In recent years De Lijn has chosen a completely new IT approach. “We are a very process-driven organization, with strong governance,” says Werner Jacobs. “The business has direct input into what happens with IT.” It is important, in that context, that De Lijn has formally drawn up a strategic IT plan. “That sets out the guidelines for what we want to do; in which areas we choose standard support and where we go all-out for innovation.” That division is fairly easily determined. In everything that has to do with the back end of the organization – like finance, human resources, supply management or maintenance of the rolling stock – De Lijn wants to be among the 25% best performers with use of standard technology. Since the beginning of 2016, finance and HR have been making use of SAP for this. As of 2017 and the following years, the other supporting services are also switching over to the standard processes within SAP.
For everything involving customer information and customer points of contact, De Lijn is adopting a distinctly innovative approach. Examples of innovation in support of the customer are, among other things, the apps that De Lijn offers. In addition to the familiar route planner there is also an app available that announces the stops, so that you know when to disembark. “That’s very handy on a route that you as a traveler haven’t taken before,” said Jacobs. “We want to further expand that sort of support to offer the traveler more comfort and better service.” De Lijn is, among other things, working on a solution for mobile payments, considering the use of beacons – small transmitters that send targeted information to mobile phones in the neighborhood, for example to inform the passengers at a bus shelter about what time the bus will arrive exactly – and collaborating with, for example, the bicycle-sharing systems Velo Antwerpen and Blue-bike, so that the traveler can easily combine a ride by bus or tram with the use of a bicycle.
An important, differentiating role is set aside for IT in those plans. “However, it remains a challenge to introduce innovation into the IT environment,” maintained Jacobs. “So we’re going to work with mixed teams made up of employees from IT and, e.g., finance and marketing. We’re sending them to an external location, so that they can consider, for example, a solution for in-app payments away from the familiar setting and away from the limitations of the existing structures.” It is important in that approach that communication between business and IT proceed in a very transparent way. That transparency has a great influence on goodwill – with both parties involved. “The role of business analysts is essential,” thinks Jacobs. “They not only know the needs of the business, but also whether the desired solution is feasible within the existing IT architecture.”
But De Lijn must also set priorities. “The demand for IT development remains greater than the supply for now,” said Jacobs. De Lijn, in fact, reviews the list of priorities twice a month with the managers of the functional areas. “Everything takes place in close consultation with the business.” Jacobs attaches great importance to this. Today IT already has a major impact on the operation of De Lijn; without IT there is no service scheduling for busses, travelers can’t pay and so forth. “But the role of IT will only increase. We’re evolving from a technically- driven to an IT-driven sector.” The expectation is that IT will play a decisive role in the world of public transportation in the coming ten to fifteen years. “So we must evolve along with it. Otherwise there is a risk that we will be vulnerable later on to disruptive innovation in our sector.” In the meantime, it provides the CIO of De Lijn with a great challenge. “We must ensure that we remain innovative ourselves while, at the same time, we must keep fulfilling our social function.”
1. Develop a strategic IT plan
“As CIO, it is important to have insight into both the operation of the business and the possibilities of IT. You must know how IT can help the business advance. At the same time, you must understand where the boundaries of IT lie. So you must also clearly communicate about those things in which IT can play no role. Divide your IT efforts between support and innovation and make decisions as a function of specific cases. At De Lijn we manage two in-house datacenters in which all the important systems are housed. But for certain niche products we make use of solutions in the cloud, when it appears that we can achieve a better Total Cost of Ownership that way.”
2. Put IT on the agenda of the management
“The importance of IT will only increase in the coming years. As CIO, you must ensure that company management is thoroughly aware of that concept. Even companies that traditionally stay fairly far from the IT world will have to develop the necessary attention to it.”
3. Promote the role of IT within the company
“I am CFO and CIO. I deliberately choose to hold both titles. In a lot of companies IT is one of the competencies of the CFO, and there is an IT manager who reports to the CFO. I put IT and finance on the same level. That’s not a coincidence, because that way I ensure that IT stays on the same level with other functional areas on the agenda of the management.”
Werner Jacobs gained the degree of Commercial Engineer at the University of Antwerp and studied at the Vlerick Business School and London Business School, among others. He worked for ten years in the financial division of Belgacom. After five years at De Post, Jacobs moved to De Lijn at the end of 2009, where he combines the positions of CFO and CIO. In this latter position he was among the top three candidates for the title of ‘CIO of the Year’ last year.
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