The digital game is changing – what are the rules?

Eliza Shaw & William Macleod
October 2017

Julian Cayet, Arcadis’ Chief Digital Officer, challenged this year’s Arcadis Global Shapers to re-think how the imminent Digital Transformation will impact Arcadis and their clients. The theme of this year’s event was #sustainability4impact and focused digital solutions to improve quality of life.

As part of this event, Julien shared Arcadis’ vision for digital transformation and discussed how capabilities will need to be developed for Arcadis to start creating value in the digital space. These capabilities are not simply about embracing new technologies and tools. Rather, digital transformation requires a complete reorientation of our business strategy around four new major realities of the digital. These new realities have been adapted from Stijn Viane’s ‘Rethinking Strategy for the Digital Age’ from Vlerick Business School.

The Four New Digital Realities

1.  Data is an Asset

Like most design consultancies, Arcadis is a people-oriented business. ‘People First’ is one of the company’s five core values and this will not change. However, data—more specifically the knowledge that is created by experimenting, processing, and making sense of data—will become central to everything Arcadis do in order to remain relevant and competitive. Data underpins the three other digital realities.

The value of Arcadis’ own data – the existing information and the collective knowledge within the company – is generally in isolated pockets that need to be better integrated into the company’s ecosystem. Arcadis will need to start experimenting with new sources of data and embracing new processing techniques within their projects and programmes.

Making better use of new and existing data is not simply the task of the Digital Team or for those working Big Data project – it is for all business lines within Arcadis. Arcadis will better leverage the incredible natural and built asset knowledge that sits within their 25,000 brains across the world to become a powerful knowledge business.

2. A Business Ecosystem requires Strategic Thinking

No single company owns all the skills, capabilities, or data required to compete for the increasingly demanding, digital customer. An organisation must strategically choose partners – including clients, technology suppliers, sub-contractors, and academic bodies – to grow together. Not only can good partnerships complement an organisation’s core competencies, they can help companies move to the market faster, and speed is everything in the digital world.  It is also important to understand that ecosystem relationships must constantly evolve and adapt as circumstances change.

Recently, Arcadis was awarded with the ‘Superbrand’ status. Other Superbrands such as Apple, Google and Amazon choose specific suppliers and partners to grow and add value to their business. Nothing is random—all relationships are deliberate.

Arcadis is following suit and will now be considering its partnerships more strategically. Since the company has several product market channels, this may require mapping several ecosystems, (e.g. city ecosystems, natural asset ecosystems, etc). On a global and local level, Arcadis need to keep track of which companies are creating the best and most relevant technologies in each market sector and partner with other innovators early to remain ahead of the curve. This will become a major source of competitive advantage for Arcadis.

3. Digital Platforms enable Ecosystems

Every business today is faced with similar questions: what do our end users want or need, and how do we enable others to create value? The ability of Arcadis to embrace digital innovation will depend on how effectively the company combines its data and information with others to create value. Digital platforms allow other businesses to connect with Arcadis and build products and services on top of it, which boosts value co-creation. It is no coincidence that the number of platform businesses in the Fortune 500 is growing rapidly.

An example of a successful platform product is Apple’s product iTunes, which aggregates music and other digital products into a single platform. The value of the platform for musicians and other content providers is clear and attractive, and everyone benefits from the platform’s network effects, whilst Apple takes a cut of the profit for providing the platform. The content has become the central value driver of the platform.

For Arcadis to encourage the aggregation of content, this will require a multi-channel approach, meaning that Arcadis will need to create its own, primary platforms whilst also making use of third-party platforms, such as Autodesk.

4. Customer Experience (CX) is Value

Generally, the end user is an afterthought in the design of infrastructure and the management of assets. Arcadis’ focus needs to be on the end-user, because Customer Experience is Value. Digital companies succeed when they are concentrate their efforts around the customer journey, when they constantly measure and observe customer behaviour and make small iterations to improve their. There are many examples of successful start-up companies who take a customer-first approach, and customers favour these products because they provide a more convenient, enjoyable and often cheaper CX, e.g.: Uber versus traditional taxis, Deliveroo versus traditional pizza companies, etc.

Client-focus is one of Arcadis’ core values, but the company will need to start collecting more data and asking for more feedback from clients and end-users. This is a major opportunity for Arcadis to deliver a better customer design experience.

What now?

The four new digital rules are not just guidelines. They are the new realities of digital and are imminently approaching, if not here already. Digital transformation will not happen overnight, and there is no set future for how Arcadis will go about adopting or implementing its digital strategy in its different market sectors. Instead, these realities will require a digital culture within Arcadis which encourages experimentation, testing assumptions, and Lean Thinking product development, which will help the company find new ways of doing business. Gradual but bold steps must be taken, requiring hard work from all corners of the business.

So you might be wondering, what can Global Shapers do about this?

Julien Cayet would like to see all Global Shapers become not only digital translators but digital disruptors – those who seek out new opportunities for digitisation and collaboration within their own business units. Global Shapers should start thinking outside the box, becoming proactive in finding ways to work collaboratively across sectors and with other Global Shapers.


Whilst taking into account the needs of their business units and their clients, Global Shapers can take ownership of certain digital initiatives that are of interest to them.  If you have an idea, start talking to people, and see where the idea takes you. We are already witnessing some of this activity with Shapers from the Forward Digital workstream, including:

  • Georgie Grant is leading an initiative to bring about digital reporting for environmental impact assessments with the support of Claudia in Berlin, Eliza in London, and Cederick in Amersfoort, who all see the potential of this being applied to other sectors.
  • Michael Hoole is looking to progress his first prototype of an augmented reality sandbox for flood modelling; a fun, educational, and engaging community engagement tool, and will be applying for innovation funding from the digital office.
  • William Macleod is developing a database of internal digital projects, similar to the sustainability database.
  • Eliza Shaw and Rayan Bou Saleh are working on an article about Lean Thinking in the context of Arcadis, focusing on ways in which we can foster a company culture that encourages experimentation and innovation with new technologies.
  • In Commercial Developers building sector, Tej has already been pushing for digital project reporting on a monthly basis. Georgie has come up with the idea of integrating digital project reporting with CEMPs (Environmental Reports). Tej and Georgie are pushing for the Buildings and Environment Teams to undertake a feasibility study and create a CEMP prototype using Power BI.

If you are interested in joining these activities or taking on your own initiatives as a digital disruptor, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Become familiar with the four new realities of digital and lean thinking product development. In this post we have provided links to further learning from Julien. To help you learn, the Digital Academy is soon to be rolled out, which will offer free courses to all Arcadians.
  2. Look for opportunities within your own individual business units to digitise and improve processes, but remember: focus on initiatives that will bring about value creation for clients and Arcadis, rather than focusing too much on the technologies themselves.
  3. Reach out to your regional heads of digital: Prasoon Sinha and Rob Ellis (NA), David Glennon and Simon Light (UK), Arjen Adriaanse and Frank Goossensen (Europe), MC Loo and Graham Kean (Asia). Each region has two digital leads – one who is technology focused and another who is client-focused. This is a strong reflection of how Arcadis is orienting its digital transformation around client success and value creation.
  4. Support other global shapers in their efforts – create linkages and realise shared visions. If you would like an idea of Forward Digital’s current initiatives, please contact Eliza Shaw.
  5. Share successes throughout the company (this has already kicked with William Macleod’s digital technology database).
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