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Nordic CIO interview: Mikael Ludvigsen, Novozymes

Danish biotechnology company’s CIO tells Computer Weekly about some of the changes he has made to the organisation’s IT department since he arrived 19 months ago

Danish biotechnology company Novozymes wants to ensure its IT operations are always up to date with the technological changes around it. That is the task CIO Mikael Ludvigsen took on 19 months ago.

“They needed someone to give IT a fresh start, to re-energise the IT organisation, strengthen some of the services that were perceived as a bit weak in the eyes of the business and, like everyone else, have more focus on digitisation,” he told Computer Weekly.

And Ludvigsen has hit the ground running. Since joining Novozymes in August 2016, he has implemented a three-pronged approach to revamping the company’s IT. The strategy covers a major service model shift from outsourcing to insourcing, increased transparency of IT’s role in business projects, and exploring new business opportunities from the cloud and big data.

Ludvigsen’s first priority has been to improve Novozymes’ basic IT services, which the company’s global workforce of 6,500 use in their daily work. For Ludvigsen, these services are also crucial building blocks in getting the company ready for wider digitisation.

“If these services don’t work, employees don’t really want to talk about new business opportunities or process improvements, so how can we grasp new technologies and gain better results?” he says. “That is why we are putting so much emphasis on them.”

The project started by turning Novozymes’ IT service model upside down. Traditionally, the company has relied heavily on outsourcing, but Ludvigsen has taken a different approach. He believes providing selected first-line support services – such as on-site support and helpdesk – internally will improve quality and spark a more passionate approach to them.

“When I took over, we had a large number of IT staff in India and most of them were part of a global IT service centre,” says Ludvigsen. “I took them out of the service centre and brought them back to internal IT.”

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This partial transition from external to internal IT providers is expected to be finalised by the end of March 2018. After that, about half of the company’s 160 IT staff will be located in Denmark and the other half in India, with a few in the US.

Ludvigsen is also putting more focus on integrating the company’s Indian and Danish IT organisations. Part of this is a new solutions team that works across both locations on a number of IT projects.

“This has provided quite a boost and lifted motivation, especially for the Indian organisation,” he says. “In the past, they were seen more as a service provider, but now they feel more involved and engaged and part of the company. They now have far more communication with the line of business and are more involved in business projects.”

Transparent collaboration

Although Ludvigsen is happy with the insourcing process so far, it has had its challenges – notably in communication. Some IT staff have felt unsure about their new mandate, such as when can they reach out to business colleagues directly and when should they go through managers.

Ludvigsen tackled this by drawing up 10 guidelines for good consultancy in collaboration with the entire IT team. “We had workshops globally where everyone participated,” he says. “Everyone chipped in on the idea of how we can best succeed in the collaboration with the line of business – and the result is the 10 guidelines.”

Ludvigsen has also introduced what he calls “town hall meetings”. Every six weeks, Novozymes’ entire IT team attends a morning meeting where the company’s business people present their projects, or an external expert shares his or her view on what other companies are doing in various areas of IT.

This focus on communication also flows the other way. Ludvigsen believes a lack of communication and simple dialogue are typical reasons why the business side fails to understand the role that IT plays in their projects.

“We have had a number of meetings to simply state in half an hour what we are doing right now, what we are aiming to do and when they can expect to see a change,” he says. “These simple measures have been some of the best ways to align expectations.”

Recruitment challenges

A lot of the expectations placed on IT stem from the hype surrounding digitisation. Although Ludvigsen does not believe that Novozymes – or the industry it operates in – is facing digital disruption any time soon, assessing and understanding new technologies is a crucial activity for the company.

“We haven’t had any aggressive threats, but we are trying to prepare ourselves for when that situation might arise,” he says, “and to be able to grasp those new opportunities, especially with our own data. We have a number of big data projects we are setting up in the cloud.”

This focus on data has required Novozymes to hire completely new IT talent, such as data and cloud engineers and specialists in machine learning. But in some cases, it has been difficult to find the right people. In Denmark, like the rest of the Nordics, IT talent shortages are a growing problem, and the Danish government predicts that the country will need 19,000 more IT specialists by 2030.

Ludvigsen has experienced this first-hand. For some roles, he has relied on freelancers from eastern European countries and on increased consultancy in India. But because a lot of Novozymes’ business is in Denmark, the company wants to base most of these new roles in its home country.

“One way we have tried to overcome the IT talent shortage is by hiring younger people,” said Ludvigsen. “Younger people who don’t have that many years’ experience, but do have potential. We then try to develop and grow them.”

This is something Ludvigsen expects to do more as he builds up the company’s IT capabilities. The goal he has set for Novozymes’ IT department over the next three years is to become a trusted partner and adviser for the company.

“This means having greater and deeper skills in technology,” says Ludvigsen. “You can easily be swept away and excited about all the new stuff, but we don’t do IT for the sake of IT. We apply technology for the sake of the business. So understanding what we do and in what sequence, as well as what we don’t do, is really important.”

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