Anyone looking closely at what is happening in the field of ecosystems will see many developments. Companies are increasingly looking at value generation throughout their entire chain. Ecosystems require a high degree of digital maturity from the participants and make even higher demands when it comes to the ability to collaborate. André van der Linden, CIO of Royal FloraHolland, shares his experiences with the digital ecosystem, Floriday, that the flower auction house is developing.
With an annual turnover of around 4.8 billion euros and more than 100,000 transactions per day, Royal FloraHolland is the global trade center for the floriculture sector. While Royal FloraHolland previously laid its own digital foundation for the future, a broader digital transformation is now underway, according to CIO André van der Linden: “It concerns the entire sector, between the grower and the buyer. Many parties are involved, all of whom must participate if the digital transformation is to be a success.”
In fact, Royal FloraHolland has been an ecosystem for a long time, but in a physical sense. “What we are trying to do now is not just ‘simply’ digitize,” emphasizes Van der Linden, “We are developing a platform, Floriday, and promise a lot with that platform. We promise the growers that they will have access to more buyers, the buyers that they will have access to more growers and, moreover, that we will make the sector more efficient. We are changing an entire industry.”
It is not an easy task, the CIO explains: “In the sector, a lot is still done manually and every organization works in its own way. Those ways have evolved over the years and have proven their worth. If you want to standardize – and you do that with a platform – one person will get a glimpse into the future and the other will experience resistance.”
Van der Linden continues: “Last year, we were very deadline-driven. At that time, there was considerable resistance to our plans. After all, you are asking companies to change their familiar ways of working. The lesson for us was that we are dealing with a whole range of growers and buyers. There are very big players, big ones and smaller ones. That means choosing implementations that meet their needs.”
“We are changing an entire industry”
“We have decided that we want to connect with all players in the ecosystem through the ‘digital dream’. It is a dream that everyone sees as positive, but that they want to realize at their own pace. We want to make that possible.”
Getting an ecosystem to work comes down to finding a balance between various perspectives. André van der Linden: “It often starts with functionality, with asking the needs of your customers. Then the issue of continuity quickly comes into play. After all, it is about digitizing primary processes. It also means that you have to work on the awareness of continuity and security. The question is rightly asked whether data from our partners is safe with us. If you then ask further questions, it often turns out that additional measures are required by those partners too. Ultimately, we take co-responsibility for the entire chain.”
The value chain extends to the software vendors of the growers, buyers and other partners: “We also enter into a dialogue with those suppliers. We can be very agile and release multiple releases per day, but the question is whether all suppliers can follow that pace. We will have to convince them to go along with it. On the other hand, we meet the suppliers’ wish to have a predictable release process with regard to the platform API, that connects with the various packages of the suppliers.”
It is also important to fall back on the digital dream in order to clearly highlight the benefits. “And to address misunderstandings. For example, it was sometimes thought that we wanted to push the software suppliers of the growers out of the market, while our goal is to orchestrate processes between all market parties.”
The role of data in ecosystems also raises questions. André van der Linden: “It’s about transparency, wanting to know what happens to data. The discussion about this is always interesting. [Laughs:] First, people want to share as little as possible, after which the outcome of the conversation is that participants want to share more information! The advantages soon become clear. If a grower knows in an earlier stage what his buyers’ customers want, he can adjust his production accordingly.”
“It’s a discussion that you often have to have,” he continues. “You can, for example, explain to a grower that the buyer of his products has a better view of the market. After all, he sells to a large number of customers and sees what they want. Judging by the ratio you quickly come to the conclusion that sharing data is useful. That is why we often have conversations about the purpose of data sharing.”
The CIO looks back on the resistance he experienced: “We didn’t develop anything without involving growers or buyers, but we didn’t involve them all. We underestimated the diversity in their ways of working.”
He also searches his own conscience: “I should have involved myself in the cooperation with the software suppliers earlier. I did that at a somewhat later stage and then indicated that we have a common interest, namely the success of the growers and their buyers. And many suppliers also benefit from modernizing the development and distribution process of their software. We should have had that conversation beforehand.”
André van der Linden sees a bright future, now that the development of the platform is being approached in a different way: “After all, nobody is questioning digitization. We went too fast in the realization and need more time than we thought. But the vision of the digital future of the sector is widely shared.”
“The vision of the digital future is widely shared”
How do you prevent the further development of the digital ecosystem from becoming sticky, now that so many different interests are at stake? “By finding the connection with growers and buyers based on the digital dream and continuing to emphasize the added value for them. With regard to the software suppliers, it is good to seek transparency: who is going along with this and who is not?”
“I will be very happy when people by the end of the year or next year will say, ‘You have indicated that you are going to do it differently and now we feel that you are doing it differently. We feel that we have been listened to, that our feedback has been included and incorporated into the way of working and implementation’,” concludes Van der Linden, “It is my ambition to be present, to listen and to ensure that things happen differently. It starts with listening!”
Step by step, the platform is gaining acceptance in the sector. “About thirty percent of the direct trade, for which Floriday is intended, now runs on the platform,” says André van der Linden, “It is the result of our old approach. Thirty percent, in a year’s time – that’s not bad! After the summer, we hope to see acceptance growing with our new way of working.”
In the third broadcast of the CIO TV Digital Leaders Boardroom, André van der Linden discusses issues surrounding ecosystems, as described in this interview. He also discusses the importance of leadership, the impact of Covid-19 on the ecosystem and the further development of the platform. Nick Smaling, partner at Boston Consulting Group, outlines the context, developments and challenges surrounding ecosystems. Marianne van Duin, Senior Director Sales at Equinix and Liam Connors, VP Global Customer Success at BT share the ambitions and experiences of their organizations and customers in this field. Watch it here:
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