Mr. Francesco Bonfiglio, Chief Executive Officer at Gaia-X, has always been curious and enthusiastic about innovation, active member of startup evaluation commissions, and a board member and co-founder of FOOLFARM.com, the first example of an AI centric Startup Studio in Italy.
Mr. Bonfiglio joined Gaia-X in March 2021 as the new CEO. At that time, he had just made a decision to set up his own company to become an entrepreneur and an advisor. After 30+ years in the business, in many roles, serving many international firms, he understood it was time to leverage his experience, making it available to many and not just one company, and becoming independent in deciding where and how to invest his time and intellect.
His executive career was built from the ground up. Formerly CEO for ENGINEERING D.HUB (part of the largest Italian IT Group), Managing Director in ACCENTURE Group (as VP for AVANADE), CTO EMEA for HP, SW Factory Director at UNISYS, Technical Director, and Evangelist at RATIONAL SOFTWARE amongst his positions.
Before being an executive, Mr. Bonfiglio grew his career from the bottom up, covering possibly all roles in the Information Technology business, and following the evolution of technology, from the origin to the digital revolution we are living today. With an education in Electronics Engineering, He started his career in the late 80s as a HW engineer in innovative projects for military equipments, like the Sonar System for the Italian Navy (ANSQQ14IT) prized during the Gulf war for the mine-hunting performances, or the Eurofighter Fighter Aircraft (Typhoon EFA), still one of the most advanced examples of technology in the Military field.
He then moved from HW to FW and then to SW, as the natural path from solid state to integrated devices, to programmable logic devices, to SW, in all languages.
“From a developer to a top executive, having had the chance to learn from scratch the inside of HW and SW technologies that today are totally encapsulated, and living on my own skin issues and problems that have in the last three decades captured as lessons learnt by the most moderns SW Engineering and Project Management methodologies now taught at university.”
“As a manager, advisor, and an entrepreneur, what I’m proud of is that today I can manage and advise on what I have done myself, and not just heard about. Technology is nowadays complex and pervasive, even more than medicine. But whilst nobody would rely on a non-qualified doctor, many technology strategic decisions, in business and politics, are still largely made by unqualified people. We should reflect on the impact of this on our next generations.” he says
Boosting Data Economy
Gaia-X was established in 2021 as a privately funded not-for-profit Association. Gaia-X brings together an international community of providers, users and researchers of technology, from all different sectors and regions, with the aim to build a common standard for transparent, controllable and interoperable technologies in order to enable the creation of common data spaces and doing so boost the European data economy.
Gaia-X aims to regain control and trust over technologies, without which the data platform can become a de-facto controller and regulator of our data, creating an obstacle to adoption that is reducing EU competitiveness in the market of today and tomorrow.
It’s ambition is to become a de-facto standard for digital trust, adopted by the largest possible number of adopters, within and outside Europe, to reduce the dependency from black-boxed, non-interoperable technologies, increase the availability of controllable, transparent and interoperable technologies leveling the market playing field, creating a brand new competitive advantage based on reciprocal trust between providers and users of technology, openness of standards, no fear of lock-in and freedom of choice to create innovative data-driven business models.
The way Gaia-X is achieving this objective is through the definition of a set of rules to obtain transparency, controllability and interoperability of services, a technology framework to implement such mechanisms. In this way technology providers and users will meet in the common need to offer and consume more reliable and trustworthy digital services thanks to the compliance to Gaia-X.
There are different initiatives that try to pursue digital sovereignty or enable common data spaces. In the first case most of them aim to force or influence European regulations to restrict the power of dominant technology players, and thus create a market playing field. In the second case most of them focus on the theoretical aspects of data exchange and data models or ontologies, neglecting the need to implement safe and practical technology mechanisms.
The differentiator of Gaia-X is that they are developing a solution everybody needs, that is not in the market yet, and they are the first and most advanced in Europe having captured the needs and the features of it. The revolution Gaia-X is riding is not to fight against the GAFAM or reduce the power of existing dominant cloud providers as many believe; Gaia-X has clearly captured the need to move from an hyper-concentrated, to an hyper-distributed model of cloud in order to cope with the nature of data now distributed everywhere; the need to converge from central cloud to edge, inverting the flow of data from their source to remote computers, and maximizing the ability to elaborate them closer to their source; the need to federate digitally value chains, to enable their transformation into a new data economy where not only goods and material, but also data need to flow seamlessly.
Mr. Francesco says that “Not only Gaia-X has captured real market needs and is developing a solution for them, but we decided to represent the market voice, collecting hundreds of representatives from all economic sectors, competitors in nature at time, to work jointly in the definition of what the market wants.”
Finally Gaia-X decided to be and remain private, to avoid any possible influence from institutions or public funding, and represent in a pure way what the market needs and wants. But most importantly, Gaia-X is not a pure association without concrete deliverables. They are creating the mechanisms needed to achieve this trust in a way that can be interpreted both by humans and machines. They are enabling the creation of common Data Spaces and common infrastructures based on Gaia-X through the member’s projects.
