Guild Contributor:

Geert-Jan Verdonk, Vanderlande

Geert-Jan Verdonk, Vanderlande

Executive Data Steward | Data Governance Lead, Vanderlande

If you want to do proper change communication along your data journey, it’s a must-have to have a dedicated person.


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Laura Bineviciute, Head of Community, Data Leaders

Geert-Jan Verdonk, Executive Data Steward | Data Governance Lead, Vanderlande

Laura Bineviciute: Today I am joined by Geert-Jan Verdonk who is an executive data steward and data governance lead at Vanderlande. Hello Geert, good afternoon.

Geert-Jan Verdonk: Hello.

Laura Bineviciute: I’d love for you to explain a little bit more about what Vanderlande does. What is our role at Vanderlande and what is the role of data and analytics in your business?

Geert-Jan Verdonk: Yes, first of all, Vanderlande is a global player. We have three main markets in which we operate: that’s baggage handling for airports, parcel handling for parcel companies like DHL, UPS, and we’re also doing warehouse systems for different kind of customers from which Amazon is one of the biggest customers on warehousing. Vanderlande has about just less than 10,000 employees. Like I said, we are a global player, so we have customer centres all over the globe, US, Great Britain, and many other places. We also have a big company in India, Pune, where we have 1000 people working for Vanderlande directly.

Laura Bineviciute: Tell us a little bit more about your role at Vanderlande and what role does data and analytics play in your organisation?

Geert-Jan Verdonk: I’m responsible for setting up data governance within the company globally, but we are at this moment focusing on our data platform on which we are setting up data products. So that’s my main focus at this moment as a company. We have still to learn a lot on that, on what is data governance, why should we do it? So that’s at least a bit of challenge to get the awareness for, let’s say what I always call “making the data.” Everybody wants to use the data, that’s not a problem, everybody wants to use it. But making the data, that’s a different story.

Why should we do that? So that’s one of my roles, to make it clear to people that the quality of your analytics is as good as the quality of your data, so garbage in, garbage out. That’s also, let’s say, the main challenge on data governance, creating the right awareness. I’m part of the central data analytics organisation in Vanderlande and this department is at this moment focusing mainly on the development of data platform. Our department consists not only of data governance, we also have the core team responsible for the technical development of our data platform. We have three full stack teams who are responsible for building data products on this data platform and we do that together with the business. The end goal is that the business will build their own data products, but that’s still a journey to get there.

Laura Bineviciute: What do you believe is the biggest opportunity for data and analytics leaders in the coming twelve months.

Geert-Jan Verdonk: When I look at, from our perspective, is the business itself, the company itself, to get the right awareness, the right desire to not only, let’s say, to use the data, but also to make the data so that you have also the related roles to that data stewards in place.

Laura Bineviciute: One of the key ideas that we are exploring and one of the key themes that we’re exploring at the Data Leaders Guild think tank in June this year, 2024, is around data-engaged organisation. And this is one of the three key themes and of course plays an important part in success of CDOs and data leaders across the world. What does data engagement mean for Vanderlande and what has your journey been so far in getting people engaged with data?

Geert-Jan Verdonk: Well, the journey started a couple of years ago with an internal improvement project: better with better data. And in this project we had also a stream related to Change Communication. So we set up a nice plan how to get the engagement in place. But then we started operationalise the whole setup of the data platform, building data products and we realised that all the focus went to that building data products and there was hardly any focus on change communication during the process. We had a dedicated person for that, to do that after the project. Because it was an external guy, he went away and then we had a huge nice change communication plan, but it never worked out.

One of the learnings there for me is that it is good to have a dedicated person for change communication. It’s not something you do beside your normal work. It’s really a dedicated job and most likely you have somebody who has no clue of data organising this.

We saw it also when we had another sharing with a German company, where they had also changed the communication manager. He was really dedicated to this and had a lot of success in creating the engagement in the organisation and that’s where we are leaking at this moment. We try to catch up now again, we still can’t do it as a full time job to give the right attention.

