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EBRC, 20 years of Digital & Trust, Experience & Lessons Learned - Part 4

2015-2020: NO TIME TO WASTE : BUILD TOGETHER EUROPE CYBER RESILIENCE & DIGITAL TRUST.

Ten years after its creation, and after being named one of the Best Kept Secrets in Europe, EBRC entered its third phase with a brand new corporate identity and a strategy built on its core values: EARTH (Excellence, Agility, Responsibility, Trust and Human). In the third part of this 20th anniversary series, Yves Reding, CEO of EBRC, tells us more about his company’s new corporate identity, its diversification in terms of clients, and discusses the early stage of the creation of a digital Europe.


At the beginning of 2015, EBRC Management launched a 5-year long strategy entitled “X2”: the objective was, as the name indicates it, to double in terms of turnover and clients, but also be more twice more efficient in delivering its services.  “We were already recognized as an expert in the management of critical information and sensitive data, with numerous clients in neighboring countries and in some strategic off-shore areas. To further develop our positioning as a close partner and renowned European player – as a part of our 2020 objectives –, we decided to go for external growth through a strategic partnership with a company located in a strong market,” explains Yves Reding. By doing so, EBRC wanted to provide its clients with even more proximity and tailored solutions, even if the services are delivered from Luxembourg, which actually offers additional guarantees to the customers thanks to the country’s strong and recognized regulation. “This strategy paid off: as the end of 2020 approaches, on the growth perspective, we are just 1% short of reaching our ambitious objective, and without the Covid-19 crisis, we definitely would have exceed the targets,” adds the CEO Reding.

 

France First

After screening the European market, EBRC turned to France, described by the CEO as a key market in the digital Europe that is being built, and more specifically to Strasbourg where Digora is headquartered, and to Paris where a large office is located. “We were looking for a partner with whom we shared the same values: trust, quality and obviously agility, proximity, as well as corporate social responsibility. Digora is an expert in database management and performance, which employs one hundred and forty experts, dispatched in several key cities in France, such as Lyon, Lille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Rennes, allowing us to serve the entire country and be as close as possible to clients. Moreover, Digora also had an office with twenty people in Rabat, Morocco, a country of interest for EBRC, where we had already started business relationships,” highlights Yves Reding.  Concluding such a strategic partnership allowed EBRC to strengthen its overall offer – notably when it comes to database management, a key domain in today’s digital world – and to provide its services and expertise “Made in Luxembourg” at a wider level by extending its commercial network to key geographical locations. For instance, a local presence in Toulouse, known for its expertise in the spatial field may offer to EBRC a potential and complementary development of its current client and partnership base in the space sector. By acquiring this specialized center of competencies, EBRC clearly reinforced its trusted services and completed its value chain, now ranging from datacenters, managed services and advisory to database management, by adding new expertise to satisfy all the needs of its customers. “Database management being Digora’s core business, we were now ready to answer to – and win – more international complex calls for tender, which put emphasis on such expertise in a world that is more digital than ever, with an ever-growing number of data being shared. Along with Digora, the objective is really to focus on creating commercial and portfolio synergies, propose our advisory services and know-how in cloud & managed services to clients based in France and complementing ourselves, rather than just cutting costs,” he added. EBRC acquired a minority stake of 33% of the shares, and more recently, during the COVID19 crisis, raised its interests to 66% of the French firm.

At the same time, EBRC expanded its network and eco-system of partners in France. Active member of the France-Luxembourg Business Club, EBRC joined for example, the “HEXATRUST” association, a group of French SMEs that are complementary players with expertise in information security systems, cybersecurity, cloud confidence and digital trust.

“Our role within the grouping is also to liaise with other similar companies and associations in other European countries. At EBRC, we believe that it is by building bridges between the different actors, both local and European, that a digital Europe can be built”, added Yves Reding

 

A virtuous circle: at each step, each new challenge, grow in maturity and international recognition

During that period, EBRC continued its diversification process as it focused on additional fields, such as defense, critical industries, pharma and health but also space, a strategic priority for Luxembourg. “Back in 2011 we started working on new innovative projects, like an ambitious e-book project to be launched in very tight deadlines, from Luxembourg by a japonese global company, with software developers’ teams struggling 24/24 in Silicon Valley and India. During this period, until 2018, we made the setup of numerous small and some very large Fintech and payment services : help building new FinTechs business models, a new european “PayPal” and a new “Bank” from scratch, based on a disruptive business model. At each step, each new challenge, our team has grown in maturity and therefore we have, step-by-step, been recognized as a strong player in the operations of critical transactions. It actually started with the financial industry, but other domains also deal, on a daily basis, with critical information, namely healthcare data – with DNA and biobanks –, IP in the industry, energy trading, and more. At EBRC, we duplicated our services, leveraging our knowledge and experience, and adapted them to different sectors, all following the same major trend that is digitalization. Working on all these projects – whether they succeeded or were abandoned for various external reasons – allowed EBRC to develop new competencies and increase our skills, and sign additional contracts. All these projects have generated a virtuous circle for our team and clients. ” underlines Yves Reding. According to him, the key is actually to identify the major – and sustainable – trends, which will shape the future. Moreover, with the ongoing digital transformation and the never-ending explosion of data, transactions are becoming all the more critical. “Portfolio diversification is necessary: think ‘long term’ and focus on sectors that are stable and sustainable – some fields are more volatile than others – and in invest in future major trends Also, when focusing on new countries, keep in mind that it takes time to bare the fruits of opportunities sowed in fertile land,” advises the CEO. For instance, EBRC signed its first clients in the Middle East – in Kuwait to be exact – back in 2011 and decided to stay in the region despite events that cannot be controlled, to finally conclude two major deals in the United Arab Emirates, in 2018.

