Exclusively for “Trends-Tendances”, CEOs Guillaume Boutin and Fabien Pinckaers detail the terms of the alliance they have just concluded between the telecom operator and the business management software publisher.
Since its inception in 2002, technology company Odoo has experienced impressive growth. This Walloon nugget of 2,200 employees is now valued at more than three billion euros and is multiplying contracts with big names in the economic landscape. After consulting firm KPMG last month, Odoo is now signing a strategic partnership with Proximus. Objective: to allow SMEs and self-employed customers of the telecom operator to have access, with certain advantages, to the full range of digital solutions offered by the Walloon unicorn, whether to manage their customer relations, their sales, their accounting or their human resources. Joint interview of the two bosses on the genesis and the reasons for this new alliance.
Since its inception in 2002, technology company Odoo has experienced impressive growth. This Walloon nugget of 2,200 employees is now valued at more than three billion euros and is multiplying contracts with big names in the economic landscape. After consulting firm KPMG last month, Odoo is now signing a strategic partnership with Proximus. Objective: to allow SMEs and self-employed customers of the telecom operator to have access, with certain advantages, to the full range of digital solutions offered by the Walloon unicorn, whether to manage their customer relations, their sales, their accounting or their human resources. Joint interview of the two bosses on the genesis and the reasons for this new alliance. TRENDS-TENDANCES. Who came up with the idea for this partnership? Who made contact with the other? Fabian Pinkaers. Neither one nor the other (laughs)! It was our respective colleagues who got together one day and told us: “You should talk to each other. You are doing the same thing in the same market segment as SMEs”. And so, Guillaume and I, we met… GUILLAUME BOUTIN. There was no specific agenda in this meeting. In fact, it was only during this first meeting that we started thinking about and drawing up the offer… FP And that happened very quickly! In this first meeting, the main guidelines were defined and everything came out a month and a half later: operational, legal, setting up the offer… Everything! At first, such a partnership frightened me. I thought it was going to take months, but it has been very effective. GB I always say that, at Proximus, our governance is super simple and that we can move very quickly in decisions and in execution. When an idea seduces us, we go for it. See what we’ve done with Belfius, with the Doktr app and now with Odoo. But who took the “lead”? Who defined the terms of the agreement? FP Nobody! It’s a real partnership. GB It was brainstorming! One of them launched an idea, the other completed it, always with this desire to keep things simple. It was really the common ambition. Neither Proximus nor Odoo want to disperse themselves in things that have no impact… Concretely, what are the terms of this partnership? FP We tried to take the values of the two companies – Proximus which is very strong in connectivity and Odoo in applications – to offer the best to the customer through this partnership. GB Yes, the idea is to have the best of both! Me, what interests me is to bring together two local champions in their field to convince the client and provide him with the best of services. Once again, we put two huge brands together, two market leaders, and it can only be win-win. It’s more of a deal opportunity partnership than creating a complicated back office system together. I think it’s smart and meets a real need of our customers. By addressing this market together, we are going to be much stronger and provide a much better end-to-end service. The primary objective of this partnership is to boost the digitalization of SMEs and the self-employed? FP It is very important for the economy. What is certain today is that most SMEs are inefficient and they do not realize it. Work is not so much about going to sell solutions, it is first and foremost a problem of education and training. You still have a lot of people who sign their contracts on paper and complain that they have recruiting problems when they haven’t automated their sourcing. So it’s really a work of raising awareness and education. At our level, this partnership with Proximus will help us get the message across and raise awareness among SMEs, not only of the challenge of digitization, but above all of the benefits it can bring. This partnership will allow Odoo to have a much larger reach than what we could have had, alone, on our small farm in Grand-Rosière (laughs). This digitization of SMEs, is it almost a societal mission? GB It’s obvious, but it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. We must first create the vectors for implementing this digitization. For that, you need a network and that’s why we announced two weeks ago that we were going to invest 4 billion more to bring 100% optical fiber to Belgian homes and businesses. Without this reinforced connectivity, it is difficult to really make this journey towards digitalization. So, thanks to these implementation vectors, the adoption of solutions like Odoo will happen. SMEs and the self-employed will realize that going digital is not that complicated. And we, Proximus, we also bring an additional layer which is very important and which is the security of this transition to digital. It’s very important because sometimes people are afraid to go there… Fabien Pinckaers, what prospects does this partnership open up for Odoo? FP First of all, it’s a sign of maturity for our company. I don’t think we could have made such a partnership a few years ago. So we can already be proud to be able to work with a partner like Proximus… GB And vice versa! FP We have a lot of partnerships at Odoo, a little over 4,000 I think, but this is the first time that we have had a partnership of this quality and scale. I repeat: this is a sign of maturity for our company, but above all we are working for the same thing: the digitization of SMEs, which must be done through connectivity and tools. One without the other isn’t much use. We need both. GB It’s convergence! We have already seen the convergence between fixed and mobile. Then there was the convergence between landline, mobile and entertainment in the consumer world. And there, now, is the convergence between connectivity and IT, the convergence between information systems and access to these information systems via reinforced connectivity. It is the natural movement of our industries coming together. We do it intelligently by each playing their part, but by creating added value for our end customers. Guillaume Boutin, you seem to want to multiply, lately, partnerships in Belgium to create local ecosystems… GB I have been convinced for a number of years that we will have to create alternatives to world champions. These alternatives must be local. It is the survival of a form of technological autonomy that is at stake. We must take our digital destiny into our own hands, in Europe, in Belgium, and in a whole host of areas: in day-to-day digital services, in business services, in the creation of local clouds… For that, you need optical fiber – 9 billion invested in total – and also the software that ensures this autonomy and this ability to create innovation locally. Europe lost the first Internet battle but it is taking matters into its own hands. There is a European political will today and it is a spur for us, local players, to take our destiny into our own hands and invent local solutions. There is a reconquest to be carried out by European players in the digital world, . Is it a form of protectionism? GB Having an industrial vision in the digital field at European level is not protectionism, it is a necessity. The United States has this vision, Asia has this vision and Europe must have it too. It must take itself in hand and promote the emergence of European champions because it is a question of the existence, in the medium term, of a strong digital industry. FP It’s an economic question. At Odoo, we have created more than 2,000 jobs in a few years. It is important. How do you see the world of telecoms and digital solutions by 2030, or even 2040? FP Everything is changing. You still have plenty of professions that are “paper”, manual, with a lot of administration and double encoding. This represents a large part of the economic fabric that will have to change in the next few years. This will go faster than expected because telework has accelerated the need for companies to digitize. Today, what we expect from digital tools are productivity tools. It’s not just the core business of buying, selling and managing inventory. The challenge is for everything to go faster in the company. If we have a recruitment problem, we can do automatic sourcing. We can also ensure that employees collaborate better with each other, that they are more connected, etc. It’s a game changer for many companies. GB The pace of technological change has never been so short and it is accelerating more and more. We are going to have a complete transformation of the way we design industrial processes and business operational processes thanks to the connectivity infrastructure. This is an element that will bring incredible disruption. The challenge for all of this to happen as quickly as we hope, is that this transition takes place in a world where people have confidence. However, there is still a little too much resistance because people lack confidence in digital technology. There is a crucial problem related to the deployment of digital in a secure framework. Our challenge as an infrastructure and services operator will be to restore this confidence.