Thuasne, a 170-year-old SME, embraces digital technologies

elizabeth_ducottet_pays_3Created in 1847, Thuasne is the French and European leader in wearable medical devices (lumbar supports, compression stockings, splints and braces, etc.) At its head, Elizabeth Ducottet considers digital transformation an ongoing necessity.



Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight

In the eyes of Thuasne’s CEO, digital transformation has no definite beginning and end; rather it is a long process of maturation. “There was not a specific day when we began using digital technologies. Like Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain, we have been using them for several years now without realising it.” She believes that since 2014, the weak signals from the external environments have become stronger, requiring the company to step up its efforts. In her sector, the most significant recent change is the development of personalised and evidence-based medicine.  “Patients no longer place blind faith in healthcare professionals. They want scientific proof of the effectiveness of the treatments and products on offer, and they want to be taught how to use them. They also want more connected healthcare adapted to their particular circumstances and needs.” This demand for information and personalisation is first and foremost achieved via digital tools, mobile applications, smart devices and big data. “We have defined the broad strokes of our digital strategy based on these new expectations.”


Digital body scans on a smartphone

Thuasne has identified its main priorities in the realm of digital technologies, the highest of which is digitising services. “Our current priority is to offer our prescribing doctors, pharmaceutical distributors and end-customers digital services that improve the product selection process to make the choice best suited to their needs.” The company’s latest technology is a smartphone application that scans the body part affected by a pathology and suggests a suitable product and size.


To develop these new digital services, Thuasne has become an expert in the test-and-learn approach, which essentially involves learning from experience using a trial-and-error approach on projects of increasing difficulty, thus progressively gaining in competency. “The idea is to start with our priority area, which is services, before branching out to increasingly complex projects.” To sustain its digital transformation, Thuasne has implemented a digital factory. “Although it is not our priority at this time, we are closely monitoring new virtual prototyping technologies and contemporary design techniques, which will fundamentally change production modes in the future.”


Taking advantage of the startup ecosystem

Thuasne is not alone in its digital transformation. “In France, we are lucky to have an incredibly innovative and active French Tech, and we will not hesitate to take advantage of it”, said Elizabeth, who has recently been appointed Chairwoman of the strategic orientation committee of Saint-Etienne’s French Tech. In this regard, Saint-Etienne-based Thuasne has set up a Fab lab to enable its employees to work together with external startups in project mode. “Our body scan smartphone application was developed thanks to one of our partnerships with a regional startup.”


This is an initiative that the CEO, who is also head of METI (French acronym for an industry body of mid-sized companies), has been encouraging for many years now. “French SMEs should not hesitate to collaborate with startups. The former have the financial resources and market access, and the latter have the ideas and the audacity. It’s a win-win partnership, a source of value creation and growth for the entire French economy.”

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Apax Talks is a digital magazine aimed at company managers. It presents growth levers for SMEs, with a focus on TMT, consumer, healthcare and services sectors.