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EBRC, 20 Years of Digital & Trust, Experience & Some Guidelines for our future – Part 5

2020-2025: TOMORROW IS NOW: HOW TO ANTICIPATE THE FUTURE

Over the past 20 years, EBRC was able to anticipate and surf the wave and convince prestigious international clients with its trusted and resilient services. After completing its first external acquisition to extend its services in Europe and an active participation in the Gaia-X initiative, EBRC still follows its initial vision of providing secure services that clients can trust, in an ever-changing digital environment. What does the future hold for EBRC? Yves Reding, CEO of the company, tells us more about his vision and ambitions.

According to Yves Reding, “it is extremely difficult to predict the future as uncertainty grows at a great pace. Yet, we can anticipate what is coming by focusing on key principles: several major trends are redefining the way companies work and how they will evolve in the (near) future”. As explained by the expert, the pace of uncertainty has grown dramatically over the past years: before the subprime crisis of 2008, companies could easily foresee the future with a 2 or 3-year horizon. After the crisis, it was reduced to around 6 months. And nowadays, as we are still facing the Covid-19 crisis and nearing the return to a normal and yet new life, predicting the future is more complicated than ever. “The world will remember 2020 as the year which tested the business models of companies that had to go through unexpected events, even though we all knew that the pandemic risk was a reality. Often, it is just a matter of assessing the strength and intensity of the crisis. Companies therefore need to be able to navigate through them by being agile enough and by seizing sustainable opportunities, based on megatrends,” adds Yves Reding.

Learn from 2020: Think Resilience & Sustainability

Each crisis is two-faced: it tests the resilience of companies by creating damages but also offers several unprecedented opportunities. All companies are now aware of what “resilience” means, as the concept advocated by EBRC for the last 20 years, has been intensively popularized in the past 12 months… “Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic also highlighted the need for more Humanity, social responsibility and the absolute necessity to protect the Planet as disturbing the balance of nature might result in more crisis,” then underlines Yves Reding. The expert also quotes Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, in his address at Columbia University dating back from the end of 2020: “We are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken. […] In this context, the recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity. We can see rays of hope in the form of a vaccine. But there is no vaccine for the planet. […] Now is the time to transform humankind’s relationship with the natural world – and with each other. And we must do so together. Solidarity is humanity. Solidarity is survival. That is the lesson of 2020. With the world in disunity and disarray trying to contain the pandemic, let’s learn the lesson and change course for the pivotal period ahead”.

Prior to 2020, most companies focused mainly on themselves, while still being conscious that the Planet was suffocating… Now, in 2021, with more than a year of Covid-19 impacting our lives, all actors are well aware of the need to reflect on the state of Earth and on how to preserve the environment as well as Humanity. “At EBRC, more than ten years ago, we decided to commit to CSR. The green pillar of the CSR objective is to fight against climate change: as a datacenter provider, we are inevitably participating in the upheaval of nature, and therefore decided to use green energy exclusively, undertake energy efficiency programs, engage in certifications and to aim for carbon neutrality,” explains the CEO. Moreover, the company changed its logo which consists in an inuksuk – an Inuit cultural symbol –, representing the company’s main values (Excellence, Agility, Responsibility, Trust, Human) combining for the EARTH anagram. “The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that incorporating CSR into the company’s strategy and culture is increasingly important and has become a must-have, a question of survival and success in the long run and not just a nice-to-have anymore.” adds Yves Reding.

Leveraging megatrends to seize new opportunities

To anticipate the future, the CEO of EBRC focuses on what he considers the biggest and most important trends, which he describes as “mechanical”, to build a sustainable company that would be fit for the future.

First, Yves Reding discusses global warming: “every single company must be aware of it and behave accordingly. No one can actually deny the fact that global warming is real and poses an immense threat not only to businesses but also the entire Planet. CEOs have therefore all been working on best/worst case scenarios and aim at achieving the objective of being carbon neutral by 2050. Otherwise, we are facing a catastrophe: flood, forest fire, drought, ocean acidification, etc. We are actually going to enter a new era of mass extinction. Fighting against global warming clearly has to be the priority for each and every single company that exists”.

