France and market intelligence: going on the offensive!

For a long time, France was very naïve, but now it is finally taking the subject of business intelligence head-on, and the political impetus is there. 

Since 2016, the State has made clear efforts to structure itself in terms of economic security, in particular with a defensive posture. 

The very aggressive economic climate we are facing, with 900 attacks in 2023 compared with 694 security alerts in 2022, means that we now need to step up our business intelligence initiatives and adopt an offensive stance.

Scientific and technical heritage, artificial intelligence, standards, foreign interference, influence, information warfare and the defence industry: how will France position itself? 

What are the issues to be addressed?

How can regional initiatives be strengthened? 

How can we develop appropriate training programmes? 

What measures will be implemented? How far do we still have to go to stay in the race and try to regain our position as the world’s 5th largest power? 

Find out more from your guests at the 28th Safety Thursdays.

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Former Minister, Senator and Vice-Chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee

  • Since 2019, France has been adapting its approach to market intelligence. It has strengthened its defensive arsenal and developed an economic security policy and doctrine. In the report co-authored with Marie-Noëlle Lienemann, we are now calling for a much more offensive approach to business intelligence, turning it into a tool for competitive intelligence.
  • EI is by its very nature a cross-cutting and inter-ministerial field, and would require the creation of a General Secretariat for Market Intelligence attached to the Prime Minister to ensure coordination between the various players and liaison with the police services at the highest level of government. 
  • The EI strategy must also be territorialised and involve local authorities more actively than regional delegates. For example, by appointing sub-prefects in each département. Similarly, local SMEs, ETIs and chambers of commerce and industry need to be more and better involved.
  • Adopting an offensive approach will also require the establishment of a collective EI culture that permeates all sectors and all levels.
  • Parliament’s role should be strengthened, particularly on the subject of foreign direct investment (FDI), with the Government informing Parliament of the arrangements for foreign investment in France (FDI). The publication of the annual report on IEF could therefore be the subject of a debate in Parliament.

Joffrey Célestin-Urbain, Director of the Strategic Information and Economic Security Service (SISSE

  • The foreign threat to our strategic assets increased significantly in 2023, with 968 alerts, 40% more than in 2022. Biotechnology is the most targeted sector (16% of alerts), followed by transport (15%), digital technology (14%) and higher education, research and innovation. 
  • It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between security and economic warfare. In this area, geostrategic and military alliances and divisions are tending to dissipate. There can be – and is – no modesty in responding to a threat, even if it comes from a “friendly” country.
  • To counter the threat, France has equipped itself with economic security tools: a system for controlling foreign investment in France (IEF), which is now used in an assertive manner, and the strengthening of the 1968 Blocking Act, which enable France to “speak the language of sovereignty” in the face of offensive foreign authorities.

Nicolas Houel, Director of the Centre for Economic and Strategic Analysis in Dassault Aviation‘s Public Affairs Department

  • The threat to this strategic sector, the defence industry, is multi-faceted, coming from both international competitors and certain States: data leakage and theft, interference (economic, institutional), physical attack (sabotage, cyber). 
  • An offensive approach to EI requires knowledge and mastery of intelligence to prepare for action. Today, EI is the only way to sell in a competitive environment, and using it wisely is essential to a company’s survival.
  • The development of an EI culture in France has been slowed by the absence of a genuine intelligence culture, and by a concept of information that hinders the sharing of information. 

Maï-Linh Camus, CEO of Prisme Intelligence

  • Raising managers’ awareness of the risks and threats to economic security, whatever their sector of activity or the size of their company, is essential if we are to raise awareness of these issues. 
  • When used by managers, EI becomes a powerful business intelligence tool that enables them to adapt quickly to their environment, avoid certain situations such as a bad partnership alliance, control their ecosystem and be more competitive. 
  • And competitive companies, less likely to turn to foreign financing, are a guarantee of sovereignty.
  • Often lacking in support in the practice of business intelligence, managers can mobilise and involve their internal resources, starting with their employees. Involving them in intelligence missions can give them an overall view of their environment and create a circle of trust conducive to sharing information.

François-Jeanne Beylot, Chairman of the Syndicat Français de l’intelligence économique

  • Business intelligence should not be approached solely from a defensive standpoint, and presented as a constraint, but as a state of mind, a decision-making tool that can make companies more efficient, more profitable and less vulnerable.
  • EI is an opportunity, and everyone has a responsibility to inform themselves and to inform others, because it is by ensuring the long-term survival of each company that we strengthen the French economy as a whole and, by the same token, our sovereignty.
  • To raise awareness effectively and advance an EI culture, we need to promote EI “à la française”, developing an approach that echoes our culture. Rather than copying what is being done elsewhere, we need to highlight our successes and the examples of French flagships that have been preserved. 
  • The Francophonie could be an interesting avenue for EI

Julie Duclercq, CEO of Ternwaves

  • The plundering of industrial property takes several forms: attacks on patents, the imposition of ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) clauses, either directly or by “contamination”, or other contractual clauses providing for the sharing of research results in the context of European calls for tender, for example. 
  • These risks must be taken into account as soon as the company is set up, and be the subject of a genuine industrial property strategy that is not limited to filing patents. Since they are public and easily attacked by more solid companies, they must be drafted rigorously and be accompanied by a process for protecting industrial secrecy. 
  • This approach is still underdeveloped in France, and companies often lack the necessary resources and training.

These exchanges bear witness to a change of direction for business intelligence in France. Now that awareness has been raised, the time has come for more offensive action and a cross-functional strategy at the highest level of government. Strengthening the national and European business intelligence culture is vital to protect ourselves from interference and other fast-growing threats, but also and above all to gain an advantage. A competitive advantage that serves the competitiveness and sovereignty of our businesses.

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