Portraits

From growing lettuces on Mars to the ‘Digital Factory’

With his engineering diploma (and a specialty: design and innovation of bio-products), Charles Foucault is today the Chief Editor of an information web-site ‘*L’Usine Digitale’ [The Digital Factory], and has a track-record where science and technologies have always been in the sunlights. Cf. www.usine-digitale.fr

From growing lettuces on Mars to the ‘Digital Factory’

Normal 0 21 false false false FR X-NONE X-NONE He could have grown lettuces on Mars ... and now he is Chief Editor of the information web-site 'L'Usine Digitale', a subsidiary and spin-off of 'L'Usine Nouvelle' which is specialized in the digital economy. He gained his engineering diploma at UTC in the elective major 'Biotechnologies' and was first hired by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2007 as a Young Graduate Trainee (research). You may wonder - what is a bio-product design specialist doing in the space sector? "For long manned space-flights, it is simply impossible to carry enough food or oxygen with the launch and transfer spacecraft", Charles Foucault explains. The only viable alternative is to grow the vegetables and use them to recycle the CO2 and metabolic wastes. "Now that was really exciting research work", says Charles Foucault, who nonetheless adds that after a burst of initial enthusiasm, the science involved rapidly became "an exercise in jewellery" which proves long and often repetitive. Modelling the populations of bacteria needed to effectively grow salads in a space-craft calls for a 20 year long research programme.

Chief Editor at 30 years of age

UTC officially trains engineers but the university also offers opportunities to budding authors. "One day, an ex-UTC colleague - who had seen the two musical comedies I wrote while at UTC - came to my lab. and asked why I hadn't envisage becoming a scientific journalist", says Charles Foucault ... "I had never thought about this possibility ...". So, after giving this idea some consideration, Charles registered for the competitive examination to be admitted to the ESJ-Lille where he took the elective to become a scientific reporter. He gained his ESJ diploma in 2009 was rapidly hired by the magazine Industrie et Technologies. He next moved to join Air & Cosmos, in charge of the Space news section of this aeronautical and space magazine and then to L'Usine Nouvelle to manage and monitor their usinenouvelle.com web-site, accept the challenge to create a new BtoB medium in the digital world. "How could I turn down a piece of luck like this - knowing that I've always been a bit of a geek ...?" adds Charles Foucault, who is now firmly seated at the Chief Editor's desk, at the age of 30. When he moved into this position, the L'Usine Nouvelle site was levelling out at 1.2 million visitors/month.

Transforming business models ...

L'Usine Digitale was launched in June 3013 with the banner slogan "When the digital world reinvents industry". The project got under way very quickly and attracted the attention of professionals from sectors outside industry - they too were interested to see how business models and organizations charts could change in a digital word. "The success stories of companies like Uber or Airbnb are not just due to development of an efficiency technology but also - and above all - to a new way to meet needs expressed", explains Charles Foucault. Today 8 reporters work at L'Usine Digitale, all keen observers of what digitalizing activities brings to all sectors. Every month close on 700 000 individual visits (hits) are registered. The parent magazine L'Usine Nouvelle is also expanding rapidly and registers over 1.7 million hits/month.

... and 'uberising' the State

Today we observe that the valorisation of the Paris Stock Exchange CAC-40 index has been matched by that of 'GAFA' (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) and that a new generation of enterprises now surf on new business models, commonly referred to as the 'NATU' (Netflix, Airbnb, Tesla and Uber). "Several projects have as their aim to connect the entire planet 'from the sky'", notes Charles Foucault, who sees the digital revolution affecting not only the business world but Society itself and impacting "even the notion of work". As he sees things, these disruptive models no longer target clients but communities that can be monetized and even used to create added value (the BlaBlaCar drivers, for example). "Another major trend is the economy which is gradually being built round data and better knowledge of the end-users", notes Charles Foucault for whom "Google is developing its 'Google (self-drive) car' not to sell vehicles but to make the most of the driver's new free time (and that of the other passengers too)". The driver et al become end-users that the company will try to conserve in its environment as far as is possible. "Connected objects and personal monitoring will have a real impact on the health sector industries via an earlier detection of problems and improved work conditions and hence a better rationalization of investments", adds Charles Foucault. Such monitoring techniques, however, do raise problems related to the private sphere and employee surveillance. With problems like these on their way, the Chief Editor of L'Usine Digitale suggests that we 'uberise' the State services, which he feels are not sufficiently reactive faced with impending innovations and transformations. Questioning the legitimacy of salaried work and all new forms of activity that stem from digital technologies requires that our leaders decide and propose regulatory frameworks failing which, predicts Charles Foucault, we are heading for a pervasive economy with no rules whatsoever.