This French IT group forms a team with Siemens

More customer proximity with jointly developed products: Elie Girard is turning the Atos Group upside down. The company is said to continue to be driven by technology.

Doing things differently: Atos CEO Elie Girard

ELie Girard gets emotional when he clears up a common misconception: “There is sometimes a misunderstanding about Gaia-X: This project is not an attempt by the Europeans to compete with the dominant American and Asian cloud providers,” says the CEO of the French IT group Atos. “So it doesn’t mean: Gaia-X against Amazon, Microsoft, Google Cloud or Alibaba.”

The Gaia-X initiative sets standards. In Europe, they should guarantee the portability of data, interoperability or data protection for companies. “Any cloud provider who wants to gain a foothold on the European market would have to accept these rules.” Period.

Gaia-X was founded by 22 companies – half German and half French. On the German side, Siemens, SAP, Bosch, Telekom and Deutsche Bank are involved, while Atos from France is one of the big players and one of the core initiators. With clear guidelines, a trustworthy data infrastructure with secure data exchange between different clouds should be created.

There is no separate technical cloud platform that has been developed at great expense. Girard compares Gaia-X with the GSM standard introduced in 1990, which defined the technical specifications in digital mobile telecommunications.

The most important cooperation partner of the French

“The Europeans’ GSM mobile radio standard has been accepted and used by all countries in the world,” says Girard in an interview with the FAZ. “This standardization has been one of the greatest technological successes in Europe so far.”

The cell phones did not come from Europe, but from America and Asia. This is how the Atos boss imagines it with the data cloud. The standards should be in place by the end of the year at the latest. When asked about their reaction, he replied that it was still too early to involve the cloud providers in the process. Because of delicate questions about data protection, for example, their behavior can develop into a political issue.

In the end, the users decide whether to insist on the Gaia-X standard in their tenders. The more that do, the greater the chance that America and Asia will also accept the rules, Girard hopes.

The 43-year-old graduate of the French engineering company École Centrale Paris and Harvard University has been Atos boss since November 2019. He followed Thierry Breton, 66 years old, who became EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services in December 2019. At the beginning of the 2021 financial year, Girard’s new corporate strategy “Spring”, which resembles a turning point, will take effect: with a new organizational structure and, above all, with a rethink in action.

Several acquisitions

Atos remains a technology-driven company as a provider of data centers, cloud services, cybersecurity and as the operator of Europe’s largest supercomputer with gigantic computing power. For the CEO, it is more important to act less engineer-driven and more market-oriented with greater proximity to the customer.

This is the only way to achieve faster growth with annual sales growth of 5 to 7 percent by 2025 and disproportionate increases in profits with a targeted operating margin of 11 to 12 percent. In the past ten years, the French group has made the leap into a new dimension through a number of large acquisitions such as the IT business from Siemens, the computer manufacturer Bull and the IT division of Xerox. “As we continue to expand our technology platforms, we now have to focus more than ever on our customers.”

The intensified cooperation with Siemens fits into the picture of the market proximity: Both now also appear as a team towards the customers. The Munich-based technology group is the French’s most important cooperation partner and also holds the largest block of shares of 12 percent. It was only in September that they both extended their customer relationships by five years. The Germans have ordered products and services from the French worth 3 billion euros.