What we did, the attention we created was based on the use cases. We said, we’ll get them from the organisation as input for the setting of data products and within the business domains where we worked on use cases, on the data products. For the use cases, we saw, at least with the people who are directly involved, enormous awareness and desire creation. By the way, we used the ADKAR method for creating this engagement within the organisation, but still, it’s just a small group of people who really get engaged and still it’s very difficult to reach out to the larger group.

So the next approach is that we are approaching it from a hub and spoke perspective. We want to make data products, data analytics, more federated. So, what we now have in the data, in the business domains, we have those spokes, but we’re now also trying to set up in the spokes with data savvy people, or people who are interested in the data and then slowly spread the news and slowly get more people engaged. So that’s where we are today.

The main takeaway so far is if you want to do proper change communication on all your data journey within the company, then it’s a must-have to have a dedicated person.

Laura Bineviciute: And is there a moment when you recall at least that smaller group of people that you mentioned where you can see that it’s clicking with people, that people are, that the tides have turned and people are engaging with data? Do you recall a moment like that?

Geert-Jan Verdonk: Yes, we have one business domain which is quite data savvy, but it starts already with the board member who is responsible for that, our supply domain. And what they did in the last two and a half years, that’s impressive. In what information they got out of those data products, the money they created with that, or let’s say the savings they generated there, they are quite huge.

At this moment, they’re still working on this to make it more concrete. And that makes the difference for creating awareness, so we want to use those use cases which were rebuilt to show to the other business domains, Hey! This is what you can do with it. This is really valuable for you to have your own data and analytics team. Okay? You are struggling with the budgets for those teams, but you will earn ten times more money when you have the proper data in place and you can do a lot of savings with that.

So we are really happy with this business domain, which is really far ahead of the other business domains. I wish that your other business domains catch on. And then very quickly, in a year’s time, we could have a similar conversation where many more business domains are involved.

Laura Bineviciute: Why do you find it important to exchange with peers in this kind of open environment that data leaders provides for people like yourself.

Geert-Jan Verdonk: Well, it’s good to learn from each other. The most important thing is that it’s also really practical. It’s not, let’s say, those buzzwords from consultants telling you from a theoretical perspective how you should do it, but really learning from people who really were standing in the mud and realised improvements – that brings for me more value than talking to a consultant on that.

Laura Bineviciute: Interesting. My very last question is a question that we borrowed from someone else. And this question is brought from the previous interview that I did. The previous interview I did was with Didier Mama, who works for Decathlon. And he didn’t know that you would be the person answering this question. The question is, what would be the risk for your company if you fail to adopt AI?

Geert-Jan Verdonk: That’s a good question. Actually, we are adopting AI because we think it’s important to have this because it can, on one hand, it can save a lot of money because you can do things more quickly, more effectively. But on the other hand, it gives you also opportunity to have more prediction models which can help the business forward. The predictions we did so far were mainly excel-based, not based on machine learning modules. Now, within supply, they have their first model running, and they’re really happy with it because it saves a lot of work because they did it in the past with excel, with all the risks of making failures and looking to the wrong outcomes.

Laura Bineviciute: Do you think businesses can survive if they don’t adopt AI?

Geert-Jan Verdonk: Depends on what kind of business you have, but for big companies, I think it’s really a must-have. And by the way, we do not only do machine learning on supply, we do also on the data we have from our customer sites, we get from our customer sites. So there we’re also setting up predictive models for predictive maintenance, for instance. We are also an early adopter of Copilot. We’re using it also for our office environment, so using large language models not only on the internally but externally.

Laura Bineviciute: Exciting. Well, it sounds like there’s going to be a lot to discuss in June in Lisbon, and I look forward to seeing you there. And I look forward to many contributions that I’m sure we will hear on the day.

Geert-Jan Verdonk: Thank you so much and I’ll see you very shortly.

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