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Printed phone directories have become a rarity these days and for Swedish local search and directory company Eniro, this has meant a major focus on online and mobile services.
During his 10 years at Eniro, Mattias Wedar has held various roles, from CIO to local CEO, and he has seen the 120-year-old company’s digital transformation at first hand.
“If the first change was from print to online, the second was from desktop to mobile,” says Wedar. “Overall, we have moved from an analogue to digital business and that impacts everything from leadership and competence to competition and technology.”
While printed directories are still part of Eniro’s business, about 70% of its revenue comes from digital. This includes desktop and mobile search, digital marketing products and directory assistance services.
The group’s sites, which cover Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Poland, attract more than 23 million unique visitors each month.
At the same time, Eniro’s competition has gone global. Although the company has no intention to try to become the new Google, it needs to keep up with the global pace of digital development to take advantage of its local knowhow in the Nordics.
A few years ago, the company realised this could not be achieved with its old processes, so it shook things up with a new unit called UCE (user and customer experience), which was created in 2014 to cover IT, product development and marketing.
“Historically, to put it bluntly, we had one department thinking and the other one doing,” says Wedar. “We felt there were unnecessary barriers between these units and also cultural obstacles between them.
“So we thought: ‘Let’s melt product development and IT into one and have common goals for everyone’.”
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Today, Eniro’s UCE unit has 150 staff organised into largely independent teams. Agile processes were introduced to the company years ago, but the new operational model of decentralised decision-making has been key in turning these processes into practice.
“We wanted to delegate the ownership [of our products] to the product teams and developers,” says Wedar. “We, as the management, give these teams a broad direction of where we want to go, but it is up to them to decide exactly how things are done.”
The UCE unit has been further divided into five departments – commercial development, back-end systems, infrastructure, marketing, and user experience and search. Each of these departments has sub-teams run by a product owner. The structure is aimed at improving the teams’ agility and freedom.
“We have traditionally been a very top-down organisation and I wanted to change that,” says Wedar. “My mindset is that the people furthest away [from the management] are very good and in many instances know things better than I do.”
Although the processes are flowing smoothly now, the transition was not easy for everyone at Eniro. Some of the more technically oriented employees felt the organisation was becoming too business-driven, while the opposite opinion was expressed on the business side. The company lost a few staff, but for Wedar it was a risk worth taking.
“The main reason [for the change] was to get rid of unnecessary interfaces and speed up product development,” he says. “From that aspect, it has been a success and works well for us. Of course we can always do better, but I don’t see those big barriers that consume time and energy any more. We have also established a clear way of working.”
Altough Wedar is happy with the results of UCE so far, there is one thing he would do differently if the process was beginning now.
“I would invest more time in competence building,” he says. “It is a different mindset to work like this.
“What we are still struggling with is that people sometimes expect to be served competence, when we want them to attain competence. We want them to learn by themselves and be interested, follow blogs, read – and we could have invested more time to encourage that.”
But Wedar is already focusing on the next step – to rebuild Eniro’s IT development infrastructure as a cloud-based service to speed up time to market. He describes the company’s current model as “old school” with strict deployment processes and schedules.
“We are modernising our infrastructure platform to give more control to the developers, so they can deploy code more easily, more quickly and more frequently,” says Wedar.
“We are using more and more virtualised components and building our search platform to be more component-based with microservices. You can deploy a microservice without having to deploy the full set, so you can change just one component without the risk of impacting all the others.”
Eniro will soon learn how this works in practice, as the project is scheduled to be complete by the end of this year.
Personalisation with big data
Asked about the role of a modern CIO, Wedar says: “Don’t get too involved in the details.” He admits not always practising what he preaches, but says his main task is to create the overall strategy and give his team direction.
“I like to be operational and I like knowing the details, but my role is to give the team a picture of the direction where we are going, give them inspiration and an idea of what the competition is doing,” he says. “I also provide them with a view on what kind of opportunities digital really gives us.”
Wedar also places a lot of importance on closely following trends in product development and technology, and understanding what they could mean for Eniro. One of the company’s current key initiatives is to learn how to integrate big data and artificial intelligence more closely into its search platform and create a fully personalised user experience.
“We are looking into new ways of building search algorithms where we can get more use of data and not build the same service for everybody,” says Wedar. “Instead, you as a user can get a specific service tailored for you based on your preferences and history. The use of big data in search is one area where we are really investing and building things.”
Eniro sees this not only as a new business opportunity, but as a necessity to stay competitive with the likes of Google and Facebook.
“We are trying to focus on where we can be different and one important aspect of that is that we exist in the local market – we know it and the local data better than the online giants,” says Wedar.