Publications Digital developments at Arbo Unie: ‘Using data to feel good’

Digital developments at Arbo Unie: ‘Using data to feel good’

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Arbo Unie promotes working people’s vitality and health, and with that makes organizations more successful. Based on the motto ‘feeling good’, the focus is on the best possible working conditions. Data and technology can help to achieve this, the board realized. The challenge was to translate this vision into actual tangible value. Chief Health Officer Willem van Rhenen and Tim Beswick of Anderson MacGyver explain how the groundwork was laid for this. 

“The value of digital solutions was well proven during the corona pandemic,” says Willem van Rhenen, CHO and BoD member of the approximately 800-employee, seven-label Arbo Unie. “The  pandemic amplified the need for innovation and has made us even more aware of how data and technology can contribute to realizing our strategic ambition: the most progressive health and safety service provider that keeps people vital and healthy.” 

Data value is still something abstract within many organizations, according to Tim Beswick, who is involved as program manager from Anderson MacGyver. “They find it difficult to  go from a vision to tangible business impact.” Van Rhenen adds: “Many companies are sitting on a gold mine of data, but they have to make the effort to go digging.” 

Many companies are sitting on a gold mine of data, but they have to make the effort to go digging

Willem van Rhenen – Chief Health Officer at Arbo Unie

Moreover, the quest for improvement and value was driven by a different kind of pressure. With the rapid advance of digital solutions, Arbo Unie’s Chief Health Officer says it is not inconceivable that at some point a fully data-driven competitor will emerge. “Look at the rise of a phenomenon like ChatGPT. If you are aware of what is possible in terms of data and algorithms, then you understand that as an organization you have to do something with this.” 

Predictive model
By the way, Arbo Unie was already doing interesting things with data. Years ago, a model was created to predict long-term absenteeism among its 1.2 million employees served. “That was also based on data and an algorithm,” Van Rhenen said. But to move forward more was needed. In late 2021, Anderson MacGyver joined, and shortly thereafter Anna Geraedts was appointed Data Science Manager. Then Bas de Wit joined as Chief Information Officer. A multidisciplinary collaboration was eventually established with people from Arbo Unie, Anderson MacGyver, and Inergy, which specializes in data and analytics. 

Tim Beswick: “As an organization, you really have to believe in the value of data and join forces across the organization to make that happen. Just having a strategy or conviction at the top or a group of data professionals on an island will not get you there. The support from the board is crucial and data professionals are important, but ultimately it is about realizing an organization-wide collaboration – including the users. Our first step was to create a program design together with all stakeholders; from business value-related goals to a structure in which we created concrete data products while working on a sustainable data foundation.”

The availability of data is important to Arbo Unie because it leads to new insights. Van Rhenen, also professor of Engagement & Productivity at Nyenrode Business University, calls it an addition to the scientific method of review, confirmation, or refutation. “Traditionally, you take ‘evidence-based’ decisions, which are supported by facts after research. With the availability of data, you can also turn that around: based on trends and patterns, the data itself can give rise to something.” 

As an example, the Chief Health Officer cites the formal distinction between a mostly work-related burnout and a mental disorder such as depression, where, based on data, there may be an overlap in symptoms. By approaching seemingly different issues unbiasedly from the right data, you may be able to resolve them in a corresponding way. “That’s an interesting side benefit.” 

The concept of circularity also plays a role: the data generated in the process is enriched with new data and insights, possibly from other sources, and then goes back into the process. “This is how we make our services better and better,” said Willem van Rhenen. 

Five streams
The data program within Arbo Unie was organized into five streams: realizing data awareness, governance, and organization, the data foundation, platform & data product realization, and materializing the potential value by defining, prioritizing, and planning the data initiatives. 

 “Those were all journeys of discovery,” Beswick says. “It was a constant search for the right balance between things under the hood, such as data architecture and data quality in the foundation, and the business impact through value-producing data products. We made step-by-step decisions in close collaboration with user groups; always based on business priorities. Multidisciplinary teams took responsibility for completing the concrete actions in their domain.” 

It was a constant search for balance between under-the-hood things and the business impact of data

Tim Beswick – Management Consultant at Anderson MacGyver

“The competencies within the core team and in the streams were very complementary and worked well together,” says Van Rhenen. “People cared about each other and reasoned not from individual interests, but from the bigger picture. Also, Anderson MacGyver was really part of the whole. This was largely to Tim’s credit. He pulled it off the ground together with Anna Geraedts and that deserves a 10-plus as far as I’m concerned.” 

According to Willem van Rhenen the director, the best result is an energetic club of about a dozen data professionals who look at the business from a holistic perspective and seek cooperation. “The child and teen phases are already behind us and we now have an adolescent data organization. We are creating value and in doing so we have made more progress and impact than I had previously hoped.” 

Tim Beswick makes the comparison to a snowball. “Data is spread throughout the organization like snow on the ground ready to be rolled up by the snowball that we created and got moving – also by the business.”  

“The next step for the data department is to dare to step up and claim this value as well,” concludes Willem van Rhenen. “After all, our future strength will be determined by this team in cooperation with the rest of the organization. You can see that happening now: people are moving along and becoming aware of the possibilities. A lot has happened and been achieved in a year and a half.” 

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