Kelly’s Head of International IT, Alexandre Kozlov, reveals how the global staffing services leader is embracing business relevant IT with technology that serves people first

Kelly Services’ Head of International IT, Alexandre Kozlov, believes technology should serve the people and not the other way around, hence his quest to build consensus and develop collaboration across departments. “When I identify a journey, it’s important to have a clear objective as a target for the team. In essence it should be aligned, and correspond to, business objectives and goals. It’s then that we engage the team to create a roadmap towards how we can achieve those goals. It’s a crucial element because I don’t want to impose a ready-made solution, but rather engage the team in developing a plan. As a CIO I can talk the talk, but together we must walk the walk for a successful journey for everyone.”

Alexandre Kozlov

Kozlov is tasked with supporting and enabling the international business. His team’s responsibilities cover the entire spectrum of IT’s domain across infrastructure & operations, application development, security and compliance. Their efforts coordinate with global IT service teams serving Kelly’s global presence across EMEA and Latin America.

Business needs to lead the dance with IT

IT should position itself as the enabler of business rather than a provider of ready-made solutions in search of a problem. The two need to “learn to dance together” reckons this CIO. “The objectives and the goals of IT should always be expressed in terms of the business strategy and the journey a business wants to take towards its vision over three or five years. IT needs to use this as a blueprint to enable the journey from a functions perspective and help the business discover and implement new technologies that will make it possible to transform quicker than originally planned. IT should be a partner for the business and around the table for the development of a technology enabled business strategy. Today, information technology has emerged as a critical business capability which has in turn elevated the importance of IT function and, as a result, raised the bar for it.”

A future-proofed operating model 

The staffing services industry is very fragmented – the top ten companies combined have typically less than 15-20% in each market across Europe. There is a proliferation of SMEs in the space. For example, in the UK alone in 2019 there were over 30,000 staffing and recruitment companies. Allied to this, GDPR, PII and local labour laws and regulations create complexities from country to country. These factors have resulted in a limited set of tech solutions available on the market – there are no SAPs or Oracles, hence the majority of companies build their own solutions. Kozlov joined Kelly in 2018 with a mandate to develop and execute a new IT strategy which would enable a future operating model and support business growth.   

“There were several urgency drivers,” he recalls. “The existing IT solution portfolio was limiting business performance and growth. The targeted business operating model could not be supported by legacy applications. Meanwhile, the application portfolio was diverse and complex to support efficiently with several key applications nearing end of life.” 

Kozlov’s objective was to differentiate Kelly from the competition with a superior user experience for candidates, clients, and employees driven by solutions that enable and support standardised processes; and rationalise a portfolio of local solutions with a focus on configuration not customisation. 

“We conducted research in one of our key markets on the activities and tasks of our recruiters,” he explains. “It transpired more than 60% of their time was spent in Outlook. Rather than searching for candidates and talking to them, recruiters were busy with emails and managing their inboxes and calendars. I needed to turn things around in IT and get my team, and all other functions, to focus on business outcomes instead of looking at things through technology glasses.” 

Change Management 

“Providing a platform for talent to thrive is crucial… “Managing complexity is not a project. Managing complexity is a profession.” This CIO is wary of the push for new technologies in search of a problem when those shiny new things come with a learning curve and a timescale to adapt. “Companies should not expect a multi-million-dollar project to resolve all issues and from then on life will be easy; the journey is about continuous improvement,” urges Kozlov who notes that when internal complexities start to build up it’s a sign there’s something fundamentally wrong with the approach that was taken. It’s often the start of a vicious cycle where further layers of complexity are added to solve a problem.  

“It’s dangerous when companies drive their decisions purely on a technology basis with the latest ‘must haves’. The best technology implementation is the one you don’t notice, hidden in the data centre or in the cloud to simply allow a process to go seamlessly from point A to point B.”  

With this approach in mind when it comes to assessing the hidden dangers of ‘latest and greatest’ technologies and platform, Kozlov’s mantra echoes a quote from Edsger W. Dijkstra: ‘The tools we use have a profound and devious influence on our thinking habits, and therefore on our thinking abilities.’ 

Kelly’s approach to continuous improvement extends to the continuous learning required by its recruiters to find the right skillsets for the client companies relying on this staffing services expert. “With 69% of companies struggling to find workers with the necessary blend of hard and soft skills, we can deploy smart technologies to help them build a workforce that will be flexible and resilient,” pledges Kozlov.  

“Whether it’s working remotely or jumping on a transformation journey with their respective companies, soft skills are becoming more important. It’s not only how you communicate with others, but also your awareness of yourself and finding the right balance of channels of communication with others – whether that’s virtual or face to face. We also need to be sensitive to cultural differences which wasn’t part of the skillset people were paying attention to 10 years ago. Not all of these skills will be apparent, so it’s our task in the staffing industry to build complete profiles of candidates to match them with the right opportunities, so ultimately not only do the people fill the roles, but also the roles fulfil the people.” 

Kozlov emphasises again the importance of upskilling internally to meet those needs: “Markets move faster than ever before. Continuous learning is not just for those dealing with pure technology, but anyone who wants to follow new trends, new technologies, and new approaches to address challenges. As Alvin Toffler wrote in ‘Future Shock’ in 1970: ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’” 

Identifying a growing trend away from the supply/demand dynamic of staffing, Kozlov sees a shift from that transactional relationship towards a more collaborative approach. “We’re not just talking about providing profiles; we work with many clients sourcing contingent workers and permanent employees and need to have a common shared technology platform where we can collaborate on anything from time sheet management to analytics.” 

What’s next? 

Today, IT is at the forefront in building up a data-driven business. Netflix has a pretty good idea what its subscribers are going to watch next week. Amazon could forecast what its customers are going to look for or order next week. “How about a staffing company which knows what job a candidate will be looking for next month? Or, alternatively, forecast specific talent demand for a client company?” asks Kozlov. 

“IT needs to provide actionable information to a business, so it can predict market movements and be ahead of the game,” forecasts Kozlov. “By discovering patterns and analysing trends in both external and internal data on people movements between jobs or the development of certain industries and economies, the deployment of AI and Machine Learning would give staffing services companies the opportunity to see trends developing and the particular types of skillsets, roles, or professions that are going to be in demand – for example, pharma and healthcare during the pandemic.”  

This will allow Kelly to examine its client portfolio, identifying the companies it could support in key areas and keep them up to date with the need for certain profiles before they arise. “With the progression we have today at Kelly, with implementing our new strategy, we’re laying down the foundations with cornerstone solutions in place,” he adds. “This will enable us to conduct the type of analytics capable of delivering these actionable insights we can share with our client companies.” 

With the accelerated speed of change, finding the right talent becomes one of the top priorities for employers. The staffing industry will play a crucial role in helping companies with this challenge. Having the right technology solutions in place is an essential competitive advantage for staffing companies. “Technology is like a magic rod,” says Kozlov. “It will give you what you ask for, but it will not tell you what to ask. It is for the latter that IT needs to dance with the business. You need two to dance this tango.” 

“For me, a good CIO is like the conductor of a symphony orchestra,” concludes Kozlov. “You need to build a team, you need to build your orchestra, and then, with the right mixture of skills, you can perform the symphony. But you mustn’t forget your audience – the business. The orchestra are my team and must always perform that symphony with the business in mind.”   

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