More concretely, through the creation of a network of Gaia-X Digital Clearing Houses (nodes of execution of the Gaia-X compliance services), the creation of Marketplaces of Gaia-X compliant services (to open the market adoption), and the definition of sectoral Labels (to bias specific market sector providers, typically highly regulated, to conform to the Gaia-X standard).
Mr. Francesco states that, “We are almost ready to launch the Gaia-X Digital Clearing House, which is an automated software that offers compliance assessment.”
This compliance is in accordance with the Gaia-X values of transparency, openness, and controllability, which are intrinsically linked with the EU Digital strategy and values
Companies can use the Clearing House to get certificated with Gaia-X, hence why the Clearing House will be a guarantor of trust.
Impacting the People’s Life for Good Cause
Data is currently collected everywhere, but still very little is used. The potential of available information is largely unknown and unexploited by most companies because they are scared of the control technology platforms will exercise on their data.
Also, industrial, economical, societal, ecosystems cannot fully become digital unless their value chain – involving all participants – becomes digital through data exchange. But data exchange requires the definition of a reciprocal value for all participants and needs trustworthy technologies to happen.
Without digital value chains – that are common data spaces where all participants share one another their data – it is not possible to reduce dependencies from single sources, it is not possible to calculate ESG impacts of a product or service, it is not possible to optimize the cost of production or the overall energy footprint across the value chain, none can optimize its own product or service without the data from all others in its value chain.
In the new economy, the price to market of products and services depends on the value perceived by the customer, not by the cost of production. In the new economy, the globalization of value chains makes it impossible for a single player to be independent of others. In the new economy, the cost of labor and raw materials cannot be the key competitive factor. Data is a new raw material on which digital add-on services can be built, but it requires to be shared across the whole value chain to create the necessary richness.
Gaia-X is not designing new technologies or creating alternative platforms to compete with the market dominants; they are creating the premises to start adopting existing technologies, trusting them and creating those digital value chains to create competitive, innovative, and impactful services in the market, in the society, and in the natural ecosystems.
Without Gaia-X, we would simply remain where we are: between a rock and a hard face, scared of sharing data because we don’t trust monopolist platforms or giving our new gold (data) to platforms we don’t trust running the risk of losing our value and competition and be controlled by them acting as a de-facto regulator. More data will remain in silos, and technology will continue to be fragmented and non-interoperable, which can bring economic stagnation.
Creating Data Spaces to Exchange Data Safely
Mr. Francesco asserts, “2023 is the year of ‘Growth’. In this year, we’ll make available the first GXDCH (Gaia-X Digital Clearing House) – the one stop place to go to get verified against the Gaia-X rules to obtain compliance, in an automated way.”
“During our summit in Paris in November 2022, we showed more than 200 services already described in Gaia-X conformant ways, ready to populate the first Gaia-X marketplaces. This is the tip of the iceberg, as we already have in January more than a thousand service descriptions, and they will grow in the year, to populate the first catalog of really transparent and controllable cloud and digital services, to show a real alternative to black-boxed proprietary services is possible.”
He further expresses, “In addition, the lighthouse projects (8 at the moment) and many more projects in Europe and beyond, are creating federations of participants in digital value chains – we call them data spaces. Data spaces will allow the safe data exchange across the participants, enabling the optimization of existing processes and products, reducing single point of failure in the chain, matching suppliers, and customer needs, and enabling the exploitation of data to build added value services. Data spaces are the key to enable data economy, that without trustworthy data platforms, that Gaia-X aims to enable, cannot simply exist.”
“The target is a snowball effect to create a market demand for Gaia-X services, the introduction of Gaia-X compliance in the new digital service procurements by the users of technology, and the request of verification to Gaia-X compliance, through the Clearing Houses, by the technology providers, in Europe and across the globe.”
A Great Leader
Making decisions in a group takes a lot of effort to reach an agreement among members, taking into consideration everyone’s differing perspectives, as well as their inherent differences in interests and expectations.
But like in any challenge, if you want to win a small fight do it yourself, but if you want to win the war and change the world, you must have as many allies as you can.
Mr. Francesco believes that, “The essential thing is to establish a shared strategy and clear common objectives to help all teams and contributors work together. The strategy must be focused on business outcomes with a measurable impact on members and in their common interest. In this way, we can build something for the common good, maybe in the long run, but with a completely different type of impact and consensus.”
Workplace motivation is an important factor in achieving success in any organization. It is the key to unlocking the potential of employees and helping them reach their full potential.
Mr. Francesco motivates the employees by taking a holistic approach and addressing multiple factors, like clearly communicating expectations and goals to the team, so they understand what is expected of them and how they can contribute to the organization’s success; Encouraging an open-door policy, which can help employees feel more valued and heard, and also help management understand where improvements can be made; Encouraging employee autonomy and ownership over their work, can help employees feel more in control of their work and more motivated to take ownership of their role; Address any factual inaccuracies or misconceptions, be willing to consider different perspectives and adapt approach if or as needed.
Mr. Francesco’s piece of advice for aspiring business people is to keep an open mind and be willing to learn new things. Be curious and seek out new experiences and opportunities. Be bold, be strong, and be courageous.