Taking the lead in digital transformation and advising clients how they should tackle the process – that, in a nutshell, is the strategy of IT service provider Ordina. However, says CFO Annemieke den Otter, you must choose your goals well. Do you aim for more efficient processes and lower costs or are you going for business impact?
When Annemieke den Otter left VolkerWessels to take up a post at Ordina in 2013 she found an organisation in the middle of a restructuring operation. Like other IT service providers at the time it, too, was facing reduced spending by clients. In those days Ordina was mainly in the business of providing technical staff, such as Java specialists, SAP consultants and programmers who were hired on a project basis by government organisations, financial service providers and industry. Ordina still offers the services of individual IT specialists but its main focus is now on balanced, multidisciplinary teams and comprehensive IT solutions. These include helping government institutions to digitalise files so citizens have quicker and better access to their data. It’s an approach which affects the interaction with clients and the internal organisation as well as the finance department.
Why did Ordina move the strategic goal posts?
‘Primarily because the needs of our clients were changing. In the old days they would ask us to come in with a new ERP system to improve back office efficiency, for instance, or we’d be brought in by the company’s IT department to solve temporary capacity problems. Now companies mainly call on us to improve digital processes so their customers get a better and quicker service. These organisations realise IT is the motor that drives innovation and creates distinctiveness. They understand that smooth primary processes have everything to do with the flexibility of the IT environment.’
Annemieke den Otter (40) started her career working in asset management and project finance at ING. In 2010 she became Head of Treasury & Finance at construction company VolkerWessels. Three years later Den Otter came to Ordina as a corporate finance director. She has been the company’s CFO since 2016.
What does this mean for your own organisation?
‘It means our staff need to broaden their skills to help clients move up the value chain so business processes become quicker and better. I think it’s fair to say that we have become market leaders when it comes to the multidisciplinary approach. Our high performance teams are independant units that consist of people whose skill sets and complementary profiles are geared to the goal the client has set himself. Internal support for the teams is provided by a coach and technology experts. It is important to have a common architecture and approach when you have several teams working on different projects at the same time. It’s the only way to ensure good governance and a uniform way of working. All teams apply the same KPIs, for example.’
What does this mean in practice?
Can you give a concrete example? ‘When Rabobank decided to move fraud detection in credit card transactions in-house along with its credit administration, we assembled a high performance team to tackle the job. The added value of such a team for the client is its ability to work proactively and the fact that it is accountable for the quality of the product it is delivering. In the case of Rabobank this meant the time frame could be shortened by three months.’
‘Our classic KPIs are
becoming less relevant’
Does the multidisciplinary approach imply a change in team members’ attitude to clients?
‘Definitely. Contact with clients used to be largely a matter for the sales department. Now all our consultants and management layers are ‘client facing’ – or in the process of taking on that role. In order to have direct contact with clients you need certain communication skills, and, yes, that includes myself. Both our CEO Jo Maes and I regularly go and see clients. It’s a crucial part of the job and clients are very appreciative. If there is a problem, they have a direct line to us and we can then make sure the matter is dealt with quickly. As a CFO it is important for me to know what is happening and which problems clients are grappling with. I have noticed that clients are keen to hear how I managed the replacement of our own ERP system. They appreciate that I completely understand when they tell me they want to have another think before they decide to replace theirs.’
What will digital transformation mean for Finance?
‘I think that as the finance department of a leading IT company we should take the lead. Finance sets the example for the rest of the company in terms of cost efficiency. The first step is to look where operational processes can be improved and speeded up. The trick is to determine where robots would be appropriate so staff don’t have to transfer data from one IT system to another and human error is limited to a minimum. Next up is data management. What data is best suited to visualisation so colleagues in the business department have a clear picture available in real time? If we make a good job of digitalisation in the finance department we will free up time to move closer to the business side and explore the best ways of supporting it. That closer contact will tell us which KPIs we will have to focus on. That is important because our classic KPIs – which were mainly applied to the number of staff working on a given project - are losing relevance. And if you change your KPIs, reporting will have to change with them. The general consensus is that before you start the digitalisation process you must have a clear vision of what it is you want to achieve. You can aim for optimally flexible processes where speed and real time insights are pivotal. Or you can choose to keep costs down by working lean. Another goal you can set yourself is to go for maximum business impact by combining efficient IT processes with a flexible workforce. That is the path we have chosen.’
How many FTEs were you able to eliminate as a result of digitalisation?
‘In 2013 we had 70 in the finance department. This has now gone down to 30. We invested in hiring better quality people, partly with a different profile, who have a real affinity with IT and data visualisation.’
‘New Finance staff have to have an
affinity with IT and data visualisation’
How IT savvy do you and your Finance team have to be?
‘Compared to my colleagues my knowledge of IT is relatively limited. Of course having an affinity with the subject helps. But what matters most is to have a clear idea of what digitalisation can mean for your department and your organisation, and where it can make a difference cost-wise. It is one of the reasons we have established a so-called ‘IT board’ which includes people from the business side, finance and IT. The board decides on the priorities where information technology is concerned. These are not people who simply have an affinity with IT but who are experts in their line of work. Otherwise you run the risk of over-enthusiastic technology geeks trying out all sorts of new things. I am of course open to promising new pilot schemes but we are not running a playground. The IT board is committed to the goals Ordina has set itself and its members know which IT projects will contribute to those goals.’
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