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Data 121 Podcast : Interview with Gunther Ghijsels from Randstad Group Belgium

How does Randstad Group Belgium gather and analyse data to drive their business forward?

How can data & analytics help the number one HR provider in the world get the best out of their people and, in turn, help businesses grow?

How do they organise themselves internally to set up and achieve data & analytics projects? How did they adapt to tackle the employment challenges created by COVID-19?

In this episode of Data 121, CIO of Randstad Group Belgium Günther Ghijsels sat with Tristan Van Thielen to discuss their use of data, how it helps them keep their spot as the number one HR provider in the world, and what your company should pay attention to when starting out on a journey to become more data driven.



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Hi everyone and welcome to this new episode of the Data 121 Podcast. My name is Tristan Van Thielen and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. Today, I’m joined by the CIO of Randstad Group Belgium, avid skier and all-round great guy, Gunther Ghijsels. Thanks for being here, Gunther.

Hi Tristan, happy to be here!

How are you doing today?

I’m pretty fine. I had some traffic on the way, but I’m good.

Great to hear! Can you briefly introduce yourself for our listeners?

Sure. In 2016, I joined Randstad as CIO in Belgium. I have a background in the financial industry. I’ve been working before my whole life in the financial industry. If you come over from finance to the HR business, it’s a big change. Up until now though, I’m very happy to be there.

Great to hear. How exactly did you make that switch from finance to being the CIO of Randstad Group Belgium?

It’s all about challenges. I want to work for a company that shares the same values as me. I had good connections with a number of people within the company. At the end of the day, you just work for people and the values of the company. 

You then see what kind of business you’re in. Building on the future of people, making sure that they can grow and evolve: this is what I like to do and where I want to be. That’s why I made the choice to move to Randstad.

I can tell from experience that working with Randstad and the people there is a pleasure indeed. What exactly do you do in your role on a day-to-day basis as the CIO of Randstad Group Belgium?

That’s what I’m wondering too!

Obviously, I’m very busy with the IT part. That’s a big topic of mine. As a CIO, I build the operational stuff from an IT point of view. I also work on building the future, how we’re going to evolve as a company in a world that’s becoming increasingly digital. That’s a big part of my role.

Next to my role within IT, I also have a role as a head of marketing and business excellence, which can actually be compared to product management. It gives me a very broad view on all the things that we’re doing from a digital point of view.

Of course, Randstad is known as the number one Human Resources provider in the world. This podcast is mainly about data. How exactly does a company in your industry leverage data and analytics and how does it support your mission?

We do a lot of things with data. 

We use it from a purely operational level to steer our business, make sure we run all our businesses in an effective and efficient way, and see where we need to adapt processes as well as our way of working. That’s one standard use of data.

Next to that, we use data to get the best out of the people that work for us and to help companies grow. With all the data that we have, we can help people and companies grow. That’s what we would like to achieve with all the data that we have.

That sounds like a great mission. Within Randstad as a company, how exactly do you organise yourselves around that project, how do you decide which ideas to work on?

We don’t do very big projects in the context of Randstad in Belgium.

We have an agile way of working within the company. We use the SAFe methodology and we have, actually, all businesses around the methodology working together.

This means that we start with:

  • What’s our vision?
  • What’s our mission?
  • Where do we want to be as a company within five years?

It’s more like a picture we draw and it changes every six months. Just think about how the world has been changing these past twelve months. We change the picture on a yearly basis and we have a roadmap, a bumpy one, towards the future within four or five years. 

That guides us on prioritising and moving forward. We don’t have projects that last two or three years at the moment. 

Speaking about that, I can imagine it had quite a big impact on your company. Can you give us an example about one of these big changes you had to make?

We had a number of big changes of course because, before, everybody was used to working from the office. We had the impression that when we selected a candidate, we also had to do it in person. From one day to the other, we suddenly had to do this virtually.

Luckily, all our environments were ready to do this virtually. Actually, this was more of a human change that we had to handle rather than a technical one.

At the same time, we were using the data to see what was going to happen within different sectors. We had a lot of people working in the events sector through Randstad for example. All these people, where did we have to move them? 

We had to have data from inside and outside which allowed us to see which sectors we needed to focus on. This allowed us to focus our sales activities just after the start of Covid to serve the right companies at the right time.

This is a great example. As we mentioned, Randstad is a very global company. That comes with some challenges, especially when it comes to data management. Can you give us some insights into some challenges you’ve encountered?

Absolutely. 

We’re a global company but we’re not globally organised yet. This is one of the strategic choices that we’ve been making over the last year and a half. 

