Essilor is the leader in the ophthalmic lens market and has a truly global footprint. Laurianne Thiebaut, the head of Essilor France’s IT department, regularly works with freelance consultants via Malt. We spoke with her to understand how she manages these working relationships with freelancers.

Can you explain the operation of Essilor’s IT department?

Essilor France operates independently, like all other Essilor subsidiaries in Europe. We are the equivalent of a large SME within Essilor International: with a CEO, a management committee and an IT department. It’s a small entity with five internal members: three project managers, a technical leader and a data administrator. We also work with external collaborators, depending on the projects. Currently, we work with 22 external collaborators, 80% of which are freelancers.

Essilor is a rather young entity. Is that correct?

Yes, notably in its operations. Until five years ago, this entity was intended to be an operational arm of the European IT Department. The main goal was to deploy the systems supplied by Europe: providing assistance, support, etc. The director of Essilor France then realized that there was a real competitive advantage in having an IT entity – an entity that would be more than a purely operational player implementing standard, shared systems. This brought about a significant transition in the team. My predecessor decided to make the Essilor France IT Department a driving force in software development, for the needs of our market only. Today, this allows us to develop very specific applications. In this context, we started recruiting external talent quickly. One of the first projects we worked on with freelancers was to equip Essilor’s sales forces with iPads and develop the most appropriate mobile tools.

Laurianne Thibaut, Essilor

What are the jobs or skills of the freelancers you usually work with?

We mainly work with developers, but we are increasingly working with scrum masters to support our internal project managers.

What deliverables do you expect from the freelancers you work with?

Freelancers we have worked with in the past have developed a mobile CRM application for our salespeople, a B2B portal for opticians, an application to help enter customer assets… We are currently working on an in-store decision support application for opticians. This will help the salesperson determine which product to offer to a consumer according to their equipment, visual defect, health insurance, etc.

How do you collaborate with freelancers on a daily-basis?

We always wanted to work with small teams and focus on building close relationships. Over the years, we developed strong connections with our freelancers. We look for collaborators who have strong views and are able to challenge us. We’re not looking for service providers who tell us what we want to hear.

Do freelancers work in your offices with you?

Yes, this is a must for us. Our freelancers must be available to work on site with our teams. We need this to create a strong team dynamic and synergies between people. Everyone must feel included and free to communicate with other teams.

Are there any obstacles to working with freelancers at Essilor?

Not really, since we’re first and foremost an IT entity whose main focus is delivering technology that works! The day we delivered our first project, a mobile application allowing representatives to facilitate their daily work, everyone agreed!

How would you qualify the importance of Malt’s advice in sourcing freelancers?

It’s crucial! For example, in March we launched a major digital transformation project, which doubled the size of our project portfolio. We needed to source our team from A to Z. This was a challenge because we didn’t know what technology we were going to be working with. Additionally, we were looking for very specific profiles with a variety of skills. Emilie, our Malt Key Account Manager, helped us a lot in our search. Beyond her knowledge of Essilor, her network and the technical knowledge base needed for the project, she was a major player in the pre-selection of freelance profiles and in the final recruitment decisions.

What advice would you give a professional who is about to work with freelancers?

I would start by saying that if I was asked to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. However I do think it’s important to note that working with a freelancer requires accepting the total experience of freelancing. It’s a fully-fledged role, and you have to recognize the value of their expertise and have the desire to grow with them, in a collaborative relationship.