From vision to tangible value: Arbo Unie deploys data for vital people

03 November 2023 Consultancy.eu 9 min. read

Arbo Unie has a clear ambition: to be the most progressive health and safety service provider aimed at promoting the vitality and health of working people. And to ensure that people are comfortable in their own skin. That data and technology can play a crucial role in this is crystal clear to Arbo Unie, but how exactly was a much more difficult question. A journey with Anderson MacGyver helped lay the foundation for tangible value.

The past few years have been an eventful period for Arbo Unie. As a company dedicated to improving the safety and conditions in which people work, Arbo Unie faced an unprecedented challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it was also a time for learning, says the company’s Chief Health Officer, Willem van Rhenen. “The value of digital solutions proved itself once again. The pandemic reinforced the need for innovation and made us even more aware of the role that data and technology can play in realizing our strategic ambition.”

Willem van Rhenen, Anna Geraedts, Tim Beswick en Anton Bubberman

Working with data was by no means new to Arbo Unie. Years ago, a model was already developed to predict long-term sick leave among the 1.2 million employees the health and safety service serves through its clients. “That, too, is based on data and an algorithm,” Van Rhenen says.

The ambitions stretched further, however. Arbo Unie wanted to take bigger steps, and that required more focus and effort. In support of this, Anderson MacGyver was brought on board, kicking off a multidisciplinary collaboration between Arbo Unie, the consulting firm and Inergy, a company that specializes in data and analytics.

Upward spiral 

There was no lack of vision at Arbo Unie. Van Rhenen, also a professor of Engagement & Productivity at Nyenrode Business University, sees data analysis as a valuable addition to the time-honored scientific method of testing: confirmation or refutation.

“Traditionally, you take ‘evidence-based’ decisions, which are supported by facts after research. With the availability of data, you can also reverse that: based on trends and patterns, something can emerge from the data itself.”

As an example, he cites the formal distinction between usually work-related burnout and a mental disorder such as depression, where data can reveal an overlap in symptoms. By approaching seemingly different problems unbiasedly from the right data, they can potentially be solved in a corresponding way. “That’s an interesting side benefit,” he explains. 

In such applications, he also sees a virtuous cycle, as 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 each time.”

Promising perspective 

With plenty of valuable ideas on the table, the key question was: how do you turn them into tangible results? “It is difficult for many organizations to move from a vision to tangible business impact,” states Tim Beswick, who is involved in the project as program manager from Anderson MacGyver.

For that impact to materialize, it is essential that data and digitalization are closely aligned with business ambitions. Therefore, in consultation with Anderson MacGyver, a programmatic approach was chosen, with a clear structure and objectives. “Our first step was to create a program design,” Beswick says. “From business value-related goals to a structure in which we created concrete data products while working on a sustainable data foundation.” 

This involved very conscious cooperation with all stakeholders, says Anna Geraedts, Data Science Manager at Arbo Unie. “Especially in the first months, we sought input at all levels, including the Board of Directors: what are the main pain points, where do people see new opportunities and where do we as an organization ultimately want to go?”

“Board support is crucial and data professionals are important, but ultimately it’s about realizing organization-wide collaboration, including users,” Beswick adds. “A promising perspective at all levels – where the coherence of all steps and initiatives is also clear to everyone – is crucial in this regard.” 

Discovery 

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

“Those were all journeys of discovery,” Beswick points out. “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.”

And of course, in doing so, the team ran into several challenges again. “For example, some customers or individual users could be found in the systems in different ways,” Geraedts recalls.

Anton Bubberman, who was also involved from Anderson MacGyver in drafting the program, says privacy issues also played an important role. “Think about the proper handling of personal data and complying with legislation. Medical privacy in particular is very sensitive.”

Piece by piece, all issues were addressed, Van Rhenen says. “People cared about each other and reasoned not from individual interests, but from the bigger picture. Even Anderson MacGyver was really part of the whole. This was largely to Tim's credit. He pulled it off the ground together with Anna, and that deserves a 10-plus as far as I’m concerned.”

The backbone in place 

Fast forward to today, and the first clear results are beginning to emerge. Bubberman: “We have set up a data warehouse that can be used for the medium term. In addition, in a tremendously tight labor market, we managed to recruit about a dozen data professionals within a quarter.”

Van Rhenen sees this “energetic club of data professionals” as the biggest success to date. “They look at the business from a holistic perspective and seek collaboration.” 

All in all, the Chief Health Officer is delighted with the output so far. “The child and teenage phases are already behind us and we now have an adolescent data organization. We are creating value and in the process we have made more progress and impact than I had previously hoped.”

“The backbone is now in place and we can now really get to work with data,” adds Bubberman.

Snowball effect

Building on this backbone, the next steps can now be taken. “Currently, we are still struggling with extracting data from some crucial systems,” Bubberman says. “Also, new data sources need to be added to get new use cases based on that. Once that is solved, you automatically get a snowball effect.”

“Data is scattered throughout the organization like snow on the ground, ready to be rolled up by the snowball we created and set in motion – including by the business,” Beswick adds.

It is now up to the data department to “dare to stand up and claim this value as well,” Van Rhenen indicates. “After all, our future strength will be determined by this team in collaboration with the rest of the organization. You can see that happening now: people are moving along and becoming aware of the possibilities.”

Throughout this process, Anderson MacGyver played a major role, asserts Geraedts. “Several consultants with diverse knowledge and experience as real sparring partners got the organization and the Board of Directors on board. Anton’s involvement was fundamental in getting everything around data management off the ground, such as the data warehouse and data architecture.”

“A lot has happened and been achieved in a year and a half,” concludes a satisfied Van Rhenen.