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Michaël Custers

By Isabelle De Vil


Digital transformation at SD Worx, an interview with CMO Michael Custers about the challenges in their journey

As a leading player in the payroll and HR market, SD Worx is at the forefront of digitization. The company aspires to be the European leader in the sector. SD Worx and Teal Partners have worked intensively together for more than five years on new digital solutions. Michaël Custers, Chief Marketing Officer of SD Worx, explains why he works with Teal Partners.

What do you consider to be the strength of Teal Partners? How does this young development company make a difference for its clients?

“The essential characteristic of Teal Partners is that they think along with the client. Of course, they also have tons of technological knowledge available; they are experts in digitalization and in designing and working out technological landscapes. But even more important is their willingness to understand the client's business: the payroll and hr market. "Teal Partners doesn't come in to merely execute an assignment. The team dives in deep with them to decipher the fundamental problem." Only when that picture is focused, do they help build solutions in co-creation. They differ from technology partners who work in a purely executive manner and only program what is in their briefing. We need a partner who thinks along with us for the ambitious project we want to realize."

What exactly does this project entail?

“With SD Worx, we want to help European companies involving every subject around working, remunerating, and staffing across national borders. A multinational operating in several countries can call on us for payroll and HR services in all their European branches. Our technology strategy is hybrid. We build on the legacy systems of the past, which we harmonize and lift across countries by improving usability and the customer experience. We do this in a way that is not disruptive to the customer because stability in business processes, especially for payroll, is essential. Our software makes it possible to respond to hr-trends of the future, such as budget forecasting and flexible pay. Earned wage access, for example, is a phenomenon that has blown over from the Anglo-Saxon world.

There are currently no companies that offer these services on a European level, in every country of the European Union, in a uniform, standardized and transparent way. We want to take that position in the market. Teal Partners' technology helps us to scale. After the innovations we realized together in the Belgian market, we are now focusing on the SME market in Germany with Teal Partners."

How does Teal Partners differentiate itself?

“Through their specific way of working, they attract the right talent. Experienced talents who know what it is to build software. They know how to get things done and are result-oriented. The agile approach and speed of working set them apart. Together we move forward at breakneck speed. We impose a high pace on them because we know they can handle it. Thanks to Teal Partners' rocket fuel, we sail faster. That's not just because Teal Partners is an agile start-up. "A speedboat could also circle around the big ship, but Teal Partners takes us in tow."

Thanks to Teal Partners' rocket fuel, we sail faster. That's not just because Teal Partners is an agile start-up. "A speedboat could also circle around the big ship, but Teal Partners takes us in tow.

Is that why SD Worx became a majority shareholder in Teal Partners?

“What we are developing now with Teal Partners goes to the heart of our business. Teal Partners' VIREN technology has the potential to replace payroll calculation that today still runs partly on mainframe technology, so we want to secure the intellectual property. It is an expression of confidence in the team's talent and our commitment: we want a long-term relationship. Even though there are difficult moments in technology projects of this magnitude, we know we will achieve this mission together. The talents of SD Worx and Teal Partners are complementary."

Specifically, what technology talent does Teal Partners bring to the table?

“If we want to help customers on a European level, all our systems and our customers' systems have to connect smoothly via APIs across markets and regions. This is a highly complex matter. Building an open landscape that integrates various tools is a specialty of Teal Partners. They are the ideal partner to help think about creating such a scaleable landscape. Not for five or ten customers, but tens of thousands of customers.

In the past, our existing systems were relatively closed. When some systems were built, the Internet was still in its infancy. Now the world has changed, and data is open. That open structure is central to Teal Partners' architecture."

Is that open architecture essential today for organizations that want to develop in a future-oriented way?

“Indeed it is. In our sector, many companies dreamed of creating one hr & payroll system for Europe. That vision is now somewhat dated. Nowadays, the consultancy firm Gartner talks about an 'hr application framework'. You plug several applications into a central node, such as your recruitment or pension payment system. This presupposes a smooth data exchange ingrained in the cloud architecture of Teal Partners and the hybrid landscape we are building together.

In the past, we in IT were proud of what our applications could do and only thought about integrations at the end. That's totally different now. Today, the importance of integration is as great as the importance of the features and what the application can do. Teal Partners specializes in building these hybrid ecosystems with best-of-breed tools and customization where it makes a difference, for example in terms of customer experience or usability. They take integration into account right from the early stages."

Do you know the expression: horses for courses? You have to put the proper racehorse on the right track. That is what we are doing with Teal Partners with this unique course.

How is this participation different from other SD Worx participations?

"Although we are a majority shareholder, we do not touch how Teal Partners is organized. We respect Koen and Jelle's vision and the company's independence because it's what makes Teal Partners so successful. This way of working together, investing without touching autonomy, is unique. It is the only way we work with Teal Partners. Do you know the expression: horses for courses? You have to put the proper racehorse on the right track. That is what we are doing with Teal Partners with this unique course. We have a shared mission, develop freely and in co-creation, all to enhance the entrepreneurial spirit and talent of the 35 developers. The uniqueness of the team, the philosophy, the way talent is found and nurtured: we don't touch that. Finding talent is a challenge for every company, including us. Teal Partners has a recruitment strategy that attracts the right people, with a can-do attitude and the spirit to solve problems."

With in-house development, it's often easier to stay on the same scope, unlike working with an external party like Teal Partners. How do you still ensure that everybody is on the same page?

"There is a counsel at the highest level to determine the long term, and we organize regular moments to exchange feedback quickly. Our staff and the developers at Teal Partners together form a project team. We bring business expertise to the table, and they provide technology expertise. We work together in co-creation towards the same goal.

Teal Partners shows what the team is working on every two to three weeks during sprint demos. Every six weeks, there is a steering committee meeting with the team from business and sales. This allows us to identify and resolve bottlenecks or problems that could cause delays early on. By showing the software in intermediate stages and testing it against the reality in the market, we are sure that it matches the user's wishes.

Teal Partners enjoys our trust. If you don't give such top performers confidence, you don't need to start. In a controlled work environment with rigid governance, they would not function. At this level, we need developers who show their expertise and creativity. We find those at Teal Partners."

Interested in finding out what Teal Partners can do for your company? Get in touch with us here.