CIO interview: Eva Listi, Systembolaget

The new CIO of alcohol retailer Systembolaget tells Computer Weekly how she addresses the challenge of running IT at the state-owned company

According to Eva Listi, the new CIO of Swedish alcohol retailer Systembolaget, the key factors to success for an IT department are its relationship with the business as a whole, having the right people in place and visible leadership.

Systembolaget is not your average retailer. The state-owned company is the only retailer in Sweden allowed to sell alcoholic beverages of above 3.5%. This monopoly of the market is not used to drive profit, but deliver a government promise to “minimise alcohol-related problems by selling it in a responsible way”. Such a value-based approach has its own impact on IT.

“What attracted me to this position was having full accountability for IT in a value-based company that contributes to society,” says Listi. “Being part of the executive team was also an attractive prospect of this particular CIO role.”

“Social responsibility covers everything in the company, including IT. For example, our website should not encourage consumers to buy more alcohol than intended. All development activities need to be carried out with this in mind,” says Listi. “Regardless of being a monopoly, large companies with a nationwide presence always face challenges, and our systems and IT people need to be prepared for them.”

This is why Systembolaget is in the midst of making sure it has the right IT capabilities for the future. The first task for Listi, who joined the company in March 2016, has been to take over a major IT modernisation project.

Nationwide modernisation

In 2014, Systembolaget launched the Modernised Business System (MAS), a project targeted specifically at improving business effectiveness.

“Our enterprise resource planning system is based on the products of Swedish software supplier IFS, and we needed a new version of it. But we will also bring in a lot of new requested functionalities for almost all of our business, with a focus on the floor of our retail shops,” she says. “Modernisation is now essential to meet business needs. New functionality will save a lot of time when it comes to the logistical process, making orders and meeting customers.”

While the project will bring access to more data and more efficient systems, Listi highlights the introduction of handheld devices in all of Systembolaget’s 431 retail stores across Sweden. The aim is to improve inventory and information management for the company’s 5,000 employees, most of which work on the shop floor. It will soon be clear how well the new system works in practice, but Listi is happy with the results of testing and how the project has run so far.

“New functionality will save a lot of time when it comes to the logistical process, making orders and meeting customers”

Eva Listi, Systembolaget

 

“People are prepared for the change in business and IT,” she says. “Structured change management with clear communication and detailed preparation have been key. The business and our main suppliers have been very close to the project, working alongside IT.”

Listi says a lot of the credit goes to the project management team that has ensured there is a detailed plan and clear communication between everyone.

“Working as a team is the most important success factor, but it has also been a great challenge as there are at least six or seven suppliers involved,” says Listi. “They all have different company cultures and work methods. We have had a very precise plan and clear structure of management. Everything has gone very well.”

Tap into the “hivemind”

While Systembolaget is Listi’s first stab at the retail world, she has worked in IT with multinational corporations before, including Ericsson for over 30 years. In that time, she has seen IT change from technology-oriented support function to information-led partner for the core business.

Despite this, people have remained at the heart of IT. Listi refers to the importance of a team as a “hivemind”, which means the value of getting people actively involved in projects and working as one unit.

“I have many years of experience in managing successful teams and delivering IT,” says Listi. “What I base my leadership on is my team – the hivemind – and clear goals and targets that can be measured short and long term. I want to create an environment where we can get the excellent people I have around me to achieve their very best. Having a clear IT strategy is the most important part of this.”

Read more Nordic CIO interviews

A new, updated IT strategy is what this hivemind is currently working on. It will be the measuring stick for all the company’s upcoming IT projects and bring an increased focus on digitisation.

It will also help guide Systembolaget’s outsourcing strategy. Most of the company’s IT is outsourced, while the internal team focuses on architecture, product and portfolio management, and applications and supplier governance. Listi sees this is a good way for a medium-sized organisation to remain up to date in its IT delivery.

“Our suppliers are far more capable of providing modern IT services than we are,” she says. “I think this is the best way to organise IT. We have an IT organisation that drives and requests services, follows up, and manages governance with the suppliers, so we constantly stay in tune with what is happening in the market.”

Systembolaget also operates an in-house IT services desk. Its staff has been selected on the basis of long experience in the business, and a good understanding of both its IT processes and the work done in the stores.

“When people call the desk with issues, we know them by name and have an understanding of the business and the urgency,” says Listi. “It is something I have not had before in my previous roles, but I feel it is something very special. It is as important to focus on relationships as it is to follow processes.”

Information takes centre stage

Listi says the modernisation project has taken almost all of the IT team’s energy for the past few years. With deployment now close, it is turning its focus to the new IT strategy scheduled to launch in 2017.

“We will start to look more into digitisation, what it means for us and how we can work more innovatively,” says Listi. “For us, digitisation should not be about selling more, but about providing better services so we can continue to satisfy our customers and communicate to them the damaging effects of alcohol.”

In addition to the more traditional approaches of cloud services, big data and mobility, Listi’s team has identified robotics and sensors as potential technologies for Systembolaget’s future logistical processes.

The goal is to continue the simplification of processes across the company to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Listi believes there is one key element to achieving such an aim. “In the end, everything comes back to switching from technology-centric to more information-centric IT,” she says. “It is the core foundation for the business in the future.”

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