CEO and cofounder of Bonitasoft, Miguel Valdés-Faura has been a manager engineer at Bull and Inria, two central spots in a career marked by industrial challenges.
Workflow et open source Architect at Inria
Workflow and BPM Manager at Bull
CEO and cofounder of Bonitasoft
Innovation, the front door to research
I am originally a computer engineer: I first studied in Barcelona at the end of the 1990s, and I began - on the engineering side - to take an interest in programming and software development. It was the beginning of what we now call digital technology: the first Web applications, the Internet, the start of search engines and Google...As part of my final year project, I wanted to gain experience abroad. The director of the computer science department suggested two options: go into industry in the United States or explore the world of research at Inria in France. In his view France, and Inria in particular, seemed the best path to take. I cheekily ask a few people at the institute if they were interested in my profile! I was drawn to a research team in Nancy that was reflecting on improving collaborative work and on its new technologies: François Charoy contacted me again and had me join his project team.
At that time, in 2001, Inria had considerable resources compared to what I had experienced in Spain. There I met some extremely brilliant people who mastered their subjects - and yet did not take themselves too seriously, which made the integration of new arrivals much easier - and I discovered the possibility of conducting comprehensive research: opening myself up to the international scientific world by attending conferences, purchasing new technologies to remain at the cutting edge, rubbing shoulders with pluralist teams including researchers, engineers, interns, etc. There was a particular desire for innovation: I remember extremely applied projects in computer science, but also in biology, however technology transfer was still relatively new. The will was there, but projects still needed a push towards industry. Today, it is no longer the case!
Research, the front door to entrepreneurship
I stayed at Inria from 2001 to 2003, and I did not wish to take the research engineer competitive exam. I wondered about the immediate future of the technology (open source software) on which we had been working. The collaborative tool was, in fact, the beginning of what is still being commercialised today at Bonitasoft. Inria therefore suggested that I create my own business, taking advantage of an incubator and its services. I was not yet ready, so I went into industry, to Bull, which had an excellent research centre on open source software. There I finally continued the work that had begun at Inria and carried on with the development of the technology. This technology, called Bonita, quite naturally went over from the world of research to that of industry.
Six years later, I had learned a new profession: business process management, the management of business line processes, the production of a technology that meets a market requirement whilst retaining its innovation potential, etc. At Bull, I also learned about the competition and its technologies, and therefore about my future market. In 2009, as Bull did not want to finance a spin-off, I left with two other people from my team and we created Bonitasoft.
We will be celebrating Bonitasoft's eighth birthday in June 2017: we have signed over a thousand customer contracts in 75 countries and are working with colleagues from the world over. We are very well-established in France and Europe, but also in the United States. It is one of the things I am most proud of, especially since internationalisation is perhaps the most complicated thing for a business: half of our turnover is made across the Atlantic, and 80% outside France. I am still in touch with my former Inria project team, and we even have a CIFRE (industrial agreement for training through research) thesis with the institute! Research time is not the same in industry, but it is important to keep a long-term vision, something that institutes like Inria provide us with.
Your first digital memory
My first digital project, when there were several search engines on the Internet such as Altavista, was to implement what we call an "interactive guide", i.e. an intelligent system that was meant to enable suitable suggestions to be proposed to a user who was searching for information. The more users there were, the more the system learned to understand its searches and refine its results. It was the beginning of artificial intelligence on digital applications.
The intelligent future?
I am already delighted to see that my initial field of research, collaborative objects, is still relevant! This is always the risk with a research project: making sense at a particular time does not mean that it will not be outdated fifteen years later. This is particularly demonstrated by Bonitasoft's international success. Over the coming years, new technologies supported by artificial intelligence will play a key role. We have always worked on the collaboration between people, but the reality is that we will increasingly collaborate with intelligent systems. There is a slight risk that the system bypasses the person...but I am optimistic and I think that this will improve human collaboration as well as human-computer understanding! Political and economic reflection obviously needs to be carried out, on work, resource sharing, the redeployment of employees in 50 or 60 years' time and on our overall representation of communication. For me, seeking immortality - there are some slightly crazy projects thought up by the founders of companies such as Tesla, Facebook and Google - seems to overstep the moral mark. However I remain positive, as the intelligence of the systems will also enable work to be made more interesting, help with decision-making, save time and improve, in fine, the quality of work and life. We will be more efficient and more valued.