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The growing importance of the Nordic CIO

IT is becoming more important to businesses, in part due to the digital revolution, and the women and men who lead IT are now increasingly coveted

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Nordics: CW Nordics – November 2015 Edition

As digitisation gathers pace across the Nordic region, the role of the IT leader is changing. Once the realm of a technology expert, today’s CIO role needs to be filled by someone more comfortable in the boardroom than the server room.

These rapidly changing requirements mean a shortage of experienced IT leaders, hence Nordic companies are doing everything they can to keep hold of their existing digital talent.

When Hans-Petter Aanby went freelance after nine successful years at Norwegian Air Shuttle, it didn’t take long for struggling competitor SAS Scandinavian Airlines to approach him. The airline, on the verge of bankruptcy at the time, wanted his expertise for a two-month project.

“The short engagement was to ensure that all IT systems related to flight operations would function for 48 hours after a potential bankruptcy. The aim would be to bring all SAS-owned aircraft back to Scandinavia if the bankruptcy occurred,” said Aanby.

“During this process, Norwegian’s lawyers sent a letter both to me and the chairman of SAS demanding I leave SAS within 24 hours or the case would be sent to court. I received the letter in person at my door on a Saturday, with a demand for an answer that same morning. It was a very strange way to handle the situation.”

Norwegian Air Shuttle lost the case in the district court but, according to Aanby, continued to pursue him for a few months longer before finally giving up the chase. By this time, SAS had seen off the threat of bankruptcy and engaged Aanby as CIO on a consultancy basis.

Tying down senior staff

For many years, human resources departments have tried to insert increasingly restrictive clauses in the contracts of high-level managers to prevent them walking out to the competition.

This is a growing trend in the IT world, according to Tor Kristiansen, managing partner at Detektor Executive Search AS.

Read more interviews with Nordic CIOs

“Companies have many options open to them to keep their star performers. It’s common for contracts to contain non-compete clauses for a certain time period. Shares of ownership are more frequently offered and there is more focus on the individual by way of professional projects and strategic career planning,” he said.

Kristiansen said senior IT staff are also more frequently offered the chance to join the highest level of management, reflecting the increased importance of IT in all industries.

“As the gap between IT and business closes, we see today’s CIO needing to be more of a professional management consultant, able to offer strategic advice in the boardroom,” he said.

“At the highest level, the biggest IT skill requirements are now commercial. Business intelligence using big data, especially in finance and insurance, and management of outsourced operations are crucial elements for the CIO to understand.”

A new challenge

Another big name mover in Norway is Kolbjørn Haarr, who left Nordic consultancy Tieto in March 2015. Due to a nine-month period of gardening leave, Haarr is still waiting to take up his new role heading up a re-organised department at Norwegian IT consultancy Evry, which was acquired by private equity fund Apax in late 2014.

“The new owners have the resources and the ambition to take Evry to the next level,” said Haarr. “Evry is already the biggest IT player in Norway, with lots of public and private sector contracts where it can have a positive impact on society. I truly believe it’s important for the whole Norwegian IT industry for Evry to continue to succeed and evolve. It’s important to show a big company can succeed in Norway and I feel that, with my background and international experience, I can play a part.”

There aren’t many senior IT managers in Norway with such an international profile and experience, so Haarr wasn’t too surprised to be contacted following Apax’s acquisition of Evry.

Tieto has enforced a notice period of nine months, however. “Most senior contracts contain clauses to restrict movement to the competition or enforce a period of gardening leave. I would love a shorter notice period since I would like to get started as soon as possible,” said Haarr.

Although he’s keen to get started at Evry, Haarr is making the most of the time he’s had to recharge his batteries and sharpen his skills.

“First and foremost, I’ve used the time to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily have time for, such as longer holidays and travelling. In addition, I now have more time to read. I’m able to follow changes in the industry far more closely, but also take the time to study technology trends in more detail. To have the time to do this during such a key phase of digitisation is a privilege. I’m also a board member of a company, so I’m not out of the corporate world completely,” he said.

Better targeting of CIO recruitment

Increased poaching of top candidates is now more likely, according to Kristiansen, not just because of the march towards digitisation, but also because of greater transparency and increased visibility of talent and achievements.

“Our industry has far more effective search tools than ever before,” he said. “The old system of posting a job advert and waiting for responses is long gone, at least at the executive level. Today our job is more about proactively searching for candidates with very specific profiles. When we discuss a role specification with a client, they want people who have successfully delivered big data and outsourcing projects, for example.”

But a shortage of qualified CIOs in the Nordics won’t necessarily lead to an influx of foreign talent. Despite a high standard of living and excellent conditions of employment, Norway’s salaries are often a sticking point in what remains an expensive country in which to live.

“Scandinavia’s high standard of living does attract senior staff from abroad, but the salary expectations and language and cultural challenges at senior levels may often be a challenge,” Kristiansen.

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