How we used agile to disrupt an industry

As the Chief Digital Officer at Royal FloraHolland, Gerhard van der Bijl is leading one of the largest digital transformations in the Netherlands. By disrupting the company’s business model – and in doing so, the entire sector around it – he aims to secure Royal FloraHolland’s position as the Netherlands’ largest flower and plant trader for another 100 years.

What is your vision for the future of Royal FloraHolland?

Royal FloraHolland deals in flowers and pot plants. Traditionally, the value chain starts with the grower. When he is ready to sell, he brings his products to our physical B2B market, where he sells his flowers and plants to buyers. In this value chain, Royal FloraHolland is the typical middleman. As you can imagine, with the rise of digital, the physical marketplace is under pressure. More and more trade is flowing directly between the growers and buyers. Digital channels start to emerge, creating the potential for efficient global trade.

This digital transformation is an important opportunity for Royal FloraHolland because we want to play a role in facilitating global trade and add value for both growers and buyers. As we move from physical to digital, we want to support new digital initiatives and take our operations from local to global by extending our service portfolio into the international market.

How are you approaching this massive challenge?

If you want to transform a very traditional business on this scale, you have to act fast and you have to act big. The first step was to create the vision for our digital ecosystem. The second step is to get the right talent on board, which means creating an exciting work environment. The third step is to clearly articulate and communicate what’s going to happen across the company to ensure everyone is on the same page and on board.

With this digital transformation, we have the opportunity to disrupt our business and operating models and, in doing so, the sector around it. To do this, we must build a new digital ecosystem. One of our key projects is developing a digital trading platform. On this platform, we will connect suppliers and buyers by creating national, global and wholesale channels and effectively applying channel e-commerce, which is typical in B2C interactions, to a B2B world. We plan to launch the minimal viable product (MVP) for this platform in November. You can have a sneak peek of what we’re working on at www.floriday.io.

To support this large-scale transformation, we are organising new teams around data and investing heavily in data science and predictive analytics. We are also implementing the agile method of working to enable our teams to act quickly and efficiently in response to changing circumstances. We are now nine months underway, and we have made a lot of progress.

As we fully move into this digital phase, what skills and competences are becoming critical?

In the near future, every role will have a technology element. Soft skills will become a differentiator as business and technology continue to merge and certain hard skills become more common across the workforce. There will be a need for people who can manage people and culture and develop vision around products and organisations. Creativity and empathy will also become more important, as transforming B2B requires transforming not only your business, but also the ecosystem around it and the people within it. These are areas where women tend to be more developed, providing a potential opportunity for women to close the gender gap in tech.

As you build out your teams, what qualities make a candidate stand out to you?

I want to see a spark – motivation, passion and energy. I want someone who goes above and beyond and always over-delivers. Moreover, I want someone who believes in the company and our role within the market. When considering candidates for my teams, I want to see T-shaped candidates: those with a broad set of talent plus a spike in a certain skill. Finally, I want to work with people who can collaborate and contribute to the company culture. I like to create teams that feel mandated and empowered to seize opportunity and bring beautiful products to life.

What advice do you have for young professionals who are beginning their careers?

I get the feeling that new graduates are focused on immediately finding the ‘perfect’ job. They want a role that has a direct impact and contributes to a strategic career. As a result, they are afraid to make mistakes. My advice is to let go of this notion of a perfect job. Try to find your true north not by studying it or trying to make it perfect before you even start, but by working at different companies and figuring out what you’re good at. Get exposure to a wide range of roles, and learn by doing. And if you fail, you can always start again.