He then focuses on digitalization and automation, with the shift from a physical world to a virtual one. “This trend might be a little more complicated to decipher for the common people, compared to global warming. Yet, we are all concerned with it. Digital is composed of two opposite sides made of amazing opportunities and growing threats,” explains Yves Reding. Digital offers a never-seen-before agility as well as new perspectives. For instance, it allowed countries and companies to survive during the Covid-19 pandemic. The story is much more different on the other side of the coin. As highlighted by the CEO, “social media can cause massive damage, can endanger personal relations but also change the face of political elections through manipulation and surveillance. Over the past years, the power of giant tech companies has grown significantly but people are now demanding more regulation and want their control back”. Digital has clearly become essential in our daily and professional lives, yet, it needs to be mastered – which resulted in the launch of different European digital initiatives – in a world where the number of sophisticated cyberattacks is constantly growing – SolarWinds consisted in more than 800 hackers targeting governments agencies, public institutions and companies. “Algorithms are becoming more and more powerful and so is the risk of manipulation. Without a doubt, the next virus will actually be a cyber-one. Therefore, we always need to have an updated and robust recovery plan if digital were to be down. Moreover, one must never forget that digital and technology have to stay tools at the service of Mankind and not the opposite” underlines the expert.

The third and final trend Yves Reding highlights is the polarization of global economic blocs, fueled by the growing competition between the United States and China, in order to become the world’s next leader, economically and also technologically speaking. “Two very distinct regimes are opposed. Where does Europe stand? Our continent clearly missed on the first digital wave and must now surf the Big Data and AI wave. Moreover, the third industrial revolution is already on its way, based on digital and information technology, with the fourth one approaching and promising to be a tsunami for companies. It will consist in the combination of tech, mixing physical, digital and biological ones, to allow the development of nanotechnologies, biotech, cognitive science, robotics, quantum computing, etc., all at an exceptional and exponential pace,” comments Yves Reding. In the fight for this tech leadership, Europe stands in the middle and does not necessarily fit in either of those two models. The Old Continent is well aware of the need to share and diffuse its key values that are transparency, interoperability, portability, sovereignty, data protection and privacy, and will be investing heavily in digital in the years to come, notably through the Next Generation EU program, and with projects such as Gaia-X.

Embrace the megatrends and navigate in a period of permanent change

“First of all, companies need to be aware of these main megatrends, and embrace them. By doing so, they should be able to survive these revolutions and even thrive in the next environment that is currently being built,” says the CEO of EBRC, who compares it to sailing across the Atlantic, by following the trade winds to safely reach your destination. He adds: “nowadays, companies are facing the upheaval of entire value chains. What is accurate today will be totally challenged tomorrow. Strong disruptions are transforming industry, just like Airbnb did to tourism, with an innovative service and a brand new business model. More disruptions will come. Soon. And they are more and more difficult to anticipate. For instance, I wouldn’t be surprised if a potential Apple Car was to be released and meet with incredible success, actually transforming a physical car into a software car”. These key transformations are guided by new consumption needs and wishes: newer generations demand more transparency – with the use of data and the advent of social media – as well as more immediacy. Therefore, companies need to adapt the way to conceive their products and services, how they sell them and also how they deliver the goods to clients. “It is all the more true today as we navigate through the current pandemic and need to build resilient and sustainable business models. Change becomes normal: it is a never-ending story,” comments Yves Reding.

Focus an attitude, culture, and values instead of building rigid business plans

The expert advocates the sharing of a vision, thrust and guiding principles, rather than business plans. “The approach, the methodology, the values, the culture, as well as other intangible aspects, are what will allow you to succeed. Companies, their CEOs and management teams have to be aware of who they are, what makes their team unique and what they actually want to achieve over the long term. But they should not focus solely on a reality that is changing almost every day. Due to exponential changes, globalization, permanent disruptions and the increase of complexity, we cannot rely on business modelling and planning anymore, like we used to do in the past,” highlights the CEO. He then reminisces the first years of EBRC, with the main idea and focus to provide a robust business continuity solution to its clients: Luxembourg was lacking such a service and thanks to its wider vision, Yves Reding and EBRC were able to embark on this journey and succeed rapidly. ”20 years after, our first core business only represents 3% of our total turn-over. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we had just focused on this first service. We drove our business over the long term based on a very simple leitmotif, defined at the very beginning in 2000, the base of our client value proposition : Together in complete confidence in the digital age,” adds the expert.