 

Practice what you preach, Preach what you practice

In this 2015-2020 period, the company also significantly developed in advisory practice, supporting its clients on strategic topics such as risk management, cyber resilience, certifications, IT transformation and cloud assessments. “From risk management and digital transformation to assisting, for example, the University of Strasbourg building a new data center for its Heath and Research High Performance Computing, our 20+ dedicated advisors are supporting our clients key projects, still following our core values that are quality, confidentiality, availability and proximity. After realizing such projects for its own business, EBRC is now sharing its know-how through these advisory services, and therefore helps its clients achieve their own goals and objectives. For instance, we have and are still currently assisting twenty local, belgian and french companies to get their ISO 22301 (business continuity management), ISO 27001 (information security) or Tier III and IV data centre certification,” comments the CEO.

 

Cyber-Resilience to face new Threats

The GDPR, initiated by the European Commission since 2012, was the first extra-territorial piece of legislation validated in the Old Continent. As explained by Yves Reding, “data knows no physical border and therefore european personal data needs to be protected, wherever it may be located or processed in the world. The Global Data Protection Regulation can be seen as the first brick in the construction of a Digital Europe”. A few years later, in July 2016, the Directive on security of network and information systems – NIS Directive – was adopted by the European Parliament: it is the first piece of EU-wide legislation on cybersecurity and provides legal measures to boost the overall level of Cyber-Resilience in the EU. “The application of the NIS Directive is linked to the increasing number of risks in the cyber space. Digital is everywhere. Therefore, what happens if a major cyber attack hits? Who are the critical operators that need to be resilient and continue to provide their services?,” asks the CEO, whose company had been preparing for such a regulation for years. Since the very first years of EBRC, the concept of resilience – as well as cyber resilience – was advocated by Yves Reding and his team. As he likes to describe it, “resilience is mostly used in psychology – when an individual goes through a traumatic event and later recovers – and in the metal industry when for instance rails and bridges need to absorb important thermal shocks. It is also commonly used when describing a forest that needs to regenerate”. In other words, adopting the concept of resilience and integrating it in a company’s global strategy means anticipating potential crises and failures, and also leaning and bouncing back from such events. In 2016, EBRC notably participated in ENISA’s Cyber Europe exercises, which feature exciting scenarios, inspired by real-life events. These exercises consist in sophisticated simulations of large-scale cybersecurity incidents that escalate to become cyber crises, and eventually provide a flexible learning experience to the participants. EBRC challenged its teams, succeeded and later launched its “Trusted Security Europe” offer, with a dedicated SOC (Security Operations Center), which has since been transferred to POST Group’s to build up a “Cyber Force” team closely linked with the NOC (Network Operating Centre).

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Moreover : COVID 19 – A wake up call to build a resilient business model

The CEO adds: “a resilient business model will allow companies to analyze future trends – demographic changes and hygiene issues, global warming, digitalization, etc. – and therefore anticipate, predict, protect, absorb, manage, recover and even accelerate”. He explains that the Covid-19 crisis actually acted as a wakeup call: companies that had never envisioned resilience faced difficulties while others that had adopted the concept were able to navigate in this uncertain environment. In times of crisis, customers need support from their service providers and suppliers. “Based on values such as quality, security as well as proximity, EBRC developed its ecosystem by working closely with innovative actors with additional and complementary competencies, in order to answer to the needs of its clients and cover a as large as possible value chain. In general, customers are risk averse and it is therefore our job to secure and reassure them. Our motto since 2000 says it best: navigating together in the era of information. Time flies, but challenges remain the same,” he comments. Yves Reding also notes that when Covid-19 hit, and especially during the first wave and lockdown, Europe realized that our continent lost its access, autonomy and sovereignty on vital heath resources: it was unable to provide masks to its citizens, was not ready for massive testing, etc. “It was a real eye-opener for our governments. It showed the importance of restoring quickly European sovereignty on essential resources and expertise. This represents a deep paradigm change. Globalization is not always the obvious solution and giving back its sovereignty on essential services would allow us to not to rely on random chains that are not necessarily resilient,” underlines Yves Reding.

