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Nordic CIO interview: Filippa Jennersjö, Sweden’s Public Employment Agency

The CIO at Sweden's Public Employment Agency has been bringing the organisation in line with other departments’ digital developments

In 2015, Filippa Jennersjö took on the challenge of reshaping IT for a traditional Swedish public agency, which lacked digital services. Two years on, the results are starting to show.

Arbetsförmedlingen, Sweden’s Public Employment Agency, is getting ready to launch an open digital platform for public and private employment services.

When Jennersjö arrived at the agency in 2015, she had to start with the basics. The employment agency suffered from a low approval rate in Sweden, and lagged far behind most of its public sector peers in digitisation.

We were so non-digital we had to start by deploying low-level services – digital services you find in any company today, but which we didn’t have a couple of years ago,” says Jennersjö. “For example, online tools for booking appointments, registering with the employment service and making a job search plan.”

One particular success is webinars, which enable jobseekers to participate in training and workshops remotely. “We believe very strongly in the idea of making our services available remotely,” says Jennersjö. “You don’t have to come to our office. Instead, you can use the services at your convenience, any time, any place.”

These are the first steps towards the employment service’s vision of becoming a digital employment agency.

Proactive partnership

Jennersjö has a long history in IT. She was working for an e-commerce startup when the dotcom bubble burst, and prior to joining the employment agency she spent 13 years – six of them as CIO – digitising ICA, one of the largest food retailers in Sweden.

“When I got a call from the employment service, at first I thought they were joking. I said, ‘I don’t know anything about public services’,” Jennersjö recalls. “But when I met with them, I became intrigued by the fact it was a world I knew nothing about. I also got into the idea of working for a higher purpose, not only for profit.”

“We believe strongly in making our services available remotely. You don’t have to come to our office – you can use the services at your convenience, any time, any place”

Filippa Jennersjö, Arbetsförmedlingen

This meant stepping from a highly digital private company to a 14,000-employee public organisation laden with legacy systems and mostly manual processes. The agency’s IT department acted as an internal service supplier for its business departments, which called the shots on what they wanted and when. No real dialogue or common goals existed between the two sides.

This approach was the first thing Jennersjö wanted to overhaul. She started with building a more open leadership model and a shared understanding of the role of IT. Now the IT department, which consists of approximately 380 internal IT employees and 160 consultants, is rearranged around the idea of being a proactive partner for the agency’s business side.

“Instead of a very hierarchical organisation of command and control, [the management] now talks with each employee about their responsibilities, how they understand where the business is going and who they can cooperate with,” she says. “We have made the new organisation about doing things together. Instead of telling people this is the new structure or a new competence we need, we now build those things together.”

Legacy problems

The employment agency has also dismantled its reliance on large, cumbersome IT projects. Jennersjö has introduced a new delivery model, known as “product management”, where project deliveries are broken into smaller pieces and teams focus on more agile development and continuous delivery.

She admits that getting everyone onboard with the change was a challenge, but it has enabled IT to deliver more and in faster cycles. A crucial factor was – and continues to be – a constant emphasis on competence development. The agency has recruited new digital talent, trained existing employees and hired specialist consultants to work side-by-side with employees to facilitate everyday learning.

But one obstacle for the agency’s digital advances remains. Over the years, the organisation has accumulated a heterogeneous application landscape with various custom systems, point-to-point integrations and only a few shared platforms. 

“IT was the supplier on-demand, and the business didn’t understand common platforms,” says Jennersjö. “So we needed to build a completely different architecture. We need a few common IT systems that everybody will use to build a basis for our digitisation.”

This is what the employment agency is now working hard to put in place. IT and the business departments have agreed on the goal architecture and started the first implementations of the underlying platforms for its customer, workplace and support services, with final deployments expected by the end of 2018.

Creating Jobtech

Against this background it’s no surprise that many were caught off-guard when the agency, in late 2016, announced it would build an open ecosystem and digital platform for private and public employment services. The ecosystem is titled Jobtech, referring to technical innovation in the labour market.

“Some companies were a bit sceptical, as many businesses want to be the focal point of employment services,” says Jennersjö. “We have worked a lot to convince them we aren’t a competitor – our mission is to help people find work.”

The ecosystem idea is based on opening up the agency’s data on Swedish jobseekers and employers to anyone interested, and building the digital platform for employment tools around it. These will include services developed by the employment agency, but the platform is also open to external partners and their apps.

“We are going to have open data, different APIs [application programming interfaces], a development toolbox and, in future, a store where people can download all these different apps and tools,” says Jennersjö.

Job market revolution

The Jobtech platform is still under development, but an early beta version was released in October 2017. This includes a database of competencies that is currently being developed by the agency.

“We believe the future is all about competence matching instead of searching for professions. Professions will come and go, but competencies will stay,” says Jennersjö. “We want to focus more on what competencies a person has, what competencies link together, and what a person could do with these competencies if their old profession disappears.”

Swedish jobseekers can already do searches based on their competencies and skills, instead of the traditional model looking for specific job titles and sectors. But the agency is now working to harness machine learning to analyse how different competencies relate to one other.

“We want to focus more on what competencies a person has, what competencies link together, and what a person could do with these competencies if their old profession disappears”
Filippa Jennersjö, Arbetsförmedlingen

In future, this competencies database will also be connected with the agency’s matching service, which automatically matches jobseekers and employers across different services.

Despite these advances, Jennersjö emphasises that it is still early days for the employment agency’s digital transformation. But it is no longer playing catch-up with the rest of the Swedish public sector.

The next phase for the agency is to improve digitisation internally. Jennersjö is exploring ways to automate its internal processes to support faster decision making and increase data-based insight to evaluate the effectiveness of its different programs. But first, she wants to ensure the basics are in place.

“We still have many of the basic platforms to put in place, and we have to replace our old systems with new, more automated systems. Then we can finally deploy these services to our users [internally and externally]. That is our ambition,” Jennersjö concludes.

Read more Nordic CIO interviews from Computer Weekly

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