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CIO interview: Ulrica Holmgren, Telenor Sweden

The Swedish CIO of telecoms provider Telenor tells Computer Weekly about the company’s agility, pilot projects and the digital journey

Ulrica Holmgren, CIO of the Swedish arm of Norwegian telecoms company Telenor, is putting her energy into digitising the business, as a direct response to customer demands.

“Our customers are very accustomed to digitised things, and we have to adapt to this,” she says, adding they’re mature users of telecoms services who “use a lot more mobile data than the average Swede”.

The reason for this strategy is simply because Telenor has marketed itself to this segment of customers. “To be able to deliver on our customers’ expectations, we need a strong core and a strong front end,” she says, while also conceding the company has some catching up to do.

Telenor has grown significantly in Sweden, both organically and through acquisitions, says Holmgren: “It is a positive thing, since it means we have more customers. But it is challenging from an IT perspective, since we keep adding to our IT architecture.”

Holmgren is now attempting to make the core IT stable, reliable and effective, and is putting a lot of effort into the front end, where it connects with customers.

“It is primarily about mobile interaction, but also about strengthening our customer relationships on the web,” she adds.

Customers and salespeople as one

As a result, Telenor’s salespeople are going to get better support for their customer interactions, adds Holmgren.

“Our vision is that our customers and salespeople are going to be able to see exactly the same things. We want them to have the same interface, because that means transparency,” she says.

However, Telenor in Sweden will not transform in isolation. The company will make the journey globally, a change in approach for the company. “We will take much more advantage of our presence in 13 countries, and will share systems between countries much more than today,” says Holmgren. 

Telenor has a global chief technology officer (CTO) and one person responsible for IT in each country. “I belong to the Swedish organisation, and report to the Swedish CEO, but I’m also part of the global network of CIO,” she adds. 

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But Holmgren’s role is set to change as Telenor carries out more global projects. “The CIO roles in Telenor Group will become more focused on the particular country’s customers, instead of on technical solutions,” she says.

Telenor in Sweden has about 1,800 employees, and its IT department consists of about 200 people.

“We have a large part of our IT operations and development outsourced, so we have lots of cooperation with our outsourcing partners. But, we have to strike a balance, and make sure that we have the right competence in-house when it comes to, for example, IT architecture,” says Holmgren.

Chasing waterfalls

Telenor is becoming more agile in its way of thinking. “We’ve tried this out, in pilot projects, and we will use this way of working more and more, since we will have to adapt to changing customer demands. We will need shorter cycles which means the waterfall model will not work,” says Holmgren.

“We are used to the waterfall model in all parts of the company, both in IT and the business. So we have to make big changes, both when it comes to governance and culture,” she says. “We will also have to sort out some technical demands on testing environments and things like that, but that is the easy part,” she adds.

Pilots projects and uncertainty

Holmgren has learned that when going agile, it’s hard to change ingrained patterns, and it can be “hard to break up the traditional client/customer relationship we have between IT and the business”.

“An agile way of working also means a greater degree of uncertainty, and we are not used to that. That is why I believe in trying this new way of working in pilot projects, instead of rolling it out across the entire organisation,” she says.

Holmgren, who became CIO of Telenor Sweden in June 2015, has previously held several other management roles in the company. “I make good use of the fact that I previously took part in the decision-making process in different parts of the company,” she says.

Making fast decisions before having all the information “is what the day-to-day work is all about for me”, says Holmgren, but it is “equally important to separate out which things I have to investigate further”.

“I am thankful that I have networks in Telenor Group, so that I can share problems and make common decisions. I see it as an incredible asset to have access to all our other countries’ competences,” she concludes. 

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