Bonjour, world: French technology, innovation set for global invasion

Bonjour, world: French technology, innovation set for global invasion

SINGAPORE — On the western suburban street of Vaucresson, around 20km from Champs-Elysees in Paris, a silver all-electric hatchback nips around quietly as it climbs smoothly to its top speed of 130kmh before finally coming to rest at a designated kerbside car-sharing kiosk, waiting to be taken for a spin by another driver.

BY WONG WEI HAN –

MAY 30

SINGAPORE — On the western suburban street of Vaucresson, around 20km from Champs-Elysees in Paris, a silver all-electric hatchback nips around quietly as it climbs smoothly to its top speed of 130kmh before finally coming to rest at a designated kerbside car-sharing kiosk, waiting to be taken for a spin by another driver.

At a time when electric cars are not much more than a novelty in many parts of the world, about 2,300 four-seater Bluecars ply the roads of Paris as part of a large-scale car-sharing service, helping to alleviate congestion while reducing noise and air pollution.

Gearing up for a quiet revolution, the Autolib’ electric car for-hire system has also been introduced in the French cities of Bordeaux and Lyon and will start next year in Indianapolis in the United States and in London.

An Asian version of the service could be next.

“I was part of a team that travelled to Singapore in November last year for a presentation to the Land Transport Authority, which has expressed an interest in car-sharing in its latest master plan to manage the number of private cars on the road,” Mr Jacques Mercier, Autolib’s head of studies, told visiting reporters from Singapore.

French industrial group Bollore, which operates the Autolib’ service, is counting on countries that want access to a low-pollution, flexible transport option at a low cost. In Paris, the service costs about €120 (S$205) for a one-year membership.

“Like Paris, Singapore is also a congested city with a traffic problem, and a lot of taxes are charged to car purchases,” said Mr Mercier, referring to the Certificate of Entitlement premiums. “So, we think Singapore is a very suitable market for our expansion.”

Autolib’ is only one of many French firms pushing to develop innovations for a wider international audience. In a country often associated with glitzy cafes and high fashion, a vibrant tech scene is growing and many companies, from multinational corporations to small and medium enterprises, are looking to Singapore and other emerging markets for business opportunities.

Among them, biometric systems Morpho is tapping Asia’s 4.3 billion population amid a growing need for identification solutions.

“We are very active in Asia, where we provide Indonesia with the core technologies for its identity cards. In Malaysia, we provide the police department with AFIS (automated fingerprint identification system), and we have a huge share of Vietnam’s banking and telecom smart card solutions,” said senior vice-president of international development Olivier Lafaye. “But our biggest Asian market is India, where Morpho runs a national programme called Aadhaar to provide every single Indian with a biometric identification number.”

Meanwhile, one of Morpho’s products, a border control terminal system called Finger on the Fly, is being considered for installation in Changi Airport’s Terminal 4, which is currently being built. “Its advanced scanner can capture your fingerprints just as you wave your fingers over it. It’s hygienic and will greatly improve custom efficiency,” Mr Lafaye said.

Despite Singapore’s small market size, it remains a key regional hub for Morpho’s French conglomerate parent Safran, which has eight subsidiary offices and about 700 employees here.

The desire to export French technology and innovation abroad is not limited to major players such as Safran and Bollore.

Armed with innovative propositions, smaller players including document process automation services provider Esker are just as ambitious overseas. Based in Lyon, Esker’s 300-strong team serves about 11,000 clients, including BASF, Microsoft, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Press Holdings and a number of Singapore government agencies such as the Economic Development Board.

“Our Singapore office opened only in 2008 and now our business volume is stabilising,” said Esker’s managing director for Asia, Mr Albert Leong. “In terms of revenue, our annual growth rate in the Asian region is about 50 per cent. But a better indicator is the number of clients; I believe we can add 10 to 15 more (companies) in the coming financial year as we also expand in China and Hong Kong.”

Esker’s experience in cloud technologies has also piqued the interest of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), Mr Leong said.

“The IDA sees the cloud platform as a key element to improving productivity in the business sector. One thing it hopes to see is for Esker to set up a data centre in Singapore,” he said, adding that the group has three data centres globally. “This discussion is ongoing and it’s something we can consider once the number of Singapore customers reaches a critical mass.”

But while France’s tech industries are taking forward strides, some companies remain handicapped in the global arena, said Esker chief executive Jean-Michel Berard, who is also vice-president of EDIT, a professional association of independent software vendors and other IT professionals in the Rhone-Alpes region.

“Many people still can’t speak English properly. Businesses dare not venture globally and tend to focus on the domestic market,” he said. “While the French are creative engineers, we’re not as strong in marketing compared with the Americans. Many firms I have spoken to have problems selling their products to international markets.

“But for the IT industry at least, we have an advantage. The US operators are focusing a lot more on business-to-customer offerings that are entertainment- and social media-oriented. This leaves us an empty space to grow as business-to-business service providers,” Mr Berard said.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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