Inspiration session on digital

How to design our digital future?

An interview with Ruben Schaubroeck, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company

This year, McKinsey & Company celebrates its 40th anniversary in Belgium with a series of virtual inspiration sessions. For the event, McKinsey is inviting Belgian leaders to discuss the trends that are shaping the future of this country. We met with Ruben Schaubroeck, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, to discuss the upcoming session on digitalization.

Is an ‘inspiration session’ on digital still necessary? Is it not safe to assume that Belgian business leaders are convinced of the importance of digital solutions and are taking action accordingly?

Ruben: Many Belgian businesses have indeed embraced digital solutions – and COVID-19 further accelerated the adoption. Faced with an abrupt and disruptive change in consumer behavior, Belgian companies had to adapt quickly to continue serving their customers and very often did so in a successful way.

While most companies used digital solutions to optimize their existing processes, some fundamentally questioned their business model and created new, innovative ways to operate. At the same time, we see that significant challenges remain. For example, our most recent survey shows that 45% of Belgians do not fully trust digital channels.

We want to inspire our audience on how to make the behavioral shift stick. How can we scale the innovation we have seen during the pandemic and create even more impactful digital services and experiences for Belgian customers – both B2C and B2B? We now have the opportunity to turn this momentum into long-term advantages for organizations, society and individuals.

What can Belgium do to achieve these long-term benefits? Where do we need to take action?

Ruben: In Belgium, I foresee action in three domains: innovation, ecosystems and talent. Let’s first look at innovation. Belgium could see additional GDP growth of 1.2% if it were to invest full-on in artificial intelligence (AI). But when we look at AI or machine learning for instance, we see that that deployment is largely limited to process optimization. We have a strong technology start-up landscape as well as a significant presence in the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries, all of which can serve as a catalyst, provided that we invest heavily in innovation.

Ecosystems present a second domain for action. Our recent survey shows that consumers are looking for integrated services. The best digital solutions are not created in isolation or through the lens of an individual company. Instead, they are developed based on customer needs or expectations and combine different stakeholders. A densely populated country such as Belgium presents a huge opportunity to create ecosystems where multiple companies can combine relevant offerings to create highly unique digital experiences for their customers – thereby adding significant value.

The third and final domain for me is talent, with two components. On the one hand, our society needs to be equipped to train and educate the next generations of digital talent. On the other hand, organizations need to have the necessary infrastructure to reskill and upskill workers. If companies fail to properly train and educate their staff to use digital solutions, no degree of digital transformation will stick. A critical success factor is the willingness and ability of leaders at all levels to commit to a digital strategy, clearly articulate it internally and execute it.

How is McKinsey supporting companies with their digital development?

Ruben: I like to say that we connect the ‘boardroom’ to the ‘machine room’. To advise and support clients throughout digital transformations, we need integrated teams that combine deep sectoral knowledge with specific digital and technical skills.

There is no turnkey solution for a digital transformation, and we need these diverse teams and skillsets to offer bespoke value to clients. We work across a wide range of scenarios. While for some clients we are building completely new digital businesses from scratch through our leap methodology, there are other cases where we boost the digital marketing and e-commerce capabilities or upgrade IT and data foundations.

We also extend our digital capabilities through acquisitions. Last year, we opened a QuantumBlack hub in our Brussels office, which brings us a new depth of advanced analytics insights. Even more recently, we acquired Candid Partners to expand our cloud capabilities.

What can attendees expect from the Inspiring Belgium session on June 17?

Ruben: We want to share insights that inspire action in our attendees and their organizations. For this session, we invited leaders with deep expertise and who have the opportunity to make a lasting change in one of the three domains we discussed: innovation, ecosystems and talent.

I’m excited to welcome Mr. Guillaume Boutin, CEO of Proximus, Ms. Charlotte Gréant, the General Manager at, and Mr. Rik van de Walle, the Rector of Ghent University, to share their experience.

We will explore questions such as: How does a large tech company such as Proximus think about the creation of ecosystems, for instance? What is the perspective of start-ups on driving innovation in Belgium? And how can educational institutions help to address the talent challenges – both in terms of education and for upskilling and reskilling?

I hope the session will spark many more interesting conversations and discussions for months to come. Digital holds great promise for Belgium, but no single company can do it alone.

About the interviewee

Ruben Schaubroeck, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company

As a core leader of the firm’s global High Tech, Media & Entertainment and Telecommunications Practices, Ruben leads the digital and analytics transformation work for telecommunications operators at McKinsey. Driven by his passion for creating real, lasting change in organizations, he has worked with more than 20 organizations around the globe on their digital and analytics transformation journeys.