Double Interview Dennis Houthoofd and Frederik Vervoort: “horsum 2.0 offers twice the expertise.”

2016 will again be a critical year for horsum. With the arrival of co-manager Frederik Vervoort, the company is adding 15 years of relevant experience and expertise. horsum 2.0 is indeed ready for growth. horsum founder, Dennis Houthoofd, is thrilled: “Thanks to the addition of Frederik, our knowledge and expertise is doubling. We will also be able to handle bigger projects.”

It seems like the arrival of Frederick Vervoort at horsum was written in the stars. Dennis and Frederick know each other from their student days in Antwerp, but lost sight of each other afterwards. Yet, they appear to have a strikingly similar career path. After their studies, both of them went to work with one of the big four, after which they switched to an industry job. Finally, both followed the call of entrepreneurship and became an independent consultant.

Almost a match made in heaven?

Frederik: Yes, you could put it that way. I wanted to build up something new professionally and was looking for the important process mining players in Belgium. I immediately arrived at the horsum website and found out that Dennis is the founder and director of horsum. I contacted him to see what we could do together in the future and it clicked right away.

Dennis: I had been thinking about the growth of horsum for a while already. When Frederik crossed my path again after so many years, the decision was made quickly to further develop horsum with him. Frederik and I both have a lot of expertise in finance, internal audit, process optimization, and data analysis. That is indeed a very good match.

Frederik, what exactly appealed to you in horsum?

Frederik: horsum offers service packages that are tailored to both SMEs and large enterprises. That offer is very similar to the service that I had in mind myself. During the past four years, horsum has also developed a solid foundation for future growth. In addition, I can identify with the vision and objectives of horsum.

What is the biggest benefit resulting from this partnership, according to you?

Dennis: With the addition of Frederik, we are doubling our knowledge and expertise in finance, internal audit and process optimization. We currently have quite a few nice references - both from SMEs and large companies. Now we will also be able to accept larger projects.

Frederik: My arrival will offer more flexibility and allow us to focus more on business development. It's also a bonus that we now have a better geographical coverage. I myself am from the region of Antwerp, while Dennis and Cédric (Verfaillie) are from Kortrijk and Bruges.


How will horsum evolve in the next three years?

Dennis: In any case, horsum will continue its focus on finance, data, processes and business control. On the one hand, we offer business owners, managers and CEOs better insight in financial data, which allows them to make better management decisions. In addition, we screen their business processes and optimize them. It’s hard to separate both fields of expertise. Financial analysis is no longer possible without connecting it with other business data. Conversely, for effective process optimization you need a thorough understanding of finance and data analytics.

Frederik: In the future, horsum will attract additional staff, but we want to make sure that the high quality of our services and expertise is guaranteed. My arrival should also allow horsum to intensively focus on brand awareness and on the expansion of the customer base in the next three years.

How does horsum distinguish itself from other consultancy firms?

Dennis: Customers especially appreciate our pragmatic and result-driven approach. They also greatly appreciate that our team has the right and sufficient experience to carry out the assignments. This distinguishes us in many cases from large consulting firms, where the most experienced people especially show up during sales calls and in final meetings. The less experienced people are then actually carrying out the project. At the time, that was one of the main reasons for me to start up horsum: I like to be out there in the field myself.

We also differentiate ourselves from interim managers, because we consider ourselves as true consultants. We do not offer people, but advice. Every job is tailored to customer needs. Sometimes, we work on a particular financial analysis for two weeks on end, because the customer expects results as fast as possible. But a different approach is also possible: a process optimization job in an SME, for example, might have a lead time of four months, with only one day every two or three weeks to sit down with the customer to optimize the processes. This way, the daily activities of the SME employees are not disturbed. Our flexibility and customized approach are really appreciated by our customers.


horsum services SMEs and big companies alike. What are the differences?

Frederik: We do see big differences between our SME customers and large enterprises, but we offer both types of companies a customized service package, taking into account their specific needs.

Dennis: SMEs force us to be pragmatic, result-oriented and flexible. "Two feet on the ground” is usually the motto there. It’s a mentality that can be hard to find in large companies, where you often have to deal with over-regulation, too little overview, and too much silo thinking. Employees of larger companies should sometimes have more of the SME mentality. On the other hand, SMEs can also learn from the professionalism of larger companies. SMEs often lack structure and organization. Especially for growing SMEs, it is important to let the administrative processes and reporting grow in an appropriate manner. We like to work for both SMEs and large enterprises. It keeps us in balance.

