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CIO interview: Mikael Pommert, Modern Times Group

Modern Times Group's CIO tells Computer Weekly about the challenges and benefits of moving an established business to the cloud

Swedish entertainment group Modern Times Group (MTG) is transforming from traditional broadcaster to digital entertainer, a challenge that comes down to moving to the cloud and changing employees’ habits for CIO Mikael Pommert.

He says changing platforms to the cloud is not the hard part. “Unfortunately, there are people involved as well, and they are what makes it hard to change systems. It is really hard to change people’s habits.”

This holds true for all companies, according to Pommert. But MTG has a particular challenge, since its employees are used to thinking in terms of linear TV. “We are used to things happening in a sequence – first this, then that, and so on.

“We have to be more fast-moving and digital. But digital is really just a buzzword – the person who can explain what digital actually means should get the Nobel prize. But for us, digital transformation is all about moving away from traditional infrastructure and the traditional way of working, and instead using the cloud.”

But Pommert has not always held this view. He used to be very sceptical about the cloud. “I saw that cloud meant inferior service level agreements, and that you were no longer able to customise the software. It was one size fits all, and I felt we were too special for that.

“But when I raised my gaze, I saw that other companies had successfully adapted to this. It is a challenge to change people’s habits to fit the systems, and we are going to meet that challenge. And we are, of course, going to configure the systems – we are just not going to customise them.”

From legacy IT to the cloud, step by step

MTG was founded in 1987, and has lots of big and important legacy systems, according to Pommert.

He would prefer to throw out all of MTG’s IT systems and replace them with cloud alternatives now, but admits that is not realistic. “I have to be a realist. I do not have an unlimited IT budget, and it takes time to change people’s habits. Therefore, I am beginning with the systems that have the greatest impact for the least cost,” he says.

“New companies can very easily go digital and become flexible. They can easily set up Gmail or Microsoft Office 365, and set up servers in Amazon or Microsoft Azure. But if you have run a company for 30 years, you have a lot of legacy. It is a real challenge.”

Mikael Pommert, Modern Times Group: “For us, digital transformation is all about moving away from traditional infrastructure and the traditional way of working, and instead using the cloud”

Even so, MTG has already moved many systems to the cloud. “Our IT operations for corporate IT is outsourced, and we have a private cloud in our outsourcing partner’s datacentre. We are also using public clouds, primarily Amazon and Azure,” says Pommert.  

But because MTG has a broad portfolio of systems, there are still lots left to replace.

Scalability and flexibility are biggest cloud benefits 

According to Pommert, moving to the cloud does not automatically mean fewer resources are needed: “It is a common misconception. It is very important that people considering the cloud understand that it might mean you can reduce your staff and save money, but that is not guaranteed.”

The most important benefits of cloud are its scalability and flexibility, according to Pommert.

“When we need more resources for one of our cloud-based applications, we just turn it up. A good example is reporting. We now have the ability to scale up resources and run reports in a matter of minutes, whereas in the past it would be a scheduled overnight job.” 

He says the cloud’s flexibility also allows MTG to test things out. For example, it would previously take several weeks to set everything up to try out a new application: “We had to buy a server, get it up and running, install the operating system and load the application. Now, we can be up and running in a few minutes – it is magical.”

Getting staff buy-in takes a lot of effort

But staff sometimes complain of cloud-based applications being less responsive, according to Pommert.

“MTG’s employees are used to having the server as an on-premise installation, so they are spoilt with extremely rapid access and responsiveness. So even though many vendors have done a really good job with the responsiveness, making it hardly noticeable that staff are working in the cloud instead of in a locally installed application, is a noticeable difference I cannot sweep under the carpet,” he says.

Since Pommert thinks people are just as important to consider as technology when replacing old IT systems with new cloud-based systems, he puts a lot of effort into making sure the transition goes smoothly.

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“We use our intranet to inform employees about new functionality. But it is better if the users do not know that there has been a change, rather they just log in on Monday morning and see a new icon. It should be intuitive, and that is a big challenge for us. The employees should not be required to read a manual or go on a course to use the new systems,” he says.

Another way to get employees to embrace new systems is to make them feel that there is added value, according to Pommert.

“We used to have dongles to access our VPN. Now we use a smartphone application instead, and the employees see that as a positive change. That makes it easier to get them to accept and use the new system,” he says.

As consumer technology and applications improve, so staff demand more from MTG’s IT function, according to Pommert. “The employees are comparing our services with what they are doing on their smartphones, where everything is really simple and intuitive.”

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