Challenge, research, innovation and knowledge sharing ... these words come to mind once you get to know Eura Nova. "Doing research and mastering the knowledge of IT development is the best way to have real influence on its changing use", says Eric Delacroix, one of the three founders of this unusual IT consultancy company. Eura Nova, a recent member of Agoria, is an IT consultant but it's also a research centre and incubator.

(Above : Eric Delacroix and Hervé Bath, the  two 'historic' associates)

Challenge, research, innovation and knowledge sharing ... these words come to mind once you get to know Eura Nova. "Doing research and mastering the knowledge of IT development is the best way to have real influence on its changing use", says Eric Delacroix, one of the three founders of this unusual IT consultancy company. Eura Nova, a recent member of Agoria, is an IT consultant but it's also a research centre and incubator.

In 2008, at the very start of a major financial crisis, Eura Nova was founded by three engineers who were disenchanted with the opportunities offered to them by the traditional IT consultancy world. Their goal was to offer something in Belgium that was lacking at the time: the possibility to develop advanced informatics.

What do you mean by "advanced informatics"?

Eric Delacroix: At that time, IT services operated on aging platforms and consultants offered standard solutions that were not necessarily the strongest, taking into account the customer's needs. In 2008, most talented engineers who really wanted to advance in their profession had to look beyond the borders and work for companies who were really innovating, especially in the field of distributed informatics and data science.

The major turning point of digital transformation today is that the distributed IT architecture is fully exploited: data centres, cloud, convergence of systems that run on the internet... this really changes everything as regards computing and storage capacity. It's talked about a lot, but there are actually very few in Belgium who are already at that point. The companies that are the farthest along have a vision and the in-house knowledge to take the first steps. But there's a long road to travel before you become as powerful as Amazon is in its business. You really need the necessary resources for adopting and taming the technology. And that's what Eura Nova does.

This requires investing in research, which entails finding money and therefore being able to offer a potential return on investment. This explains our IT consultancy work; we enable companies to reap the benefits of our research and we then reinvest the consultancy profit back into new research.

Which sectors are the furthest along in digital transformation?

The telecom sector was a forerunner in system convergence. Alcatel was also our first customer. We also worked with Huawei for four years. The banks were next, which primarily wanted to reduce costs and that have particularly demanding customers as regards payment methods, account management, security... The financial sector was also the first to face the threat by foreign players – such as Google or Apple – entering their market and being able to offer payment services via purely digital means. From that perspective, the retail sector is also under pressure.

And manufacturing?

Manufacturing, especially the pharmaceutical industry, has discovered enormous opportunities in this digital transformation for reducing costs and increasing productivity by collecting data across their entire production lines, by anticipating maintenance and errors, by halting production when needed...

Pharmaceutical research can even be accelerated by anticipating the test results of certain formulas.

Do you work for – or should we say with – start-ups?

Start-ups are a category of customers with whom we really enjoy working. They are similar to us; they want to offer services with high added value that now often rely on artificial intelligence. One of our goals is to offer local start-ups the opportunities to acquire the competencies and technologies in that area at a reasonable price.

We also work with sectors that want to exploit unstructured, more complex data such as images, sound and video, e.g. mobility applications.

What are the biggest obstacles for digital transformation?

The first obstacle is the awareness (or rather its absence) of the existence of the technologies and resources for the change: "How do you decide to take a step if you don't see how you will be able to take it?" I've also noticed a need for control: a lack of confidence, worry about the lack of competencies or even protectionism regarding the business. Individual and collective resistance also prevail within organisations.

As regards data use, there is a very simple question that many still ask themselves: where is my data? A lot of substantive work must be done regarding data collection and provision.

Finally, there are probably more people required who can think about how things can be done differently. It's understandable that a banker who has done his job the same way for 20 years is going to have difficulty with 'seeing' that there's a completely different way to do it while simultaneously creating added value. The block is more psychological than financial; people are willing to invest once they're convinced of the added value.

How is it going with advanced IT competencies in Belgium?

We bring in young university students every year for a three-month boot camp. They follow an intensive training course in which they make a huge jump in progress ... even though they already have engineering degrees! Although I think that the actual content does not always go far enough, the training programmes prove their worth by enabling the young people to develop in order to progress even further.

Going further, innovating ... that is Eura Nova's raison d'être

That's right. But it's about more than just being able to go further, it's also about wanting to do that - the continuous desire to acquire new knowledge. That is not always easy to find and maintain. We work in areas that are becoming increasingly complex while there are not always more people who want to work with that complexity.

Sabri Skhiri, director of research and 3rd associate

"The requirements regarding maths skills continue to increase, while the number of people who have the competencies to fulfil these requirements is not necessarily increasing."

It's our job to reduce this complexity, to separate it from the use. In other words, we make sure that the work is "pre-chewed" so that people who are not as aware of the complexity can still use the tool. That is Eura Nova's model: doing research for our customers, developing very complex tools and then putting them on the market stripped of their complexity.

Eura Nova started ten years ago. What distinguishes you from other consultants?

We clearly profile ourselves as a private research centre. I think that we're the only company in Belgium that publishes scientific articles for international conferences. We also lead a workshop about real-time data analysis – artificial intelligence - every year during the international Big Data-conference. We collaborate with universities around the world, including teaching classes, etc.

Our primary goal – both through research and consultancy – is to share knowledge. Our customers now know that they have to work differently. They know, for example, that the systems they developed internally years ago are too costly to maintain and that they have to start over with today's technologies. So we provide them with the knowledge and technology to approach their business from a different perspective, with today's competencies. We make our knowledge available to the customers and train their teams to maintain a competitive advantage.

"It's not the job of a bank or an insurer – no matter how big – to follow technological developments. That's our job."

Does the government support your R&D?

The Walloon Region does provide some innovation support, e.g. the reduction of payroll tax for researchers, but in France the support goes even further – particularly in engaging computer science specialists. (1)

Why have you become a member of Agoria?

Because companies too often look abroad for competencies that we also have here. We want to get the word out that there is a leading expertise centre in Belgium in the area of big data.

The second reason is that we're looking for collaboration. Our company is based on collaboration. After all, we work in IT ... but we don't have an objective! We are looking for partners who want to create added value. The more collaborative partnerships we develop, the more knowledge becomes available to launch start-ups from Belgium and to achieve global success.

"It's not normal to be able to go from thesis to business in six months in the US while this takes six years in Europe! Our goal is to shorten that time."

That's why companies should join us. Over the past ten years we've gathered an enormous amount of knowledge in the area of data science and AI, we now have to make this more widely known.

(*) Eura Nova has a support centre in Marseille that focuses on research and data science.


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