An easy-going chat, a clear vision and lots of experience: Erwin Van der Taelen, digital transformation manager in our Business & Consultancy (Buscon) team, knows how to charm even the most sceptical prospect. It was a real blow for the team when Erwin decided in 2018 to trade in his job at Ordina for the role of CIO at Corona Direct. But . . . he came back. “Deploying technology in order to generate positive change and tangible added value on the basis of a vision and strategy in co-creation with clients and high performance teams – that´s what I like doing most.”
After his successful computer science studies, Erwin didn´t know precisely what direction he wanted to take professionally. But even then he knew that he didn´t want to fill his days with purely technical work. “I was fascinated by technology, but never for the sake of the technology. So I often felt like a misfit amongst the other IT students”, he laughs. “Tracking down zeroes and ones wasn’t entirely my thing. But I found it great to see how you can make society better with technology. And that became the red thread running through my (in the meantime) 30-year career: implementing projects that bring added value, which produce a positive change, together with people.”
How can technology make society better? This question has been central throughout my career – all 30 years of it.
Not hierarchy but consultancy
His search for this impact brought Erwin to the banking world, where he worked for years as ICT project and programme manager at ING and Euroclear. Subsequently he went to AXA and the Colruyt Group, where he was IT Department Head. Finally he became CIO at Corona Direct. “From my senior management role over the last 7 or 8 years I contributed to the digital transformation in those companies. That was fascinating, but after a number of years it began to gnaw at me: routine gives me little comfort, rather it pushes me to look for new challenges, to question myself at regular intervals and ´reinvent´ myself.”
Ordina: a solid sailboat
Erwin turned down offers from large consulting companies and chose Ordina. “Not a tanker, not a sloop, but a sturdy and simultaneously agile sailboat. That´s the way I saw and see Ordina”, he explains. “On a sailboat everyone’s hard at work accomplishing their tasks, without a lot of fuss. Initiative and effort are encouraged. Naturally, sometimes you think you’ve got a great idea that doesn´t get a green light, but then you learn from the experience. That´s exactly how it is at Ordina.”
As transformation manager at the Buscon unit, Erwin accompanied an international strategic ERP implementation for the retailer Boortmalt, and he assisted Lidl & Proximus in their digital transformation. “When I went to talk with the Lidl management for the very first time, I was impressed for a moment by a competitor’s slide deck that was lying on the table. The CIO asked me how we would concretely approach the digital transformation (ERP implementation) and how we could take a load off Lidl´s shoulders. Using targeted questions, I began from the dialogue to outline the approach on a whiteboard, without any preparation. The vision and approach appeared to make an impression, and Ordina was awarded the assignment. Those kinds of experiences are a lot of fun “, he says.
A sailboat is sturdy, yet agile. Everyone’s hard at work accomplishing their tasks, without a lot of fuss. That´s exactly how it is at Ordina.
The importance of hands-on
“High-flying strategies and fancy slides aren´t my style, and I note that clients too are more and more looking for simplicity and a hands-on approach”, Erwin continues. “For me, accompanying a client in its digital transformation means looking for how you, on the basis of a vision and strategy, can deploy technology to generate added value for the client and organisation. To do that successfully it’s better not to start out with long-winded academic explanations. I like to think about vision and strategy, but I also like to stand with my feet planted firmly in the mud. Experience with the world of practice is and remains essential for many things, including implementing a digital transformation. You have to sit around the table with people, deliberate, join forces and make full use of the strengths of everyone involved. And make sure that people are truly empowered, which generates a ´1+1 = 3´ dynamic.”
Lidl appreciated Erwin´s approach and some time later offered him an opportunity as CIO, an offer he politely declined. Shortly thereafter, however, Erwin came around and accepted a proposal from the insurer Corona Direct. “As a direct insurer, Corona Direct is a medium-sized company where I would play a role in setting the direction. That appealed to me and things were going really well, until a number of recent organisational shifts took place. The new leadership style corresponded less well to my convictions.”
You have to sit around the table with people, deliberate, join forces and make full use of the strengths of everyone involved.
Evolution towards a value-driven organisation
After a period of reflection Erwin got back in touch with Ordina, where he still had contacts. At Corona Direct he had even (amongst other things) worked together closely with Mark Vandenwauver and his team from the Security & Privacy business unit. Ordina gave Erwin an enthusiastic welcome! In turn Erwin was pleasantly surprised to see how strongly Ordina had evolved in a mere two years: “I always retained a warm feeling for Ordina, but in my first years I missed some medior and senior profiles to spar with. Don´t get me wrong, I really like working with young people, but I also believe strongly in the power of diversity, in terms of expertise, background and age. Ordina has clearly achieved a lot on that level. The strategy that we’re now striving for also perfectly fits my vision: we must create value for our clients, on the basis of technology “ahead of change” . That also makes our job a good deal more challenging, and I draw energy from that.”
The strategy 2022 that we’re now striving for perfectly fits my vision: we must create value for our clients on the basis of technology.
Joining forces across units
Erwin is again combining his job of senior digital transformation manager with the role of (practice) head or PMO (project management office), just as in 2016. Bart Briers and Sven Mus from the Quality & Compliance team quickly came to him looking for advice. Their client UCB Pharma was wrestling with IT governance: “The CIO wants to improve the effectiveness and efficiency due to a variety of pressure points. We listened and presented him with a value proposition to optimise the IT governance process. In the meantime we’re working on that with three experts, cross-unit, and there will soon be coming concrete improvement initiatives. This clearly demonstrates that Ordina has changed: experts from different specialised fields who combine forces and convincingly tell a single solid, strategic story: that´s an innovative and powerful reality.”
Back to school
“In past years I’ve occasionally had doubts about the place from which I can deliver and contribute the greatest added value. I´ve gone beyond that phase now: the cap of Ordina management consultant is the best fit for me. I contribute much more as a management consultant, and I also get more enjoyment out of it. Everything’s come together!”, says Erwin.
Which does not mean that from now on he’ll be remaining in one place. Since the autumn of 2020 he has been pursuing a Master of Science in Enterprise Architecture, an initiative of the University of Ghent & the IC Institute: “Digital transformation is a constant. I can see and feel around me how everything is evolving ever more quickly, and I want to continue to play a role in that. Over the past 30 years I’ve always been creating bridges between IT and business, generally from various management positions, but I still all too often look at things through an ICT lens. Thanks to this training programme, I hope, as an organisation-architect, to get greater insight into new business models, business architecture, ecosystems, etc.”
“Life is one long journey of learning and growth! Looking back, it’s the expectations I put on myself that pushed me to use my talents to the fullest, as well as to give back the most added value to my clients and society. It might sound a bit idealistic, but that’s my personal philosophy of life”, Erwin concludes.