How Belgian companies innovate

This article recently appeared in De Tijd and L’Echo. Please find the transcript below.

Innovate with insight

Postal company bpost has grown into a leading organisation that plays its innovation card to the full. “This transformation would have been impossible without good enterprise architecture,” agree the CEOs of bpost and inno.com.

“Innovation is an essential condition for survival in a world that’s changing lightning-fast, which requires great flexibility in the organisation. But the biggest challenge? To stay relevant for our customers. And that doesn’t happen by itself,” says Koen Van Gerven, CEO of bpost. Johan Cattersel, CEO of inno.com, agrees: “In order to innovate successfully, you have to work out very precisely what is changing, which activities are being put under pressure, what the biggest threats are, and also where new opportunities are emerging. This thought process is crucial. And then you have to go about dealing with it in a very structured way.”

It’s easier to change things quickly with a well thought out enterprise architecture” – Johan Cattersel, CEO of inno.com

Bpost received help from consultancy firm inno.com to put its new business strategy into practice. Inno.com has 80 employees and is the European market leader in enterprise architecture. “Added to this is the fact that the business strategy needs to be translated into an organisation’s core domains,” says Cattersel. Because you need to know what the new vision means for the way you work and your business processes. What skills do employees need to achieve this vision? What information and data is essential? And what applications and infrastructure are needed for this new path? “A good enterprise architecture allows all these key domains to fit together seamlessly and provides optimal support for your business strategy. So there’s a lot more involved than just ICT and technology,” says Cattersel. How can an organisation really make a difference for its customers and rise above its competitors? And which activities is it okay to use generic solutions for? These questions are central to the design of a good enterprise architecture. “We used to have our own system for payroll and personnel administrations, but naturally this didn’t have any impact on our relevance for customers. So we decided there was no place for it in our architecture, and that it would be better if we outsourced it,” says Van Gerven. “At the same time we also gained a better understanding of what was important for us. Now we have the best-performing customer database in Belgium, which we use to keep track of 5 million addresses. This database is a key element in our architecture, and we’re continuously developing and managing it ourselves.”

Experiment

A good enterprise architecture also needs to be flexible. Cattersel: “You never know in advance if a new product or innovative service is going to be a hit. So you need to create an environment that you can run tests in as quickly and affordably as possible, and it’s best to do this with a separate constellation. But if the tests are successful, you have to be able to integrate the experiment in your business quickly. It’s much easier to change things quickly with a well thought out enterprise architecture.” Bpost made a fundamental change thanks to this approach. Products that were on the point of disappearing were reinvented and given new life. This has completely revived the postcard, for example, through an innovative app that combines the digital world with the normal postcard. Several thousands of these cards are now sent on a good day. At the same time bpost jumped on the e-commerce train. Completely new business processes were needed for this too, because 50% of Belgians buy from abroad via the internet. The shipping, sorting and delivering of packages also requires a totally different organisation than normal postal correspondence; bpost also had to find a solution for all sorts of disruptive developments in the packages sector, for example.

Staying relevant for our customers. That doesn’t happen by itself.” –
Koen Van Gerven, CEO of bpost

So it developed a type of Uber platform via Parcify for delivering its packages, which made an even more flexible solution possible. “This all had an immense impact on the entire organisation. It’s very tempting to fly into it straight away, but sometimes it’s better to take a bit of distance and work out a structured plan. Enterprise architecture provides the perfect framework for this,” concludes Van Gerven.

The five pillars of enterprise architecture

Enterprise architecture bridges the gap between business strategy and the four key domains in the organisation:

  • People. What skills are need to realise the new strategy? Which partnerships are opportunistic for this?
  • Processes. What impact does a business strategy have on your way of working
  • Information. What information is needed to turn the new business strategy into a reality? What sources are available? And what reliability and quality is required
  • Applications/infrastructure. Are standard setups sufficient or is it necessary to create something unique?

A Tijd Connect initiative in cooperation with inno.com. Tijd Connect provides companies, organisations and authorities with access to the De Tijd network to share their vision, ideas and solutions with the De Tijd community. Inno.com is responsible for the content.