At that time, more than having just a business plan, EBRC was sending a message to its clients and prospects: “we can support you, provide you with pieces of advice, protect you and we will be doing all that by being close to you. In other words, we are together in this. Know the risks, but also know that we are here for you. In 2011, logically, we decided to launch an end-to-end value proposition: Trusted Services Europe. Today our vision is more valid than ever, and the notion of trust which we advocated turned out to be key with the advent of data. The new digital world, post pandemic, is based on trust like never before,” underlines the expert.

Learn Far Eastern thinking: seek out the potential of the situation

To achieve success in the long-term, Yves Reding advocates agility and flexibility which will allow companies to seize new opportunities, by keeping the very same vision and central concept. The services we use today will have disappeared/transformed/reinvented, therefore, and in order to survive, companies need to take measurable risks in an uncertain world. “If you consider the business world as a battlefield, I like to refer sometimes to Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu’s war art principles like, for example : ‘winning without battle is the wised strategy you can achieve’. It means, for instance, that confrontation with your opponents – in business – must be always avoided until one is certain that a favorable balance of power exists and that all alternatives have been avoided. Seeking out the potential of a situation is a different way of acting than the typical Western heroic and theatrical attitude in order to force things. Fast Asian approach is a completely different way of thinking than the one we usually promote in Europe, based on Greek philosophy, and it allowed them to be much more flexible. And this mindset is still present nowadays in Asia,” says the CEO.

Through the years, facing global competitiveness challenges, EBRC reinvented and repositioned itself inspired by such agile methods and keeping the same name, EBRC – with an acronym that has evolved over time, “E” now standing for “European” and “R” for “Reliance” when it used to mean “Recovery” and later “Resilience” –, as well as the same strategic vision. The same flexible approach will be required in the future, to face permanent disruption and increased globalization.

Create your blue ocean strategy

Yet, choices needed to be made right for the start and especially the dichotomy between quality and costs. “To stand in the market, we focused on quality and decided to promote trust. It’s a matter of culture. And very logically, companies that pick costs over quality are making sacrifices on resilience, security, availability, etc. Our goal has always been to support our clients, and as we aim for excellence, we are obsessed with quality. Yet, a greater aim of ours is to reach what is called the blue ocean, or the nirvana, which would consist in providing the best service in terms of quality and differentiation and to be, at the same time, as cost-competitive as possible. Apple, for instance, was able to achieve it by creating an uncontested market place and making competition virtually irrelevant. Apple sells high-level products at a high price. Despite strong and brutal competition for almost a decade, the iPhone’ pricing power, through its unique selling point (as well as the promise to be simple, beautiful and magic to use) is still strong,” explains Yves Reding.

He adds: “When we look to the future, seeking the blue ocean, developing a new uncontested market space, should be the priority. But finding the right blue ocean is a true challenge and needs a lot of patience”.

Use the resource-based view

Adopting an empirical approach means also identifying the resources which will allow to exploit favorable conditions. Therefore, another crucial element to get a long-term and sustainable competitive advantage is obviously to capitalize on core competences, a combination of knowledge, skills and technologies, which need to be identified to be able to create a strong cross-functional center of competencies, fundamental to the future. Yves Reding shares the example of Canon that apply their knowledge gained in photography as they mastered optical lenses: by leveraging their key competence and technological capabilities, they were able, from scratch, in the 70s, to break down the Xerox monopoly in the copier business and become a highly diversified multinational company. As an IT service provider, EBRC thrives in developing long-lasting and trusted relationships with its clients and partners. He adds: “we are now seen as a One-Stop-Shop and trusted partner. We have developed a combination of skills (340 experts based in France, Luxembourg and Morocco), know-how and technology. Today, as a small company, we need to quickly strengthen our core competences, which is key to prepare the future of the company, identify new services and strategic sustainable market growth”.

Small is beautiful

Finally, according to him, “Small is beautiful”. He explains: “staying small enables us to move with speed and create more possibilities to catch new opportunities. In these uncertain, disruptive and highly competitive coming years, agility and timing are everything. It is our belief that we need to remain a relatively small company as the future does not belong to giants. There has been too much abuse over the past years and the regulation trend will continue for sure. The Small is Beautiful direction is the right response to gigantism, globalization, mass robotization and dehumanization. We have to put the Human being at the very heart of digital with values such as client proximity, agility and quality, and with the ability to deeply understand the local needs of clients, from all over Europe”.

