INVESTING IN PORTUGAL OVER 15 YEARS

Portugal 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Bernardo Correia, Country Manager of Google, on the European market, exports and internationalization in the Portuguese economy, and the ICT sector in 2018.

Could you tell us about the evolution of Google's presence in Portugal, and what does the European market represent for your company?

Google has been present in Portugal for almost 15 years. Google's presence over the years has traditionally reflected the size of the Portuguese economy and the available opportunities. We are proud of expanding significantly in the recent past. Two important milestones in Google's journey in Portugal was the acquisition of Digisfer, a Portuguese startup incorporated through Google Street View, in 2015 and the launch of Atelier Digital, Google's digital skills training program that has now trained over 35,000 people living in Portugal. The company's next milestone for summer 2018, an international service center in Oeiras was announced by the Portuguese Prime Minister. Google looks at Portugal not just through the lens of the domestic market; but primarily as an international hub for talent and a service distribution center for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Some of our best brains in the hot field of artificial intelligence (AI) originate from Portugal. Moreover, there is huge potential for international business expansion to be based out of Portugal.

What are some of your top priorities regarding business development alongside Portuguese companies, agencies, advertisers, and your strategic development plans?

I arrived in Portugal a little less than two years ago after spending 11 years in the UK, and I was impressed by how much the Portuguese economy had pivoted toward exports and internationalization. The country had been going through a terrible crisis but Portuguese people proved themselves as incredible entrepreneurs. One of the pillars of Google's plan in Portugal it has been to help the Portuguese tourist industry accelerate and compete internationally in attracting international tourists. Tourism is an incredibly successful story here in Portugal and we are extremely proud of having been part of that journey, working alongside the leading hotel chains, and the Portuguese Tourism Board; one of the most innovative in the world in terms of how they lure in tourists. In the other hand, Portugal now boasts fantastic businesses generating an ecosystem of Portuguese startups, and for the first time in generations, a new batch of Portuguese international brands, for example, Indiecampers, Uniplaces, and Prozis. It is incredible the size of international business opportunities for companies here. Part of our business plan is to help incubate and support the opportunities for international businesses in Portugal. We do that through several training programs and partnerships with startup incubators such as Startup Lisbon and in collaboration with the Portuguese government. We want to support the entrepreneurship environment in Portugal because it is an incredible growth driver for us. Another great opportunity lies in the digital transformation of traditional Portuguese businesses; it is vital for Portuguese companies to increase the speed of their digital transformation. Our launch of the Google Cloud team in Portugal aims to facilitate the booming industry of Cloud computing and AI. The advertising business in Portugal is largely manual; hence, we launched Double Click, an important component of the advertising industry's digital transformation. Retail is at the heart of digital transformation in any market, but the Portuguese e-commerce market is not mature enough; Portugal conducts less than 3% of transactions online in comparison to around 20% in the UK. Therefore, we are focused on helping Portuguese retailers, especially those with an international footprint to better compete in the e-commerce market. A huge opportunity lies here and Portuguese retailers should get ahead before other competitors penetrates the market. Portugal conducts 81% of e-commerce transactions through foreign websites, proving that there are rampant supply issues. Google helps local businesses modernize their infrastructure and create great user experiences on their websites by using the latest mobile technologies such as progressive web apps.

To what extent do you believe that the presence of Google here can help accelerate the sector's development given its IT training expertise?

Early on, it was easy to identify digital skills as a problem due to lack of professionals in the ecosystem. However, at present, there are various solutions such as Atelier Digital and GEN10S program, where Google has joined hands with the Ministry of Education to train 5,000 kids in programming languages every year. Of our generation of internet companies, Google is proud to invest the most in Portugal for over 15 years.

What impact do you think Industry 4.0 will have in terms of transforming innovation and education in Portugal?

The message regarding the digital transformation of the Portuguese economy is that for the first time, Portugal is not at a disadvantage. High transportation costs and being on the fringes of Europe has played a negative role for Portugal for many years, but thanks to the digital space that is no longer the reality; a service can be sold globally with the help of companies such as Google. For the first time ever, if you digitize your business in Portugal, you can reach a potential market of 2 billion people instead of a domestic market of 2 million.

How do you expect the ICT sector to perform now that the Portuguese economic recovery is consolidating?

For a country like Portugal, because of the scale of the domestic market and the nature of opportunities in digital transformation, it is incredibly important to make well-informed decisions. Investors and Portuguese startups are aware of present structural problems and the need to bring greater liquidity into the tech sector. However, these problems are being addressed by private investors and the government; therefore we expect the ICT sector to experience explosive growth over the next few years.