TecHR Interview with Patrick Van Der Mijl, Co-Founder at Speakap
Know My Company
Tell us about your interaction with smart technologies like AI and Customer Experience platforms.
My last experience with artificial intelligence was a customer support chatbot. and unfortunately, left me feeling annoyed rather than impressed. Most chatbots aren’t able to understand a lot of the human language (text and voice) but they ask question after question.
There’re a lot of repeating questions like ”did you mean this?” to guide the bot hopefully to a solution for my problem, which can take minutes. So when I last dealt with a chatbot, it felt like a human being could have answered my questions in less than a minute. So in the end, the bot didn’t understand my question and kept responding with more and more irrelevant questions. I finally had to ask for a human customer support representative to help me out.
How did you start in this space? What galvanized you to start Speakap?
It’s an interesting story. I worked in a supermarket part-time while attending university here in the Netherlands with my co-founder, Erwin Van Der Vlist. We quickly saw how manual, fragmented, ineffective and confusing the style and quality of communications was from our employer (supermarket) to those of us employees on the frontline (non-desk roles). When I say manual and ineffective, I’m talking about posting actual notes on bulletin boards – that’s how we would find out about important price changes, new (or discontinued) product offerings or promotions/sales.
Because we saw first-hand how poor, irrelevant and ineffective communications could impact employee happiness, productivity levels, job performance and engagement, we knew we wanted to create a new platform that could solve these problems. So that’s what fueled us to start Speakap.
What is the state of HR and Employee Performance technology in 2019? How much has it evolved since the time you first started here?
Over the last few years, we’ve seen the employee communications and HR technology landscape evolve like never before. The industry needs to innovate and a lot of startups are now starting to find a way to deliver the technology that delivers such innovation. I’ve seen a big increase in the number of HR technology startups emerging in recent years, many of which are using artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning to address the HR needs of companies and the engagement needs of their employees.
Tell us more about “‘Right to Disconnect’ Laws”. How does Speakap enable customers to comply with these laws using technology features?
I definitely believe the Do Not Disturb feature would help businesses comply with ‘right to disconnect’ laws. The reason being is that we have an open API that lets businesses connect and integrate Speakap with its existing workforce management tools so that they can ensure employees are scheduling Do Not Disturb start and end times when they aren’t working (and comply with the regulations that exist).
How do you see the raging trend of including HR Technology in a modern CIO/ CMO’s stack budget?
I think it’s a necessity to have a dedicated budget for HR technology in order to win the battle of finding and retaining skilled employees. Therefore, HR and IT must work together since HR is becoming a buyer of software these days, which will support the business in the end.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for businesses in leveraging workforce optimization technologies fully?
One of the biggest opportunities for using workforce optimization technologies is that it gives businesses a major competitive advantage.
Think about it this way: Companies want to attract and retain top-notch talent. But if your company doesn’t have a comprehensive set of the most necessary and innovative HR technology in place then it will put you significantly behind your competitors.
And we know that talent is the number one reason for business success. So it could even impact a company’s long term sales and revenue growth.
If you look at it from the perspective of HR processes, things can often take a lot of time to develop, get buy-in and eventually implement. This can be made even worse if the technology is outdated, ineffective or doesn’t integrate with other existing workforce tools.
The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is related to implementing HR software. I’m not talking about the process of selecting the right HR software. I’m talking about the post-contract signing implementation phase, whereby execution can be complex, but critical.
If the software hasn’t been implemented properly and the designated teams responsible for the daily use and implementation aren’t trained properly on how to use it, it can lead to implementation failure.
How should young technology professionals train themselves to work better with automation and AI-based tools?
One of the advantages of artificial intelligence is the ‘intelligence’ component – it usually does a good portion of the thinking and works for you. So I’d say young tech professionals should avoid performing repetitive tasks since AI can handle these tasks for them. By taking out some of the manual work for you, AI gives you more time to solve other more complex and important tasks – or projects.
What is the biggest challenge to digital transformation in 2019? How does Speakap contribute to a successful digital transformation?
One of the biggest digital transformation challenges is identifying which technology best meets an organization’s needs and determining the best approach and execution plan for implementation of the software. There are countless vendors and software tools to choose from so companies must be smart when choosing which software to purchase.
