Wolters Kluwer Netherlands COO Harrie van Luxemburg talks about the big digitalization roll-out
This article originally appeared on BOEKBLAD in Dutch.
“The biggest transformation in the publishing business isn’t the publication of digital products, but with becoming an online company,” says Wolters Kluwer Netherlands COO Harrie van Luxemburg. “Digital is 24/7.”
“Everybody visits the digital world to buy things and to find information,” says Harrie van Luxemburg (45 years old), COO with Wolters Kluwer Netherlands since March 2013. And that’s where you need to be as a company.
Harrie van Luxemburg: “The US and the UK are further in terms of integration of content with the customerwork flow”
During the last Inct.formatie event, Harrie van Luxemburg gave a well-received speech about the transformation of Kluwers’ print-oriented organization to a multi-media information services company. Prior to Wolters Kluwer, he held positions at Postbank and ING for 18 years—a company that also successfully made the switch from paper to digital. When Van Luxemburg started there, bank transfers were still hand-written, checks were still in use and statements were on paper. Nowadays everything is geared towards digital and mobile banking. This transition also needed to take place at Wolters Kluwer.
Wolters Kluwer Netherlands has increased its focus on tax specialists, lawyers and accountants during the last decade. The company, with offices in Deventer and Alphen aan den Rijn, employs approximately 600 people. In the past, the main focus was to provide information via books, magazines and loose-leaf booklets, nowadays it’s all about software applications to increase efficiency of the work process itself. The aim is to increase efficiency for its customers.
Hence, Kluwer doesn’t just publish legislation publications and commentary bundles. Kluwer is also developing products such as Smartdox, a product which consists ofonline modules to simplify the drawing up of contracts.
Nowadays, everything published by Kluwer can be accessed on paper, online, and is also available in digital format, including for use on mobile devices. “We are not focusing on one device. Everything needs to be available on all platforms; this is what the customer wants. This is also what you have to think about when you are in the design stages of new products.”
All information will “go digital” in the coming years, Van Luxemburg is certain about that. Kluwer is working hard to increasingly become an online company, by offering content in a broader sense and by incorporating the client work flow into the development of its products. Van Luxemburg is aiming to further raise Kluwer’s Net Promotor Score (“Would you recommend Kluwer to a friend?”), to increase the use of Kluwer’s products and to increase the digital use of its products.
And the latter could use some improvement. While Kluwer may be online and digital: a good part of their clients are not—in particular, the judiciary still uses print widely. “By the time I had been with Kluwer for six months I found out that all information provided to the judiciary has to be provided in hard copy. This indicates that there is vast progress to be made in going digital.”
But here, too, a shift is noticeable: a test was conducted recently with the lower courts to provide everything in digital format. The target audience also understands the disadvantages of using paper; lawyers and judges have to drag around bulky files that can’t be searched easily or shared efficiently with colleagues.
What role will Kluwer play in this? “The judiciary will assist in the digitization. That step is not made easily: we check the mutual collections together with our customers and see how they can share their information and files with each other.”
"We are not focusing on one particular device. Everything needs to be available on all platforms."
During 2012, the Kluwer Navigator was launched, an online portal with all information for lawyers, notaries, board members, policy officials, tax specialists and accountants. This can be linked better to Kluwer’s products to enable better connection with the customer’s work flow. “In the US and the UK developments in terms of integration in the work flow of customers is on another level. The Netherlands is following in this regard.”
Does Wolters Kluwer consider the possibility of linking to competitors’ products, such as Sdu, Reed Business, Boom and Springer? Van Luxemburg: “We don’t yet, but it’s something we might consider at some point.” The fact that digitization isn’t as far as it could be in the legal arena is only due to legislation that stipulates that everything must be provided on paper to the judiciary, says Van Luxemburg. Digital technology is embraced more slowly in this field. People in this field understandably focus on language, and digitization also involves the use of pictures and video.
Design is how it works, the famous quote by Apple founder Steve Jobs, is Van Luxemburg’s motto when it comes to new products. “The customer experience must be top-notch: when you need an instruction manual, it means the product doesn’t work the way you thought it did.” This is what makes the ING mobile banking app, which was developed during his tenure at ING, so good.
“Everything works intuitively and, bit by bit, ING provides more functionality. This is a conscious effort. The app isn’t built from scratch for new developments, but it’s extended. This way you lead customers a bit further every time. Otherwise the switch is too inconvenient. We are currently also using this Agile/Scrum development method at Kluwer.”
It’s a different way of thinking: building an app or a (digital) book. A book is mainly about sharing information. In case of an electronic product, the possibilities are much wider, such as the sharing of information or implementing alerts. The possibilities are abundant, and for a digital product the development, design and the actual realization are important. Product development and design of digital products are done in-house at Kluwer. IT is outsourced for 80 – 90%. 'Development and design are handled in-house. This is the core: this is your philosophy and identity.
People should immediately recognize a digital product and say: “Ah, this is from Kluwer.”’
But also the security of the content should not have a negative impact on the user experience. “You should always be able to approach our content easily, but you don’t want it to be roaming around either. This can be done safely too. Customers subscribe to Navigator for the entire office and everyone can access the information easily. We are working hard to provide this option to users to access different products with the same user name and password so that you not only have access to Kluwer Navigator but also to, e.g., SmartNewz and SmartDox.”
Wolters Kluwer Netherlands doesn’t have any trouble finding the right people for this. “Digital isn’t new anymore. But what is completely different from the past is the design and user interaction. You need separate people for digital design - people really need to be educated in this particular field.”
Van Luxemburg gets ideas for new and innovative products and systems from interaction with customers, by measuring how customers behave online and by looking at what happens elsewhere in the world. He is in regular touch with Wolters Kluwer’s units in Sweden, Belgium and the US. Internally, there’s healthy competition among employees who all aim to win the Global Innovation Awards. Employees from all levels of the company can submit an innovation proposal and in several rounds all employees can vote for the projects. The three best ones are presented to the Chairman of the Board, Nancy McKinstry.
"Until half a year ago, everybody spoke about the digital revolution. You hear this less nowadays."
The biggest change for publishing firms is not that they need to make digital products but rather to be working as an online company. “Everything must be approached from a bigger picture: everything changes when your company transforms into an online business. You must keep this in mind with everything: for example, digital is 24/7 and when you order something it’s available immediately. Everything should work well: the system landscape must be able to cope with the online reality.”
Van Luxemburg has a good example: “In the past the Postbank had all sorts of promotions: save 500 guilders and you got a furry toy or a towel. The Dutch participated enthusiastically.” Early on, people had to hand in a voucher at their local bank. Years later this went through a call center and then it went online.
“The first time these requests were done online, processing was still done by hand: the requests still rolled out of the printer at ING Postbank.”
Every company is in the transition phase to the digital world, says Van Luxemburg. People sometimes forget, because it happens all around them, but the digitization of daily life went very quickly. “Up to half a year ago, everybody spoke about the digital revolution. You hear this less nowadays.” But the digitization is ever increasing and it’s up to publishers to use this trend—because it can’t be stopped. “That’s where we’re heading. There is no escaping it.”