We want to work more globally organised, which means that we need to make sure that we get the same data at one moment in time. There, trouble starts of course because each country has its own definitions of data. Even if you think that processes are running equally, they aren’t, so we need to address all these difficulties to make sure that we can work as a global company. 

More and more of the companies that we work with are also globally organised, which means that they ask us about getting global reporting and insights. We need to address this as a service provider so we can answer these requests from our customers.

Given the fact that you are the number one Human Resources provider in the world, how do you stay ahead of the competition and what role does data and analytics play there?

For us, it’s about getting insights about where the world, our company and talents are going. There’s a war for talent that’s been going on for a couple of years and it’s only getting worse, for example. 

How can we use this data to make sure that we get people ready for the next stage in their career? That’s what we are trying to do. We’re trying to see how we can use the data for the benefit of the people and our own benefit of course, to make sure that we get the right progress. 

It’s also about seeing which kind of profiles we have, somewhere in the world, that might do the job virtually or might come over to do some work. We’re trying to see, based on the data that we possess, how we can leverage all the know-how that we have on a global basis to address the needs in countries where we struggle to find the right people for the right job. That’s using data on a global level. 

Very interesting. We’ve personally worked together on a project at Randstad Group Belgium. Could you give some insights into the scope of that project?

We started our journey by thinking “let’s just move our old data warehouse environment to a new environment”, based on financial and operational metrics. But we ended with a full business change program. It has shifted from a purely technical trajectory to a full business trajectory. 

We are aiming to bring our analytics environment to the next level of maturity, which means that we need to get to analytics that are prescriptive instead of simply reporting about the past. That’s the ambition that we have. 

We also need to make sure that this is aligned with what we are doing on a global level. This is challenging. 

It also means that we need to change the mindset of people. They have to think differently about the way we use data. From my point of view, this is the aspect we’ve underestimated the most over the last year.

I can imagine the impact that it has on an organisation. What else do you believe was the added value of working with a Google Cloud Partner on this project?

For us, working with a Google Cloud Partner like Devoteam G Cloud is about looking for the experience we need to drive this kind of project, because we don’t want to deal with the technical hassle. We want to focus on the business so we want to have a reliable partner that is capable of seeing what is possible and what is not within this environment. 

We have chosen the Google environment based on the fact that it will give us plenty of Machine Learning capabilities in the future. It also has exciting analytics capabilities built in. 

The right partner must also have access to Google to bring all the new things onto the table, and be able to follow closely the whole roadmap of Google in that sense.

I know the project is still ongoing. As you said, things are changing rapidly, it’s continuously evolving from just being a data moving project to a company mind shift. What for you has been the impact that this project has made so far and what do you expect it to do in the future? 

At first, it was an ICT thing to do. It then moved to the business environment where everybody wants to be involved now, which is good! In the past, we had to look for people who wanted to be involved in the project. We’ve now created so much fuss around this trajectory that everyone wants to say something about it, which also needs management of course.

It’s good that we managed to make people aware of the value of data and what we can do with it. 

It has also been the start of a journey where, on the analytics part, we’ve asked ourselves “what is really the problem that we need to solve with data?” We struggled with that in the past. We had the solution but not really the problem, it wasn’t sharply defined. 

From a business perspective, we came most of the time immediately with the solution without understanding the issue we had to tackle. We have been evolving towards a situation where people can see, understand and feel why we should have a very sharp understanding of the actual issue we need to solve.

That’s good because it also teaches us which kind of data we need and how we must address its quality in our environment. We have a lot of data but quality isn’t always that good, so we need to address this issue. That’s also a point of attention in the whole trajectory that we are now running.

Right. One of the interesting things that I’ve also learned from working with you guys is that you put a lot of emphasis on the self-service aspect of working with data. Could you maybe do a deep-dive into why this is so important? 

Yes, we put a lot of effort into self-service because if you have a thousand people using data and asking for analytics, these are a thousand different opinions that you get at one moment in time. 

We are focusing on how to put together well defined sets of data with well defined definitions, how to put those together for all our consumers so they can just do the analytics and get what they want. We have very different situations there. For example, we can have multinationals or just a local guy in a village who needs one person to help out for a certain amount of time. All these reports are different and need different attention. We need people to have access to the data so they can satisfy their needs whenever they want to.

Next to that, we also want to have the data available for our customers. We see a lot of them that request analytics and reports. We just want to be open about what we’re doing internally and give that to our customers because they could potentially need to integrate it within their own reporting environments as well. Of course we must respect all the GDPR and legal requirements, but we want to be as open as possible with the data that we have.

