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Nordic CIO interview: Vesa Erolainen, Pöyry

Doubts were raised when Vesa Erolainen, CIO at Finnish engineering and consulting company Pöyry, outlined his IT transformation plan, but he ended up winning an award for it

Vesa Erolainen, CIO at Finnish engineering and consulting company Pöyry, is a man with the courage of his convictions.

Although many people doubted that Erolainen could pull off a complete IT overhaul of the 6,000-strong company in four years, that is exactly what he has done.

He tells Computer Weekly: “We have changed practically everything from operating models and networks to partners and systems. Previously we used all kinds of backup systems, management software and device brands, but everything has now been consolidated.”

When Erolainen was appointed CIO and started his transformation project in 2012, nobody really understood Pöyry’s full IT infrastructure.

Over the years the company had grown through several acquisitions and expanded to 40 countries, but while business was good, its IT operations had mushroomed into several largely independent and local IT units.

“There used to be something like 40 different active directories and almost every unit had their own local networks and different systems,” says Erolainen. “The top management wanted to find cost savings and modernise our IT environment to make it more agile.”

IT transformed

Today Pöyry’s IT is drastically different. The company has one active directory to manage user data globally, and all main business systems have been moved to the cloud. At the same time, local IT units have been merged into a single business-focused organisation, and basic IT operations have been outsourced to Indian supplier Infosys.

“Previously IT was a support function,” Erolainen says. “After these changes we have been able to introduce a completely new mindset in the company. IT has become a valued partner for our business units, and they have access to much more valuable data.”

CIO of the Year

The speed and scale of Pöyry’s transformation gained Erolainen the title of CIO of the Year by Finnish IT publication Tietoviikko in April. The jury highlighted how previously separate IT units had been welded into one centralised organisation with a unified operating model.

Erolainen stresses it has been a demanding process for everybody in the company. Because of outsourcing and the removal of overlapping tasks, Pöyry IT staff numbers have fallen from 160 to 70 over the past four years and their roles have shifted from coding to service delivery management.

“This has been a personal transformation for all IT employees, but also a major change for the business staff,” according to Erolainen. He says that IT support is a good example of what has happened: “Previously almost all our locations had local tech support, so the move to a global support centre in India and an SLA-based model has been dramatic.”

Transparent transformation

To help drive the transformation Erolainen has focused particularly on managing people’s expectations and perceptions through open discussion and communication.

“When people could ask a local IT person to take care of an issue they felt like they got rid of the problem quickly – even if solving it took a lot longer than our new model,” Erolainen recalls “When you are fighting against these kinds of perceptions, you need to be able to put facts and figures on the table.”

At Pöyry the numbers have been clear. According to Erolainen, user satisfaction improved by 20% in the full first year following the implementation of centralised IT and outsourcing.

Read more Nordic CIO interviews:

‘Good-enough IT’

For Erolainen the key success factor in Pöyry’s rapid IT transformation has been establishing the right mindset – in other words, understanding what is important for the project.

“For this project our main focus was the timetable, and of course costs,” he says. “The fastest way to kill this kind of a project is to become a perfectionist.”

To tackle the issue Erolainen made ‘good enough’ the objective. On a scale of bad, good and perfect, the target was somewhere between good and perfect to save time costs. 

“After you have reached the 80% level in a project, you typically start to spend a lot more time and money perfecting it while productivity goes down,” Erolainen explains. “Depending on what we were doing, we tried to find an optimal level where we had all we needed but not much more. Introducing this mindset to our staff has been crucial for the project.”

Erolainen acknowledges that the approach typically requires subsequent extra work for fine tuning, but says this has rarely been the case for Pöyry.

User input

A major part of Pöyry’s IT modernisation has involved tapping into the cloud. In addition to implementing cloud-based HR management and customer relationship management systems, the need for more collaborative tools saw the company shift from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Office 365.

But this didn’t happen via the traditional migration route. What has always irked Erolainen in similar conversions is that end-users rarely get a say on the data (such as emails, files and calendar entries) being transferred over.

“We started to think about if we could find a solution where people could themselves decide which, where and how much data is transferred,” he says.

$1,500 cloud transformation

Despite many of Pöyry’s partners dismissing the idea, Erolainen decided to trial a self-service approach which he called the Ikea model. The IT team wrote extensive guidance and deployed a simple interface where end-users could choose the data they wanted transferred and do the conversion themselves as a one-off task.

To minimise risk Erolainen trialled the process with his IT team, then with a 300-member pilot team, before expanding the model across the company. Each department did its conversion on a specific day and the IT team, including Erolainen himself, was always present to give advice if needed.

“The whole IT organisation really came together through this project and we got to work closely with all the business units,” he says.

And the cost of the conversion? According to Erolainen a $1,500 credit card payment to license the software. This lowered the project’s price tag significantly.

“The end-users got what they wanted and we got a very cost-efficient solution”
Vesa Erolainen, CIO, Pöyry

“The traditional conversion model would have cost up to €1m. Of course, this took a lot of work, but the end-users got what they wanted and we got a very cost-efficient solution,” adds Erolainen. “Many people said we cannot do this, but we took it as just one option. You need to be ready to do things differently.”

This is the attitude Erolainen has also adopted going forward. With the transformation project now largely finalised, the IT focus has shifted to working with Pöyry’s different business units, explore new technologies to improve old processes and develop new services.

“Now that we have a working infrastructure, which doesn’t require a lot of manual work, we can spend our time trying out the opportunities of digitalisation,” Erolainen says. “Innovation is 100% hard work – you get new, better ideas through trial and error.”

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

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