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Benelux CIO interview: Michiel Valk, Randstad Group Netherlands

The CIO of Dutch human resources services provider Randstad Group Netherlands tells Computer Weekly about its use of big data, mobile applications and agility

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Benelux: CW Benelux: Mobile payments boom

Technology is becoming crucial for human resources (HR) services provider Randstad Group Netherlands in its contacts with clients and candidates, according to CIO Michiel Valk.

Valk says technology has transformed a business that was traditionally built on face-to-face relationships. “This means a big change for the IT department,” he says.

Dutch-founded company Randstad Group is the world’s second-largest HR services provider, with almost 4,500 branches worldwide.

Each country has its own CIO and there is a global CIO running IT worldwide,Valk told Computer Weekly. My focus is the Netherlands and the main three Randstad Group companies here, which are Randstad, Tempo-Team and Yacht. They are all served by the same IT department.

Randstad Group has local IT strategies, with Valk saying that while some things are shared between countries, it’s “not much”.

The labour legislation is different in each country, and each country has its own processes. But on a datacentre level, we will outsource the operations to the same global partner because it’s logical,” he adds.

The Dutch IT department consists of 170 employees, serving 6,000 HR consultants and a large number of candidates and clients, according to Valk.

Our HR consultants are the intermediate between talent and clients. Our business model is to help the talent find the right jobs and give them advice for the future. We also want to provide clients with the best people to fit their open positions.

Digitisation and optimisation

The digitisation of the recruitment process began with optimising the back office, says Valk.

We are building services to help candidates find better jobs and clients to find better talent. We are trying to understand what is happening in the market and what features we will need to be competitive,” he says.

This means the IT department has gone from a cost centre to a value-creating partner to the business, says Valk. There is always budget available if we have a good idea and we see big possibilities. IT is becoming more business focused and technology is playing a bigger role in recruiting the right talent.

The IT department has built online systems to find talent and help talent find the right jobs, adds Valk.

To do that, we have to understand the preferences of the talent. What tools do they need, how do they look for a job and what user experience do they want? The same goes for the client side. How do we understand if the client has an open position and how do we select the right talent?

For example, the recently developed application Sales Navigator predicts what companies are looking for people to hire.

Read more about CIOs in the Benelux region

The predictions are based on big data: Historical, open source and economic data. Our consultants can see when a client probably has a vacancy, and then they contact the client and ask if they need help to find the right talent,” says Valk.

Another example is a mobile application for candidates, where they can upload a written CV and a video of themselves. Then we optimise the process through presenting them to the clients at the right time,” says Valk. 

Applicants prefer to use their mobile phones over their computers when looking for jobs, according to Valk.

We have developed several different mobile applications to help them find the right job. We have one core mobile application for our talent, but we develop specific applications for specific target uses,” he says.

“This strategy lets us see how the different applications are used, and then we can integrate them into the core application when they are optimised. We also have specific mobile applications for companies. 

Embracing agile for better business

To improve time to market and to become more flexible, Randstad Group Netherlands adopted an agile way of working.

“Our time to market was longer than a year, or at least a few quarters. Now it is weeks, which means we can optimise the new applications faster. Sometimes we release updates several times a week, based on feedback from clients and candidates. We have to act fast and be responsive to be a good partner in business,” says Valk.

Randstad Group Netherlands began the shift to agile three years ago. At beginning of 2016 we became really agile and delegated everything to independent scrum teams. Up until then, we still had steering committees. 

Valk’s biggest challenge has been changing the mindset in the organisation. We have several agile coaches, mentoring on team behaviour and individual behaviour. Some people changed jobs when we transitioned to agile, so we also recruited new people. You need new people with new mindsets to make changes.

Valk’s best advice to other CIOs wanting to go agile is to not only focus on the methodology. You need a new management style in the organisation. The mandate should be in the team with the product owner, and the role of the management team should be more coaching,he says.

I have twelve managers in my organisation and half of them are new with more coaching profiles.

The most important thing Valk learned during his four years as CIO at Randstad Group Netherlands is to measure everything.

People have opinions on how mobile applications and features are being used, but if you do not measure, it is hard to know. I have a long background in IT, and I know that it is not always in the IT culture to measure, but it is really important,” he says.

“In agile, they say measure everything’, which we do. We make things as fact based as possible so we can optimise the features better.

Combination of technology and human touch

The IT departments main focus during the coming years will be to continue the mobile applications development and to make the sales and recruitment processes even more data driven, says Valk.

We believe mobile applications are the best way to connect to talent at the right moment. We are going to invest a lot in big data. We have a lot of data ourselves, for example in the form of the resumes the candidates share with us, and there is also a lot of public data we can use.

But even though technology will play an increasingly important role for Randstad Group Netherlandsbusiness, there will always be a need for actual human HR consultants, according to Valk.

It will be a combination of technology and human touch in the future, and it will not be a one size fits all. Some clients prefer a more online-based service, and some want a bigger human component,” he says.

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

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