Chris Govaerts (COO Van Dessel): "We found the right partner in Sweet Mustard."

Sweet Mustard is helping insurance broker Van Dessel transition to and develop a new version of their application for managing and monitoring vehicle policies. COO Chris Govaerts talks about the collaboration.

People-oriented work is integral to the DNA of insurance broker Van Dessel. To provide an even better service, they built an application that allows insurers and customers to manage and monitor vehicle policies. However, the underlying technology had become very outdated over the years, which led Van Dessel to change its focus. Sweet Mustard is helping them transition to and develop a new version of VD Fleet Solutions.

We are talking to Chris Govaerts, COO at Van Dessel. "As the senior operations manager, I am always looking for applications to improve our way of working, whether by optimising existing processes, introducing new ones or taking over the administrative tasks of our people using IT and technology so they can focus on the customer and our added value. In addition, I am also involved in strategy, so I am looking at where we need to go as an insurance broker and how we can remain future-proof."

Chris Govaerts COO Van Dessel

About Van Dessel

Van Dessel has been an insurance broker since 1946, with a strong focus on companies. "Our family character is what sets us apart. Interaction with the customer, proactive management, a warm approach and ensuring our customers can put a face to who handles their file are all important. In doing so, we look at how we can support our customers even more effectively using technology and which tools we need to provide in order to improve the customer experience."

Existing application outdated and overly complex

"We built software for fleet management with a previous partner. This application, VD Fleet Solutions, was already due to be upgraded to a second version. The largest group of end-users is our employees who manage policies and claims for our customers. The intention is for other stakeholders, such as experts, leasing companies and repair companies, to also use the platform in the future.

“The intention is for other stakeholders, such as experts, leasing companies and repair companies, to also use the platform in the future.”

- Chris Govaerts, COO Van Dessel
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The existing application has worked well for a long time, but due to the constant increase in users and vehicles, we started to notice some performance issues. We were looking for ways to keep it all up to date, but the underlying technology and architecture is now outdated. Also, the level of user-friendliness is no longer optimal: over the years, the application has been expanded to such an extent that users sometimes lose their way.

We were looking for a partner for the new route and arrived at Sweet Mustard. They examined and mapped out our existing solution. It also showed that the existing solution no longer met our requirements: among other things, the expectations of customers and insurers on the one hand, as well as the obligations of the government on the other, had changed in the meantime, which meant we decided to switch our focus anyway. On this basis, we defined a strategy together with Sweet Mustard, and thus the new version of VD Fleet Solutions was born."

Goal 3.0: simple, less error-prone and future-proof

"With the previous version, we noticed that our end customer did not use the system as intended, i.e. to perform vehicle and damage searches themselves. Our approach was to make the software much more intuitive so that the end customer can and wants to do more themselves. This is not because we don't want to help, but because we work differently than before: both brokers and customers can now take action from home and after office hours if they wish. The focus is largely on simplifying the workflow, including by bundling all features in one application instead of across different ones. We didn't want to make the same mistakes from the past and we thought carefully about which features are truly necessary."

This also reduces the risk of errors because the end customer will be able to enter data directly in Fleet instead of sending them to Van Dessel by e-mail or phone. "By incorporating extra validations, customers do not need to be afraid of making errors as they will receive a notification if a field is completed incorrectly. In the future we hope to be able to link to databases with chassis numbers and number plates, so that data is loaded automatically."

However, efficiency is not the only requirement, as Chris points out. Flexibility also plays a role. "The aim of the 3.0 version is to work more efficiently, but also to be ready for the future. Mobility is changing. Vehicles may be replaced by bicycles. We have to take into account the sharing economy, the circular economy, etc. That’s why we need to build in some flexibility so that we are prepared for a different approach to insurance."

After MVP, the version for the general public

How did the collaboration go so far? "In the first phase, Sweet Mustard delivered an MVP: an initial version with a limited number of users and functionalities. This involves managing a customer’s policy – including its fleet, coverages, claims and invoicing – and the necessary reports. In the second phase, we will continue to build a workable version that will also work for the general public. Once this is successful, we continue with the next steps from the roadmap. We are working on new features one by one, because a phased roll-out reduces the chance of errors. It is also easier for our end users, who will gradually get to know the new features."