Conclusion: Tomorrow is now

As a conclusion, Yves Reding reaffirms first the necessity to understand the three megatrends that are global warming – with the impact of companies and their carbon neutrality –, a growing digitalization/automation – consisting in many opportunities and as many cyberthreats – and the polarization of the world, with Europe standing in the middle of the US/China fight for tech leadership.

To leverage these trends, he insists on the need to have a powerful vision rather than a well-structured and yet theoretical business plan. “Keep your eyes – and mind – open, apply the methods you master, opt for an additional and different way of thinking: seek out the potential of a situation and seize opportunities to surf the coming waves. Also make the right choice from the start, be obsessed by your clients, focus on quality and security, strive for and practice excellence and seek for your blue ocean. Spot the actual ‘value’ of your ‘value chain’, and do not get stuck in the middle of it. Also, remember that CSR will lead you to success. Last but not least, strengthen your core competences in a ‘small is beautiful’ environment, enabling speed, agility, responsiveness, cross-functional and entrepreneurial spirit” adds the CEO.

He admits that it is complicated to structure future long-term scenarios, yet, having a strong company DNA, knowing oneself, one’s strong points, capabilities and core competences, as well as using business intelligence to identify competition, market changes and new potential opportunities, will allow companies to survive and even to thrive. “In business, speed is key. If you cannot move rapidly to respond to market change, you will not survive. In China, crisis, wei-ji, means danger but also opportunity. The COVID-19 crisis gave birth to a new wave: the digital single market strategy with the objective to enhance Europe’s position as a world digital leader,” highlights the CEO of EBRC.

EBRC bets on these major opportunities, including the GAIA-X project, a federated data infrastructure for Europe, the potential of its European expansion strategy, and highlights that digital needs trust. “Follow your vision, capitalize on your assets and core competences and deliver quality and proximity services, to become your partner’s favorite advisor and one-stop-shop. You will be able to develop a harmonious ecosystem of Trust, where all players share common European values such as transparency, sovereignty, interoperability, availability, and security,” concludes Yves Reding.

Some Guidelines for our future:

• Anticipate the future by focusing on key principles: several major trends are redefining the way companies work and how they will evolve in the (near) future;

• The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that incorporating CSR into the company’s strategy and culture is increasingly important and has become a must-have, a question of survival and success in the long run and not a nice-have anymore. Fighting against global warming clearly has to be the priority for each and every single company that exists;

• Without a doubt, the next virus will actually be a cyber-one. Therefore, companies always need to have an updated and robust recovery plan if digital were to be down;

• Algorithms are becoming more and more powerful and so is the risk of manipulation. Moreover, one must never forget that digital and technology have to stay tools at the service of Mankind and not the opposite;

• Europe is well aware of the need to share and diffuse its key values that are transparency, interoperability, portability, sovereignty, data protection and privacy;

• What is accurate today will be totally challenged tomorrow;

• In business, confrontation with your opponents must be always avoided until one is certain that a favorable balance of power exists and that all alternatives have been avoided;

• Creating your blue ocean strategy, developing a new uncontested market space and making competition virtually irrelevant, should be the priority. But finding the right blue ocean is a true challenge and needs a lot of patience;

• Due to exponential changes, globalization, permanent disruptions and increase of complexity, we can no more rely on business modelling and planning, as we did in the past;

• Opt for an additional and different way of thinking: seek out the potential of a situation and seize opportunities to surf the coming waves. Seeking out the potential of situation is a different way of acting than the typical western heroic and theatrical attitude capable of forcing things;

• A crucial element to get a long-term and sustainable competitive advantage is obviously to capitalize on its core competences, a combination of knowledge, skills and technologies, which need to be identified to be able to create a strong cross-functional center of competencies, fundamental to the future;

• Small is Beautiful is the right response to gigantism, globalization, mass robotization and dehumanization. We have to put the Human being at the very heart of digital, with values such as client proximity, agility and quality, and with the ability to deeply understand the local needs of clients, from all over Europe;

• In business, speed is key. If you cannot move rapidly to respond to market change, you will not survive;

• Develop a harmonious ecosystem of Trust, where all players share common European values such as transparency, sovereignty, interoperability, availability, and security.

Interview by Alexandre Keilmann