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Top 10 Nordic IT stories for 2018

Here are Computer Weekly's top 10 Nordic articles for 2018, with a look back at CIO interviews and the effect of AI on the region

The Nordic region is pioneering when it comes to the use of IT in society and business. In many ways, the region is a test bed for the most advanced implementations of technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI).

It is for this region that the Swedish university, the Stockholm School of Economics, carried out a major study into the potential impact of AI. Despite fears of huge job losses, the study found that more jobs would be created in the long term.

In other news surrounding robots taking people’s jobs, find out why one bank has sacked its robot, with Nordnet ending its development and use of cognitive agent Amelia, from IPsoft.

But Amelia has received a more positive response from Swedish bank SEB, which is pleased with its functionality and performance and will continue to use and develop it for customer services.

In this list, we also feature a closer look at what some of the Nordic region’s top IT executives are up to. Find out what principles guide Jussi Sorvali in his role as CIO at smartphone maker HMD Global, with cloud, speed and scalability seeming to be the words at the forefront of his strategy.

Also find out how Mikael Ludvigsen, CIO of Novozymes, hit the ground running when he started his role at the at Danish biotechnology company.

We also feature interviews with Handicare CIO Helena Skarle, and Anders Johanson, chef technology officer (CTO) at Swedish power tool maker Husqvarna.

1. Swedish study talks up benefits of artificial intelligence

A study by researchers at Sweden’s prestigious Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), which looks ahead at the likely impact of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics on people’s lives, should calm the nerves of economic planners and private citizens.

The SSE study The substitution of labour concluded that the introduction of automation technologies will be gradual, and the long-term potential for society is job creation rather than job losses. The study took the fundamental view that the potential to automate non-routine tasks is likely to remain limited.

This is the fifth report produced under the SSE’s three-year research project into the internet and its direct and indirect effects on innovation and the Swedish economy. The project is being funded by Sweden’s Internet Foundation, Internetstiftelsen i Sverige.

2. CIO interview: Jussi Sorvali, HMD Global

Cloud, speed and scalability – these principles have guided Jussi Sorvali as he has built up HMD Global’s IT from scratch.

The smartphone maker, which was set up in 2016 and is behind the new wave of Nokia phones, needed to get its IT operations up and running in a matter of months.

“I jumped into this role in summer 2016, and the company was officially published the following December,” says Sorvali, who is CIO at Finland-headquartered HMD Global. “We announced our first smartphones in February 2017 and had our ERP [enterprise resource planning] working by May, so we could actually start selling the phones.”

The fast pace meant Sorvali didn’t have time for a traditional large-scale IT deployment. Instead, he chose to go for full-on cloud, including SAP Business ByDesign cloud ERP.

3. Swedish government and industry address IT skills shortage

Sweden’s innovative and expansive IT sector is facing a future skills shortage, and education and immigration reforms are part of the remedy.

A shortage of candidates for certain niche jobs, such as systems architecture and programmers, already exists in key industrial areas such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.

Sweden’s IT skills shortage comes amid a shrinking labour pool as the national unemployment rate falls. Unemployment dropped from 7.4% to 7.2% in June.

Another concern for the IT industry is Sweden’s low birth rate and ageing population, which threaten to impede growth prospects for the national economy.

4. CIO interview: Mikael Ludvigsen, Novozymes

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.

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.

5. Norway government backs ambitious datacentre investment plan

Norway, in no mood to lag behind the rapid forward leaps recorded by near neighbours Sweden and Denmark, has rolled out an ambitious new strategy to position the country as a leading location for IT-datacentre operations.

The project development strategy now being championed by prime minister Erna Solberg’s conservative-led government, under its Norway As A Data Centre Nation (NADCN) plan, represents a shot across the collective bow of Denmark and Sweden.

These near neighbours have been hugely successful in using their cold climates and easy access to renewable energy to attract significant datacentre investments. The list of high-profile global industry players that have, since 2010, invested in datacentres in Sweden and Denmark include Apple, Facebook and Google.

6. CIO interview: Helena Skarle, Handicare

For more than 30 years, the IT industry has bemoaned the lack of women entering the field. For just as long, IT departments have struggled to “get close to the business”, as changing corporate priorities have outpaced technology development.

Although these are very different problems, they may have similar solutions, according to Helena Skarle, executive vice-president of strategy and IT at Handicare, a global supplier of stairlifts and equipment for people with reduced mobility.

At the age of 31, Skarle took over the most senior IT role in the company. It was not long before she noticed the gender imbalance – and the reason for it. 

“I noticed IT is very male-dominated,” she says. “It is very difficult to say why, but I also know that when we recruit, it is very difficult to get applications from women. Even if we have a policy of having a 50/50 male-female split, it is nearly impossible to get that number of female applicants.”

7. Nordnet drops AI assistant while SEB deepens collaboration

Nordnet’s decision to discontinue development and use of cognitive agent Amelia in its evolving AI services framework is a setback for supplier IPsoft in Sweden.

IPSoft can however take comfort from the fact that another Swedish bank, SEB, appears generally pleased with Amelia’s functionality and overall performance to date. SEB plans to continue to utilise the Amelia-AI “digital employee” platform to enhance its customer service offerings.

The fundamental difference between SEB and Nordnet’s strategic thinking and views on Amelia are largely based on the size and resources available to each organisation. As one of Sweden’s top five banks, SEB has a much larger digital development budget and more expansive AI-services programme than the minnow-sized and cost-focused Nordnet.

8. CTO interview: Anders Johanson, Husqvarna

Swedish power tool maker Husqvarna Group is using the latest digital technologies to transform its business, and CTO Anders Johanson is helping the company rise to the challenge.

The outdoor power tool maker, which operates in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) domains, is developing digital products to complement its hardware.

The group’s Husqvarna and Construction divisions focus on professional customers, while the Gardena division caters for private customers.

Much of Husqvarna’s innovation strategy originates from Johanson and his team.

Digital services include connected lawn mowers, which are already on the market. This is part of Husqvarna’s Gardena Smart System, an internet of things (IoT) solution for gardening in an integrated system.

9. Danish government launches wide-ranging digital services project

The Danish government has announced a digital project that includes 22 separate initiatives, including an app-based citizens digital platform that can be used to access all publicly held data on Danish citizens.

The World-Class Digital Service (WCDS), as it is known, was introduced by The Ministry for Public Sector Innovation (MPSI) with the objective to implement an integrated approach to accelerate the process of digitisation in Denmark’s public sector.

The societal changing aspect of the WCDS is reflected in certain high-profile initiatives. One of the most prominent of these is a Digital Healthcare project that would enable homecare services’ recipients to access professional support and communicate directly with medical teams, or specific health specialists, over digital platforms.

10. Finnish city Espoo trials artificial intelligence for community support

Finland is fast becoming a major Nordic and European powerhouse in the development of artificial intelligence technologies and applications.

The latest chapter in this technology journey, and one which has captured the attention of municipal authorities across Finland, is the City of Espoo’s Customer-Centric Project (CCP).

The project has seen Espoo’s authorities bring in IT group Tieto to test a range of AI models that could be employed to provide greater efficiency in the delivery of specialised frontline services.

A satellite of metropolitan Helsinki, Espoo is Finland’s second largest city and municipality, with 270,000 residents.

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