Making people work smarter, that’s my passion


  • interview
Paul Janssen Fellow Digitals

Steve Jobs once said: “The difference between a leader and a follower is innovation”. The risk of a passive attitude, when it comes to the innovation of your product or service, is that this can have major consequences for a company. Every Digital Workplace should have the same vision, which is to let employees work smarter and cooperate more efficiently. This vision motivates Paul Janssen, innovation manager at Viadesk, for years. Therefore he is proud that Viadesk came out positively from the research by the community builders of Bind. How did Paul manage this with his team? 

At the start of his career, he never thought that he would become an innovation manager. Now at the age of 46, Paul Janssen still looks back positively on his chemistry studies. He is even more positive about the choice he made in early 2000 to work as an interaction designer. After several employers, he has now been working for Viadesk for thirteen years, where he is expressly involved in innovating the platform. 

How becomes a chemistry researcher an innovation manager? And what does an innovation manager do exactly?

“Yes, those jobs seem completely different. But for both disciplines, you have to be a bit of a geek. Eventually, I wanted to combine my work as a chemical analyst, where I also programmed a lot, with my passion for educational science and something creative. I decided to apply as a web designer. To my surprise, I was hired and had the opportunity to gain experience in interaction design. My whole life I have been very interested in gadgets. This is reflected in my current profession. As a designer, I find the paradox very interesting. On one side I am very busy with cold technology, the back end, and the codes. But on the other hand, I also bring people together. My motivation is that we can really make people work smarter through the solutions that we build.” 

For 20 years Viadesk has been helping people in the digital workplace with its products. How do you continue to innovate?

“There is a bombardment of new technologies nowadays. Moreover, these techniques must measure up to many requirements. For example, it must be applicable to different devices. We also want these techniques to be suitable for people with disabilities. Through our experience, we also have a large customer base. We can quickly detect and deal with questions that play with the customer. When innovating, we, therefore, think from the customer’s point of view. Using this approach, we help existing customers better, but we can also offer a more relevant product to new customers.” 

Do you only recognize trends by talking to the customer?

“No, not just questions. Our own knowledge also plays an important role. We have a lot of in-house expertise at Viadesk. Sometimes things are a hype, you soon see if this hype continues. Narrowcasting is a permanent innovation (communication by means of screens at central locations, ed.). We see that there is actually no other intranet that integrates narrowcasting in a ready-made way. While both intranets and narrowcasting are about offering information. We are convinced that this can be properly linked. This is currently a topic that we are busy with.” 

When a trend is observed, how is it considered whether it is relevant?

“This assessment mainly takes place in the corridors. Every week we discuss news and trends, which we record on our own Viadesk platform. The idea is simple: we register the trend, give it a score and then estimate whether further action is desirable. We look at possible outcomes, at cost savings, at efficiency, at customer demand, and so on.”

“In anticipation of the new legislation (September 2019, ed.) We started in 2018 to make our platform fully accessible to people with disabilities. This applies specifically to government websites and intranets. We want this to be available for every organization or company. These functionalities ensure that everyone can participate, something that makes an intranet so useful. For me this is a beautiful and important project!” 

But by that law you are forced to do these innovations?

“Well, as I said, we had already started this project. But it did accelerate the project. A website for people with a functional disability quickly becomes boring. It is still a challenge to keep engagement high on a website like that. This requires a lot of creativity. You also have to study how people with disabilities move on a website. So we do not really create any innovations, but we integrate the innovations that we have in our product.” 

Applying game techniques in non-game environments can motivate people to use certain programs. When did you come up with the idea to integrate game elements into the Digital Workplace?

“We started this two years ago. At the time, we did research about how we can integrate game elements on our platform. This revealed that gamification on our intranet is not always relevant. However, gamification is fully integrated into our e-learning platform Collegia. This can be used very well, for example, when training (new) employees.” 

Can you briefly explain how that gamification works? And what does that mean for the user?

“The use of game elements ensures an intrinsic involvement with the user. The starting point is that we want everyone to participate actively, whether it is onboarding, learning an online course, or collaborating on a social intranet. Together with our partner Flavour, we make learning, changing, and activating possible through play.” 

I also saw in the research that your content is adjusted based on someone’s profile. How does this work?

“In this type of business, people often think about Facebook’s content bubble, which gives people an overload of one-sided information. This is not the case with us. People on our platform are in groups. These people will only see updates that are shared in the groups in which they have been added. We believe that machine learning should only be used if it really helps people. If someone often reads news articles, this should not be the only thing he sees on his timeline.” 

A newsletter with the latest features is published once a month. How do you ensure that user-friendliness is maintained if so many new functionalities are applied?

“Often these newsletters also concern updates of functionalities. This is the feedback we have received from customers. We then come up with the insight to adjust certain functionalities. We follow our design guidelines when making these adjustments. All designers follow these guidelines to ensure cohesion on the platform. We also involve the customer with the feedback in the improvement process, so we can build a stronger platform together.” 

What kind of feeling does it give you that Viadesk is one of the most complete Digital Workplaces in the Netherlands?

“This result makes me incredibly proud! We have spent a lot of time on a good product and it is of course very nice to see that this is appreciated. I am pleased that we can make customers very happy with what we do.”

A large variety of customers is the key to innovation for Viadesk. Deloitte will certainly appreciate this reflection in the innovation process. According to experts from the accounting firm, documenting and evaluating ideas that are suggested is at least as important as coming up with them. This increases the chance that good ideas will actually lead to valuable innovations. It is therefore positive to see that Viadesk has started to record and test these innovations more and more in the past year. Viadesk started recording, qualifying, and testing innovations in the past year. Thanks to this approach, Paul and the Viadesk team have added narrowcasting and gamification to their products in a short time. Which makes them the first in the Netherlands. “It is of course nice to hear that we came out positive of this research. But it also makes sense, since that has been in our DNA for 20 years”, Paul concludes.

Annika Willers

Manager Internal Communication

Annika Willers

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