From Thursday to Saturday, more than 70,000 visitors will attend the third edition of VivaTech in Paris, one of the largest digital and tech conferences in Europe. The aim is to celebrate innovation and to help startups and businesses grow.

The lineup of speakers is pretty impressive, starting with Mark Zuckerberg, who will join a fireside chat with Maurice Lévy (Publicis) two days after testifying before members of the European Parliament and one day after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss issues such as tax and data privacy.

Beyond Facebook, the CEOs of IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Slack, and Uber — as well as Eric Schmidt, Alphabet board member, and Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G — will be in Paris, not to mention about 1,800 startups (50% coming from outside of France). This is a great opportunity for French companies to showcase what they do in terms of innovation and digital technology and to learn from others. Expect the usual animations in VivaTech’s Hall of Tech area, with AR/VR, drones, robotics, AI and, among others, IBM’s quantum computer, Airbus’ flying car mockup, Alibaba’s VR park, etc. Interestingly, the third day of the conference is open to the general public.

While I don’t expect major announcements at the event per se, it will be interesting to put VivaTech in perspective of three trends:

  • The relative immaturity of European brands in profoundly acting on digital transformation. As a tenured Forrester analyst, it is pretty obvious to me that US and Chinese brands overall are ahead when it comes to tech innovation and transformation. There is still huge room for growth in these countries due to the sorry state of digital transformation. That said, brands in the UK and to some extent in the Nordic countries are on average more mature in their ability to deliver their brand promise across touchpoints and to meet growing consumer expectations. In France, there are many interesting innovations, POCs, and R&D projects, and brands are doing a better job at communicating what they do, but the sad reality is that they do not invest to truly evolve their culture and organizations to adapt to a new mindset. This is particularly worrying for small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • The difference in perception in Europe on technology and privacy themes. What are the benefits and pitfalls of technology when it comes to impacting society? The very perception of privacy has deep cultural historical roots, potentially explaining the different perspectives. For example, Europeans consider privacy a fundamental human right, while US pragmatists regard commercial data collection and use from a cost/benefit perspective. Similarly, German culture is still reeling from its post-World War II Stasi surveillance state, while many Americans still have defeatist attitudes about government surveillance in the post-Snowden era. Let’s face it: GDPR is not just the expression of cultural differences but a true political weapon in the US/Europe economic battle. In this context, it will be very interesting to see how EU media reacts to Zuckerberg’s take and the outcome of the Tech for Good Summit on May 23, which will unite 40 industry leaders at the Élysée Palace to discuss tech’s potential for positive impact and education.
  • The renewed role of France. Two years ago (after Brexit), I was wondering whether Paris would become the new startup hub in Europe. I think it is fair to say that President Macron has changed the perception of France among US and international investors. France has benefited from promised investment unveiled by big technology companies this year as Google, Facebook, Salesforce, and SAP have expanded their workforces across the country. Let’s not forget, VivaTech is also about luring more tech professionals to France and about attracting foreign investment.

I’ll be at the show this Thursday and Friday. Feel free to contact me if you want to meet there.