The Smile Group, open source and Europe
Opinion column by Marc Palazon
It is now 20 years since the Smile Group invested body and soul in the world of open source.
It is important to keep in mind, and I think this is important to understand our path, that Smile is a company that was created in 1991, and which therefore had "a life" before its love marriage with the free world.
So why open source? It's quite simple, Smile has always wanted to provide its clients with alternatives to mainstream solutions (often heavy, expensive and not very innovative) in order to allow them to differentiate themselves and perform better.
Smile's first era began with the emergence of PCs and with them the possibility of setting up "client-server" applications that were much more agile and rapid than the mainframe solutions of the time. The Internet then revolutionised the world of applications, as well as the world of communication, and it was only natural that Smile, as a pioneer, invested in these technologies, allowing for the deployment of so-called "client-light" applications, which was the group's second era. The third era is that of open source! Why, quite simply because open source, by its very nature, offers its users (i.e. our clients) openness, non-lock-in, durability, security and finally innovation with an unrivalled R&D power thanks in particular to the communities.
For 20 years now, the Smile Group has been developing its uniqueness, first in France and then in Europe for the last ten years, becoming the undisputed market leader.
Why did you want to go beyond our borders?
There are in fact several reasons for this.
I'll start with a cheer for once! Indeed, France is known to be THE leading country in Europe as regards the deployment of open source within its public and private ecosystems (see CNLL survey). This phenomenon is due to various factors, starting with the fact that French administrations made open source a priority in their choices very early on (as early as 2003). The other European countries have generally followed the same orientation at the level of public contractors but with a time lag of several years. Our intention, when we launched ourselves internationally, was therefore to export our French-style know-how on the strength of our experience and our unrivalled references at European level.
The second reason lies in the very nature of the technologies we integrate. Indeed, by their very nature, open source technologies are international, with large communities contributing to the products and spread throughout the world. Furthermore, open source publishers (when there are any) are fast-growing publishers, often of modest size, which pushes us to support them in their own international development. The Smile Group, because of its leading position, is often one of their main partners. Accompanying them internationally is a real plus for them, as it is for us.
The third reason comes from our clients who are themselves developing internationally or are simply present there. They therefore need an international player capable of supporting them in their deployment projects. Our ability to address their local needs, whether for technical, cultural or change management aspects, has become crucial today.
As you can see, there were a number of reasons why the Smile Group embarked on a resolutely European adventure.
Today, the need for European digital sovereignty highlighted by the COVID 19 pandemic, as well as the need to have the most responsible digital tool possible, reinforce our will and our belief in a conquering open source in Europe.
What a pleasure, what fun it is to face these new challenges! It hasn't always been easy, but we are very happy today to be present in 5 European countries (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany) and to have almost 20% of our turnover made with customers outside France.
We were able to see that the open source market is buoyant in Europe, although at times different from that in France (different approach and emergence/awareness of products). We have the feeling that we are participating in something special, a bit like the Airbus adventure, all things considered, by developing a group that is resolutely European and based above all on cooperation.
Cooperation is a fundamental point in our project. This is why we are delighted that in 2022, companies such as creativestyle (open source e-commerce expert) based in Germany or Synotis (Data Expert) based in Switzerland have chosen to join us in order to build this leader in open digital in Europe that we aim to become.
The Smile Group is a group of European entrepreneurs who collaborate with desire, passion and ambition and who have set out to take Europe by storm.
We believe that open source and Europe deserve it!