Our people are our future

Friday, September 27, 2019

Axians embraces the business of its clients as a means to contribute to overall value creation. When it comes to driving change, Edwin van Merriënboer, Director at Axians, believes in the power of people. He spoke to us about creativity, human-centric solutions and balance.

Axians provide their clients with state-of-the-art Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) solutions. Can you give us an example?

“We’re involved in several projects that aim to improve the lives of people and make the world smarter. One example is what we’re doing to help the Port of Rotterdam become more efficient and create a more sustainable environment. By extracting data from the harbour infrastructure, we’re able to move ships quicker through the harbour. We also look at things like the flow of the ships and the water conditions so that ships can manage their fuel consumption better and contribute to reducing air pollution.”

Many organisations in the Netherlands are currently on the path to digital transformation. What are the biggest mistakes companies can make during this transition?

“The biggest mistake you can make is to simply look at it from a technology perspective. You need a human-centric approach. At Axians we try to see how we can automate processes and with that improve the lives and working circumstances of our customers as well as our employees.

“We’ve developed an algorithm for a customer who delivers flowers to supermarkets in the UK to help predict the demand for flowers. Today, their sales managers are making these forecasts. They were, of course, at first worried that this change will affect their jobs. But all we did was reduce their workload to free up more time to spend on improving the relationship between them and their customers and make their work more interesting.” 

How is the digital transformation changing the role of digital leadership? What does a digital leader look like?

“I think a digital leader determines the agenda. Again, it’s not about determining the technology agenda but determining the agenda for social responsibility, sustainability and diversity. If you want to improve society and drive change within a company, you need to ask how technology can contribute to that. Technology is an enabler and not a primary goal.”

What skill sets should organisations look for when expanding their teams and how should the existing workforce be upskilled? 

“When we put teams together we often look at what technical and business skills we need but we sometimes miss out-of-the-box thinking. Within Axians we focus on empowering people and while that sounds simple, it’s quite complex. Management and our teams are used to doing things a certain way. We have to let our teams know that there is room for innovation, experimenting and good ideas. We need to inspire them and create time and room to be inspired.

“Younger people are very important to us because they bring a new culture and new behaviours to the workplace. We hire them directly after university and have a two-year track to help them grow into self-confident people. Of everyone that join Axians, 30% are young professionals. By doing that we inject existing teams with new ideas.” 

Please share your views on diversity and inclusion. How do we create more opportunities for women in these fields?

“Creativity is critical. More diverse teams bring creativity and balance and help us to not only focus on what we achieve in the short term but in the long term too. It’s about new ways of thinking as well as sustainability. 

“What we really need to do is to understand the personal situations of our colleagues to create a better balance in both our personal and professional lives. We need a better understanding of what women and minorities look for so that we can create an environment for them to better contribute.”