Which are the types of questions companies approach you with?

Dennis: I think we have three types of customers. A first group of SME managers will commission us for strategic exercises, financial analysis or to streamline business processes. CFOs of large and medium-sized enterprises are a second group, who will engage us for a variety of tasks: financial contracts, data analyses and optimizations of departments and processes. A third group of internal auditors and risk managers will turn to us for internal audits and risk assessments, which requires a sound knowledge of finance, data and processes.

How have the customer expectations and requirements changed throughout your career of 15 years?

Frederik: The business world has become highly computerized and digitized during the past 15 years, a trend that is likely to continue. Customer requirements follow this trend, but ultimately the customer expectation remains the same: a results-oriented, customized service.

Dennis: Business owners, managers and CEOs are increasingly open to external consultants. They realize that our external advice offers added value to themselves, their employees and their organization. They expect consultants to understand their industry very well. Furthermore, they want to be able to continue independently after our assignment. That is why we like to involve employees from the beginning in our assignments. This way, we increase the chances of a successful change process considerably and we ensure maximum knowledge transfer.


Do you notice important evolutions in the consultancy world?

Frederik: The consulting world is not immune to the growing importance of big data. horsum tries to respond to this by taking a leading role in deploying new process analysis and data analysis techniques.

Dennis: Companies make increasingly use of data analytics to be even more successful. Often they do not have this knowledge in house. We train ourselves continuously in the field of data analytics and process mining and integrate this expertise into our finance analysis and process optimization offering. A finance or process consultant without a thorough knowledge of data analytics and process mining will be out of the game in about five years.

Apparently, process mining is the new mantra for horsum. What’s in it for companies?

Frederik: Our companies have become so computerized and digitized, that it can be a challenge sometimes to have an overview of all processes and transactions. At the same time, companies also want to know whether their processes and transactions are running efficiently. Process mining is a not so well-known technique that allows you to map out and optimize business processes quickly. In recent years, horsum has built up a strong process mining expertise, and we also want to continue to play a leading role in the field of process mining.

Dennis: Process mining bridges the gap between process management and data. Purely based on data stored in ERP packages, software packages or databases, process mining techniques can analyze business processes and suggest improvements. We expect that in the coming years, process mining will gain in importance and that it will become an undeniable tool for optimizing processes. In the near future, process analysis will be a combination of both new process mining techniques and old school ways of working, such as workshops, walkthroughs, flowcharting, value chains, lean techniques, etc...

Will horsum become a pure “data analytics” consultancy firm?

Dennis: Data analytics expertise will become increasingly necessary and we will continue to invest in this technique. But by no means do we want to be a pure data analytics company. The combined expertise of data analytics, processes and finance is what businesses really need.

Frederik: Data analytics is a very broad field of expertise and it includes "customer", "accounting", "people" and "operational analytics". Each discipline has its use in different areas. Data analytics, as well as process mining, possibly in combination with other tools, can be the appropriate technique to achieve your goal. Personally, I am convinced that the importance of data analytics will increase, but it is only one tool in the range of services horsum offers. The most important thing is that we provide a bespoke service to the client, whether or not we make use of data analytics.


How big do you want to become?

Dennis: We certainly want to continue to grow, but at the same time, we want to make sure that we can deploy the appropriate project teams with the right expertise and guarantee the quality of our results. We do not want to be so big that we lapse into the situation of large consulting firms, where my and Frederik’s contribution would be limited to the selling aspect and the final meeting.

Frederik: Over the next three years, we want to invest heavily in business development in order to achieve growth. So, expansion of the horsum team is quite possible. But we do not focus too much on a specific size and as Dennis points out: we think it's important to stay involved in the fieldwork.

In view of this expansion: what is the DNA of a horsum employee?

Dennis: Flexibility, curiosity and respect.

Frederik: For me, the horsum sapiens is an energetic, analytical, inquisitive and hands-on person who is highly committed to professionalism, pragmatism and result-orientation.

Kristof Maddelein - February 23, 2016