SWMU24 Blog Van Dessel 1

Initial results: positive reception and great enthusiasm

How has the 3.0 version been received so far? "The reactions from the first test sessions were very positive. Our employees were quick to get started, even if the interface wasn't completely finished. In fact, we feel that there is strong demand regarding when the solution will go live. There is a lot of enthusiasm internally for the launch. That’s why what we deliver needs to be worthwhile. Of course, we know that in the beginning it will not be 100% what people expect, but that is the case with every new application. Software is never truly complete. Of course, no one likes change, but you can't fight against it. It’s a battle you won't win. That’s why we pay the necessary attention to guiding our employees and customers through the process and providing them with the tools to deal with this change."

Why partner with Sweet Mustard?

"Developing everything internally was out of the question. In the past, two people worked on the software. Now we are at around 15. We were a smaller organisation when we started this project, but because we have grown, we now have to look at other companies for development. We are also seeing this in other areas within Van Dessel."

Why is Sweet Mustard the right partner for this? "Sweet Mustard is part of the Cronos Group, a large organisation divided into small entities. This gives you the best of both worlds: you still have personal contact, but also the support and broader expertise of the other companies in the group should something get stuck. This fits with our own identity: we always want to continue to work from a family perspective and avoid customers who feel trapped in a multinational organisation."

“Sweet Mustard is part of the Cronos Group, offering the best of both worlds: you still have personal contact, but also the support and broader expertise of the other companies in the group should something get stuck.”

- Chris Govaerts, COO Van Dessel

Open communication, a clear roadmap, physical meetings

How does Chris feel the collaboration has gone? "It's like breathing. As the previous versions had been overseen by the previous partner for so long, we started to communicate at cross-purposes. In the beginning, Sweet Mustard made certain things very clear on paper in order to avoid this. That was a very confident move, and we quickly realised we were sitting around the table with the right people. Open communication plays a key role in this: what needs to be said is said. We made clear agreements from the beginning, because this is the only way to get ahead with such a large project. There is no beating around the bush.

We are also always well informed. We work according to two-weekly sprints, with a clear roadmap from which we can derive whether we are on schedule, where the exceptions and special leaks are, what impact they have on the process, what financial costs are involved, etc. This helps us to make the right decisions and switch faster. Sometimes we get together in person, because we notice that truly helps. The added value you get out of it is great."

Lessons learned: be strict in choosing and bold enough to scrap things

What would Van Dessel do again, and what would they have preferred to do differently? "This type of project cultivates a progressive understanding. I use what I have learned from the development of Fleet in other projects. This involves the way of working together, such as drawing up specifications, selecting and evaluating suitable parties on this basis, working with a proof-of-concept, etc.

On the other hand, we learned that we should have stopped the 2.0 version much sooner when we saw that it didn't work. We tried to get the project out of the doldrums, but we wasted precious resources, hours and energy in doing so. That’s human, of course. In IT, you have to dare to cut the knots if you see that things are not going as they should. We are now applying this mindset to other areas of our company."

Van Dessel Berlaar

Looking to the future

Finally, we ask Chris what the future of insurance looks like, and what role Fleet 3.0 plays in this. "I don't know where we will be in 2030. Technology is changing so rapidly that we need to continuously evaluate and adjust, including in the insurance sector. Take car damage, for example: insurance experts have millions of photos of claims, accompanied by an information document describing the damage. The move to AI, which uses pattern recognition to create, evaluate and approve claims files, is fast approaching. It increases efficiency within the industry, and it leads the end customer to be helped faster.

All of these technologies take away some of our work. But we don't see this as a threat. It’s not human versus machine. It just allows us to pay more attention to the human aspect. We will receive more information to proactively approach the customer and provide better advice and support them. This is what technology should do: give us more time to do such things. That’s our added value. The human aspect is what sets us apart, and our application will help us to focus even more on this."

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