Yes, I think that’s a great way of working personally. It’s very challenging to pull off correctly, which is why you say that you have a long road ahead of you, but I think it will pay off big time in the future.

We’ve talked about what you’ve been doing and where you’re coming from. Now, what’s on the roadmap to make sure you can keep that number one spot without going too deep into the details of course? 

We are number one, but we also look at what our competitors are doing of course. We see a shift towards a number of new players that are popping up, so we look at how they’re using data. How can we learn from them, most notably the pure digital players for example? They potentially have new insights based on the new models they come from. 

A strength of ours is that we have our history with us. We have data that we can just add to these new insights which gives us a broader view on what can or might happen. That’s how we try to combine things. 

We are trying to stay ahead of the competition based on the new ideas that we generate as well. We have young and old people with great ideas, so we try to reflect on these to keep on differentiating ourselves.

In this world, and that’s the big mindset for a lot of people within our company, we talk about ecosystems. I just said that we’re trying to be as open as possible with data. Well, if you want to function in an ecosystem and that’s what we’re moving towards, we need to be open about data. We try to work in that direction and it should allow us to stay ahead of the competition.

We’ve talked about Randstad as a company but to pull it back again to you as a person, we see you as a data leader or as someone who works with data in his day to day. What’s one decision you wish you had made sooner?

I would’ve taken the decision to start the whole discussion about data with the business much sooner.

I started within the IT part but I just waited too long before I really talked to my colleagues at board level, to make them understand what’s happening on a data level and how they can help me achieve my IT goal. But also how we can together, with the rest of the board, make the company data driven. 

It’s not a one man show. It’s nice that you call me a data leader, but in the end it’s teamwork. 

You need to involve all different people from all backgrounds in your organisation to make sure that you move in the right direction, that you have the same insights and the same vision of where and how you’re going to use data.

From my point of view, this is a very important learning. It’s a team effort that you need to have and not just somebody that is being a data leader. It’s really teamwork.

Data and analytics should be a company wide effort, then. 

Absolutely. It’s an integral part of our strategy. We want to become a more data driven company, we are tech and touch as we call it. The tech is really becoming much more data driven. Let’s just work on feeling because we have a lot of experience in the company but we want to make it really data driven and combine technology and touch in a well balanced way. 

Very interesting. So, what’s actually the most important characteristic you look for when you think about other data leaders? Maybe people you follow, or who have an interesting career, or even interesting views? 

Get to know the business. If you don’t know the business you’re in, if you don’t understand the hot topics that live within it, I believe you can’t be a good data leader. You need to understand the day to day issues that business people face.

Personally, I like to be involved in a number of business talks. I’m involved with a lot of big customers which gives me new insights into how we can use data to work together with customers and talents. I think you really need to have the right business connection to do the right things with data.

You as Randstad Belgium, you’re pretty far down your data journey as a company…

I wouldn’t call it pretty far! We’re just on the road.

Right, you’re on the road. Would that then be your biggest advice to companies that are just starting out? To involve the business from the start?

Absolutely. It’s a challenge because, as I said, I started this from an IT point of view. Then you get a lot of people involved from a business perspective and somebody needs to align all the different visions and the different ways of working. 

There’s certainly an alignment role that you need to take up as a data leader, and that’s actually the role that I try to take: getting everybody aligned and making sure that everybody shares the same vision. That’s how I look at a data leader. It’s teamwork, like I said. 

Is there also a pitfall you can warn other data leaders about, or something for sure not to do? 

Yes. When we talk about data, a lot about it has to do with legal stuff. There are a lot of topics from a legal point of view that need to be addressed, but it’s not the only way that can lead the way you work with data. 

You really need to work together with business leaders so that they also understand what the opportunities to use data are. You must adhere to the legal stuff but it’s also something you need to address together with the business leaders because they need to understand what’s the impact in their daily operational life and the legal requirements which are in there.

Just don’t do it in a separate, siloed way. Don’t just see what are the non-functional requirements, for example from a legal perspective. Integrate all these kinds of stuff as well in the functional requirements that you get with your business users so that it is a coherent topic in total. 

That’s going to conclude the interview for today, thanks again for the insights you’ve given us Gunther. It was a very interesting discussion for me personally, I hope our listeners enjoy it as well. Gunther, thanks again.

You’re welcome! 


If you enjoyed this interview, consider subscribing to our Data 121 Podcast on Spotify or iTunes. We will release a new interview every two weeks with guest speakers from Carrefour, Collibra and Unifiedpost among others. Stay tuned!