Engineering and consultancy organization Arcadis is working on thousands of projects in more than 70 countries. Digitisation will increase their chance of success, so Arcadians are on a mission to learn from each other's digital experiences.
With 27,000 employees involved in more than 35,000 projects around the world, Arcadis is at home in a lot of places: from designing a new metro network in Qatar to improving the flow of the Hoevelaken road junction; from designing flood protection in the American coastal city of Norfolk, to offering project and construction management for a new Schiphol airport terminal. But how does a multi-layered and international organisation like Arcadis tackle digital transformation to avoid different employees going over the same tracks? It organises everything in as central and high level a way as possible, says Stephan Ritter. He started at Arcadis in 2013 as CEO of Europe, and a year later took on responsibility for all digital activities. He has been group executive in charge of innovation and transformation since last year, and his most important task now is to keep the digital agenda in step with Arcadis’ overall strategy.
Why isn’t your title chief digital officer?
Stephan Ritter: ‘Because I do a lot more than that. Alongside digital transformation, I am also ultimately responsible for strategy, mergers and acquisitions, sustainability and marketing and communication. We do have a CDO, but he reports to me. I have a broad portfolio, but you can’t avoid that if you want to incorporate all your digital activities into one viewpoint. For example, if we want to take over a company, we will only do so if its digital strategy fits into our own digital transformation. In our marketing and communications, too, we want to position ourselves in terms of our digital agenda, and the same applies to our sustainability policy.’
Stephan Ritter (50) has been group executive for innovation and transformation at Arcadis since 2018. Ritter, who is German, joined the firm in 2013 from General Electric, where he held various management positions.
Why does Arcadis need this holistic approach to digitisation?
‘Our company originated from the Heidemij, a club of civil engineers, architects and other technical experts. They have been innovating for decades on the basis of what they can do, and not just what their customers want. This culture seems risky to us now, so that’s why we steer our digital transformation centrally, with joined-up thinking and based on customer needs.’
What do you understand by the term digital transformation?
‘For us it is more than just technical change; it’s a transformation of the entire organisation. We divide it into four elements: which technology do you choose, what do you do with the data that you generate, who participates in these ecosystems, and what does your customer (or your customer’s customer) actually want?’
‘We only take over companies if their digital strategy
fits into our transformation'
Should digital transformation lead to more efficiency in your business processes?
Yes, even though this is less important for a service provider such as Arcadis than for a manufacturer because we mainly work in project management. Digitisation can help us analyse data from current projects, internally and externally, to work more efficiently, learn from mistakes, and see if a project about to go wrong sooner. All this leads to better results for our customers.’
How do you get the employees involved in the digital transformation you want?
‘The beauty of the thing is that they really want to shape this too. So early last year we started a voluntary internal program to stimulate all employees worldwide to get involved in our digitisation. The programme, called Expedition DNA, starts with a five-hour online module which we call "base camp". If they successfully complete this – and 40% of our employees have done – they can continue to the "expedition". That is where they go deeper, working face-to-face with colleagues including people in other Arcadis subsidiaries, to share lessons, experiences and ideas about digital transformation. The process can lead directly to more business, because employees also share client leads. One of our main goals is that employees build new networks with each other and then continue to work together with ideas for digital projects. The first results are very promising, and there’s already a waiting list to participate in Expedition DNA.’
And externally? Do you work with your partners on this digital transformation?
‘Certainly. For example, we are looking at how we can share our data with experts in infrastructure and mobility. This isn’t easy, because it quickly becomes a question of customer data, and then you need to take privacy regulations into account.’
‘We share our knowledge
and try to learn from them too’
Can you give an example of this kind of external cooperation?
‘One of our strategic questions is how people will work, live and move in the cities of the future. Digitisation will play an important role in this, so we are working with Techstars, an international network that helps entrepreneurs to stimulate innovative start-ups in the construction industry. New, innovative solutions from these start-ups can contribute to the design of the cities of the future. Digital tools are essential for this, such as lifelike 3D designs or VR glasses allowing you to take people for a tour around a future living environment. We now support 10 of these start-ups, sharing our knowledge and potential customers with them. We, in turn, hope to learn from the start-ups.’
How do you ensure that your employees stay enthusiastic about digital transformation, and don’t fear losing their jobs?
‘You have to show them why you are doing it, and what the benefits for them are in particular. You do have to be careful that people don’t feel unable to keep up with the changes. Instead, you need to make sure employees are curious about new digital possibilities that will actually improve the business. Then they don’t need to be afraid of losing their jobs.’
Engineering and consultancy services
Design, consulting, civil engineering project and program management
Number of employees
€ 3,3 billion
Operating profit 2018
€ 177 milljon