasingly tight,”

says Simon Bouchez, Managing Director of Multiposting.

Jobs as Developers and Specialists don’t have a huge appeal and companies are having a hard time finding the talent they need. To attract more people to the industry, Cap Digital is organising an event on 2 April called “How I met my startup”, a sort of networking event for startups, students and job seekers.


“Digital for All, Now” is also a powerful weapon against unemployment!


Photo credit: Quentin Chevrier – Museomix (Flickr : licence CC 2.0)