 

Build European digital sovereignty: supporting the Gaia-X initiative

“This need to restore a European sovereignty obviously also concerns data, which is known as the oil of the 21st century,” highlights the CEO, who explains that Europe has strong values which emerged from past crises. He notably cites the Human Rights charter as well as the respect for privacy and use of personal data. According to the expert, the latter is going – or already is – Europe’s key resource, and he therefore welcomes the Gaia-X initiative powered by the ministries of the Economy of both Germany and France, backed by talented researchers and key players of the digital industry.

In this new and yet “long time coming” initiative, the European commission will play the role of referee, actually bringing governance back where it needs to be. The expert comments: “it aims at creating the next generation of a data infrastructure for Europe and therefore at providing European companies with an environment of digital trust. As it deals with the cloud infrastructure, it touches upon numerous domains, from the automotive industry, to healthcare and to finance. In other words, data is everywhere and it needs to be mastered. We could then be able to create what we like to call the “Airbus of AI”, meaning that many players will regroup and form a unique and robust ecosystem, just like what was done in Toulouse in the 1970s with the creation of Airbus”.

As you already know by now, EBRC has been rooting for the digital sovereignty of Europe for years, guided by its DNA composed of security, availability and quality. “Our values totally merge with this innovative initiative. As a true European player, we are excited to see that things are now moving at the political level. The European commission, led by Ursula von der Leyden, has communicated its ambitions and we are in the middle of an important change of paradigm,” highlights the CEO of EBRC.

 

“Since 2000, we know that excellence is an attitude we have to work at, everyday”

Reflecting on the 20-year history of his company, Yves Reding comments: “we are heading in the right direction. Looking back at the very beginning of EBRC, we have always been promoting resilience and now cyber resilience. Since 2010, we opted for a strategic and European positioning”. Through its participation in Gaia-X, as day one member, and by building a strong ecosystem in the Grand Duchy – thanks notably to synergies with POST Group, our clients and partners – as well as in Europe, EBRC still aims at making Luxembourg a European trusted digital capital, with international ambitions. “Things are finally moving faster : the European commission and notably digital expert Thierry Breton – who’s in charge of enhancing Europe’s technological sovereignty by putting the right policies and investment in place – are accelerating on the creation of one single European digital ecosystem, promoting values such as excellence, trust, sustainability, transparency, portability, etc.,” explains Yves Reding. According to the expert, Europe is following the right and most sustainable path, favoring data privacy as well as quality and security. He also explains that other continents will ultimately align to these universal human values: “by increasing the quality of the services delivered by European key players, our Continent will indirectly force others to keep up the pace. For instance, the state of California, in the United States, enforced the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) back in 2018, which was definitely inspired by Europe's GDPR.”

“When we look back in 2000, and now 20 years later, the same two opposite ways still exist and are offered to clients or consumers : quality and secure services vs. low cost ones. It’s a never ending cycle. As service provider, you have, simplistically, to choose your way : differentiate yourself on the market with a competitive cost or differentiate yourself with high quality. If you choose the low cost ones, you have to strive hard to be always more competitive on the price, and probably take more and more risks on quality and security. On the other hand, if you choose the quality differentiation way, you will engage yourself in a long quest for excellence and offer permanently the best quality. You can compare digital with food and agriculture; The industrial food system and bio-agricultural farming practices are fundamentally different. Industrial foot seems to be cheaper, at least on a short term but they have an opposite impact on human health and nature.

Since 2000, EBRC has without any doubt chosen the digital “organic” green sustainable path based on the values in we believe: Excellence, Agility, Responsibility, Trust & Human. And that’s the way we differentiate ourself on the market : striving to build quality and security of service, proximity services based on transparency, listening to our clients, flexibility and innovation, commit to resilient and sustainable solutions. And we know that excellence is an attitude we have to work at, everyday” concludes Yves Reding.

 

Lessons Learned:

• When opting for an external growth strategy, look for a partner with whom you share the same values. For EBRC, those values are trust, quality, proximity of service and obviously security, as well as corporate social responsibility;

Diversify your portfolio: think ‘long term’ and focus on sectors that are stable and sustainable, and invest in future major trends;

• When focusing on new countries, keep in mind that it takes time to bare the fruits of opportunities sowed in fertile land. Business can be compared to agriculture: respect the natural resources, respect the ecosystem, go step by step and focus on the long-term objective;

After realizing projects for your own business, sharing your know-how through advisory services, and help your clients achieve their goals and objectives.

Practice what you preach and Preach what you practice.

• In the current environment, adopt the concept of resilience / cyber-resilience and integrate it in the company’s global strategy: it means anticipating potential crises and failures, and also leaning/bouncing back from such events.

• Develop your ecosystem by building bridges and work closely with innovative actors, both local and European, with additional and complementary competencies, in order to answer to the needs of clients and cover a as large as possible value chain.

• Think Europe : European digital single market and European values.

• Choose a differentiation strategy to provide your clients something unique, but choose the sustainable path for your client, your stakeholders, your company, your employees.

• Excellence is an attitude to work at, everyday

 

Interview by Alexandre Keilmann