Of all the inventions, discoveries and world-shaping phenomena that have emanated from England, the English language is probably the most important of all. It has become the dominant tongue of business, no matter which economic powerhouse is in the ascendance.  

ArcelorMittal, the largest steel maker in the world, which has its headquarters in the multi-lingual capital Luxembourg is one company that has realised the power of English and its CIO Patrick Vandernberghe was tasked with improving the standard of the language used by the 281,000 people it employs in 60 countries. Not the sort of project CIOs often see land on their desk, but as Vandernberghe told CIO UK, technology and the CIO’s cross-organisational view combined to deliver what must be one of the most significant global e-learning exercises to be completed.

ArcelorMittal was formed in 2006 when the two separate companies Arcelor and Mittal Steel merged to become a single dominant player. Its steel plants in Africa, Asia, US, and Europe ensure it has a direct market to the major vehicle and household appliance makers, construction companies and packaging suppliers.

“Although we are mainly active in steel making, we are expanding into mining,” Vandernberghe says. The CIO explains that ArcelorMittal has to operate a federal business model. With factories in as diverse locations including Spain, Romania, the US and India, communication has to be simple and the organisation upon merger decided to standardise on English.

“There is no other choice: it is the global language by default, it is the only way to communicate to each other,” Vandernberghe says. The challenge facing the manufacturer was getting its workforce to the same level of English throughout the company. This was especially challenging in nations, such as former Soviet states, where teaching English was not commonplace.

Mittal Steel had already begun tackling this problem before it merged with Arcelor and the policy of having English as the standard corporate business language was continued, as was an e-learning policy pioneered by Mittal.

Mittal Steel was a client of GlobalEnglish, an international company that aims to enable organisations to equip their staff with competent English.

ArcelorMittal University is a strategy by the steel manufacturer to develop the skills it will need for the business to keep growing in-house. Management within the organisation conceive of the courses they believe it will require and use the university to share knowledge and best practice as a method of increasing networking and knowledge sharing. Communicating as it does across the entire organisation, the university uses the GlobalEnglish platform. Christian Standaert is head of the University and describes its role for the company: “Bringing people together within functions: it is often said that someone knows the answer to your question, but you have to know who to ask, that is our role.

“We are building the culture of the organisation through exchanged best practice, growing our own leaders, increasing functional excellence so that people can operate at the best level. This means we retain the best talents.”

The University has become increasingly important as the company has expanded into emerging markets in the former Soviet bloc. It is a global university with key programmes on leadership, development and solutions that suit the business in every market.

Standeart said the university has already reported increased productivity from using GlobalEnglish as students enjoy using it. Workers in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan see it as a way of progressing careers forward.

Both Standaert and his CIO compatriot selected Global English because “people need the stimulation” of a teacher and a classroom,” Standaert says. Vandernberghe adds: “It is not a course, it is a performance enhancement tool, so it is learning on the job.” A toolbar application is widely used in ArcelorMittal  allowing users to access Global English tools as they are working on documents, which Vandernberghe says gives them confidence.

ArcelorMittal has 2500 people working in IT across the globe with Vandernberghe as global CIO with CIOs in each national market reporting to him on a dotted line relationship.

“Our IT business strategy is connected to the business operating model,” he says of the federated nature of ArcelorMittal. “There are places where we need a global IT strategy such as financial and HR IT systems. We would like to standardise our sales and supply chain systems, but practically this is very difficult and from a change management perspective it will be difficult to standardise as each company has its own P&L. “So we are trying to replicate IT best practice across the organisation, rather than being a top down process.”

One area of rationalisation that Vandernberghe has been successful with is reducing the number of ERP systems ArcelorMittal supports, now down to 10 different systems, which gives you some idea of the size of the corporation. Ultimately, the aim is to gain economies of scale and benefit from group knowledge.

Vandernberghe, “My role as CIO is to foster a global community of IT people to share resources and to share skills.”