In the end, it’s all about tools that will help you achieve your company (and business unit) goals, while also empowering employees to work smarter and not harder.
Implementing new software in an organization is no easy feat; it requires a lot of different processes and involves many stakeholders across different departments, all of whom need to coordinate and collaborate to get the most out of the software.
To make our customers successful in this digital transformation here at Speakap, we have customer success managers whose entire role is focused on just this. We offer an enterprise-grade employee communications platform that can work in a different way depending on who uses it and the needs of the company.
Where do you see AI/Machine learning and other smart technologies heading beyond 2020?
I think it will be a good two or three years before AI/machine learning is at a place of regular adoption and everyday use. But it’s going to be a slow and gradual approach, much in the same way as smartphones did.
But once we get to a place of daily need and urgency of use, I envision AI/machine learning will gradually become part of every technology and services we use on a daily basis. They’ll become so ingrained in our daily lives that we won’t even think twice about using them (again, similar to our use of mobile devices today).
The Good, Bad and Ugly about AI that you have heard or predict –
While some people might dramatize the negative impact of AI – such as AI replacing the need for humans (and performing/taking our jobs), data manipulation and sophisticated cyber attacks – AI will also become a key driver and creator of jobs, efficiency and security.
The Crystal Gaze
What HR technology start-ups and labs are you keenly following?
IBM Watson and Harver, an AI-fueled HR tech startup from Amsterdam
What technologies within AI and HR Technology are you interested in?
I really like the possibilities with virtual agents like chatbots. It’s something we can use in our own employee communications platform to instantly respond to employee queries, for example.
As a tech leader, what industries you think would be fastest to adopting HR Technology,
I can tell from my own experience that the retail and hospitality industries are eager to embrace emerging new HR and ESN technologies to stay ahead of the competition and attract the best talent from around the world, while also improving employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.
Legal tech, AI/ML with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for these technology markets?
I think there’s a big opportunity for increasing automation within the legal industry. Think about the opportunity to automate the review process of documents like NDAs. This can be very time-consuming and would pave the way for skilled attorneys to spend their time (and focus their expertise) on high-level strategy and guidance.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the smartest productivity hack I’ve ever employed, but it’s helped me focus on driving the business forward in a strategic manner.
The hack that’s served me well is knowing when to delegate and outsource tasks. To be more effective at the end of the day, I always ask myself the following question: Which tasks truly require my input and which can be handled by the smart and responsible people I’ve hired? If you hire smart people, then you have to trust them to execute.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Jeff Bezos, that’s a no brainer. Jeff Bezos highlighted Amazon’s focus on bringing AI to companies a couple of years ago so maybe he can give us a little glimpse of our AI future.
Thank you, Patrick! That was fun and hope to see you back on TecHR soon.
As the Founder of Speakap, Patrick Van Der Mijl is responsible for driving the business strategy, while also overseeing the global product vision and development plans. He plays a vital role in scaling the company and delivering product innovation that enables retail, hospitality, entertainment, manufacturing and logistics organizations to reach, engage and empower their non-desk workforces in a way that’s smart, relevant and fun. Van Der Mijl started the company alongside co-founder and Managing Director, Erwin Van Der Vlist, while working part-time at a supermarket in the Netherlands during his time at university. He recognized the inconsistent, scattered and irrelevant mode of communications with employees and decided to build an internal communications platform that would solve the problem.
Through Van Der Mijl’s vision and leadership, the company has grown into a multi-million dollar business with over 70 employees and over 350 enterprise customers worldwide. Van Der Mijl has won several awards, personally and on behalf of Speakap, including ‘Deloitte Fast 50’ in 2018, ABN Amro’s ‘Best Retail Innovation 2017’ and Sprout’s ‘Startup of the Year’ in 2013.
Speakap is a secure and private platform that enables organisations of all sizes to reach and engage with their highly-valued (frontline/customer-facing) employees in order to deliver greater customer experience and business value.
On the shop floor, in the kitchen, on the ward, on the road, or on the production line. Speakap is always available, enabling communication and collaboration from any internet-connected device. From the head office to the frontline employee, and back again.
Speakap is currently used by more than 300 companies in 27 countries around the world. Market leaders such as MediaMarkt, Rituals, McDonalds and Hudson’s Bay all engage smarter through Speakap.