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Top priorities for Nordic CIOs in 2016

What are the main priorities for CIOs in the Nordic region this year? Computer Weekly asks some of the region’s experts

The new year is a time for reflection and resolutions. For businesses, this means setting priorities and goals for the 12 months ahead.

Computer Weekly asked a selection of analysts and CIOs to share their views on the top priorities for Nordic CIOs in 2016. From digitisation to security, there are a variety of topics that will keep IT leaders busy.

Research outfit IDC predicts that more and more companies will embrace digital transformation in 2016, making increasing use of digital technology to reinvent their business and improve operations – and the Nordics are no exception.

Leena Mäntysaari, principal research analyst at Gartner Finland, says digitisation and digital business have become not only a top priority for CIOs, but a theme that affects all areas of IT.

“The pressure from the business side to digitise and create digital products and services is reflected in practically all ICT priorities,” said Mäntysaari. “Analytics, ERP, mobility, cloud services and others are all needed in digitisation.”

The reason for the rise of digital business transformation both in the Nordics and elsewhere is fairly simple: companies want to stay competitive and serve their customers better.

“Many companies experience competition from new digital native companies or see the potential to differentiate or grow their business by leveraging digital technologies to reinvent their business model,” said Anders Elbak, research manager at IDC Nordics.

“Supporting the business in this transformation is a key challenge for most CIOs – some actively driving the transformation, others ‘just’ supporting it.”

Need for modern IT

The importance of modernising IT, whether by individual updates or transformation of legacy systems, was mentioned by most of the experts Computer Weekly contacted. Among the reasons given to renovate IT infrastructure and application portfolios were the need to be more agile and deliver IT more quickly and flexibly.

“Increasing digital demand and customer expectations call for layered IT architecture based on modern platforms with strong APIs, modularity, second-to-none interoperability, and cost-effective scaling,” said Janne Aalto, CIO at Finnish telecoms company DNA.

However, where Nordic CIOs’ priorities differ notably from their international counterparts is in IT systems development, with nordic CIOs emphasising the importance of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

“This applies both to Finland and other Nordic countries, but I have noticed CIOs put ERP development very high [in their priorities],” said Mäntysaari. “They see that the core needs to be renovated to be ready for digitisation and digital business, and ERP is that core.”

This view is echoed by Stig-Göran Flemström, acting CIO of Systembolaget, which has a monopoly on alcohol sales in Sweden, and fellow Swede Elisabeth Stjernstoft, CIO of Apoteket pharmacies, who both put ERP upgrades among their top priorities for 2016.

Looking at further regional differences, IDC’s Elbak notes that Nordic CIOs are relatively more focused on growth than most central and southern European countries. The Nordics also tend to be more focused on business alignment – the use of IT to achieve business objectives – rather than operational efficiency, such as reducing the cost of IT operations.

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Data-related questions will also keep many Nordic CIOs busy in 2016. Data management has become a priority to ensure the right information is available to meet a company’s needs.

“CIOs focus on how to leverage existing or new data to allow management to make faster, more informed decisions,” said Elbak. “Also, security issues and storage capacity challenges compel CIOs to consider data classifications systems, deduplication tools, and so on.”

These challenges become more critical as data is used in ever more varied ways. DNA’s Aalto points out that data management solutions have been designed mainly from the perspective of reporting and business intelligence, but today’s need is to support online business and omnichannel experience with real-time analytics.

The role of analytics – another CIO priority – is changing rapidly in Nordic companies, sais Mäntysaari. An increasing number of smaller firms are following the lead of large corporations by investing in analytics to derive business benefits. Also, the use of analytics has begun to spread across entire organisations.

“The significance of analytics lies in how it can be used to take existing data and transform it into real business value,” said Mäntysaari. “New ways to use analytics are being invented all the time – but its further refinement is still in its early stages.”

Bringing business and IT closer together

Greater co-operation between IT and the business is not a new topic, but with IT becoming increasingly embedded in business development, it is more important than ever.

Mikko Vastela, CIO at Nordic insurance company LähiTapiola, said: “Agile development methods, such as a daily scrum, make it easier for those responsible for business to participate [in development projects], but investment is also needed in better dialogue between business and ICT.

“Significant pressure for this comes from the need for fast development cycles and releases through pilots and beta users. ICT needs good observational skills to ensure that what business sees as a minimum viable product also works from a technical and security points of view.”’

Fred Johnsen, senior management consultant at PA Consulting, believes the importance of greater co-operation between IT and the business stems from customers becoming the single biggest driver of companies’ digitisation.

“CIOs’ relationships with other departments, marketing in particular, should be a priority as these employees are often the most experienced in digital promotion and responding to customer needs,” said Johnsen.

Nordic CIOs also list the alignment of IT with business as a priority to support and improve business processes.

Security still a challenge

Finally, security and privacy issues remain key challenges for CIOs in 2016. With cyber attacks growing in the Nordic region, as in the rest of the world, security plays a vital role in all IT priorities, from digitisation to analytics.

“Cyber attacks are becoming ever more advanced and the use of cloud and mobile solutions only emphasises the challenges,” said IDC’s Elbak. “Recent developments around legislation [such as the EU and Safe Harbour] add to the complexity.

“However, most security solutions have a negative impact on productivity and/or usability, so for all security measures, the risk must be weighed against the value.”

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