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Top IT priorities for Nordic CIOs in 2017

What are Nordic CIOs planning for 2017?

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The New Year is time for new goals and plans, and IT decision makers are no exception. Computer Weekly asked a select group of CIOs and analysts in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden which IT trends topped their priority lists for 2017.

As in many regions of the world, digital transformation was one of 2016’s biggest buzzwords in the Nordic region as organisations induced real change across operations and business models. And IT continues to play a crucial part in this.

“While digital transformation is first and foremost a business priority, IT executives are expected to drive or at least participate in the dialogue about the digital transformation of the business,” said Anders Elbak, research manager at analyst firm IDC Nordic. “Moreover, IT needs to support the transformation, and implement and operate new customer-facing solutions.”

Reclaiming the potential business benefits of digitisation are at the top of the list for many Nordic CIOs, but how this is approached during 2017 will vary.

For example, in the Finnish city of Vantaa, it is being tackled with a digital office expected to open this year. According to Vantaa’s CIO Antti Ylä-Jarkko, the goal of the office is to offer the city’s companies, departments and public utilities executive board level staff to help them navigate digitisation and new digital technologies.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s state-owned alcohol retailer Systembolaget is starting the year by defining the scope and goals of digital transformation across its business, which is among the priorities of its CIO Eva Listi. “A key challenge is how to position IT in an organisation that is rapidly evolving from product-oriented to digital-oriented and addressing a new set of IT-related challenges while retaining the strength of our core IT,” she said.

Artificial intelligence and robotics

Part of digital transformation is the implementation of new technologies to automate and improve business processes. Of particular focus here is artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, which make it possible for software to learn, predict, understand and solve problems.

“My prediction is that these technologies, to a large extent, will replace human beings in various job roles; this is significantly different than solutions for rule-based automation, which are only aiming at taking on specific tasks within a certain role,” said Fred Johnsen, management consultant at PA Consulting in Denmark. 

Read Nordic CIO interviews from 2016

This development has raised robotic process automation (RPA) to the top of many IT task lists in the Nordics. In practice, RPA refers to software “robots” tapping into data analysis, natural language processing and cognitive computing to take over high-volume and repeatable tasks from human workers. Compared to traditional business automation, these robots are capable of adapting to new situations and environments. The city of Vantaa will soon test this in its financial services.

“At the first stage we will automate our financial services centre’s basic processes, such as purchase invoicing,” said Ylä-Jarkko. “We are also considering the potential of executing heavy integrations based on software robotics.”

Similar capabilities are also increasingly applied to customer service functions. There will be a growing number of digital agents or assistants answering our queries and offering 24/7 support in the coming months.

For example, Swedish bank SEB is currently integrating artificial intelligence into its customer services channels, following an internal trial of the technology.

IT and cost efficiency

Nordic CIOs are not only eyeing new technologies, but want to improve the efficiency of IT. Vesa Erolainen, CIO at Finnish engineering giant Pöyry, said if IT previously aimed to do more with less, the trend now is to “do less with less”. IT departments are looking to eliminate futile systems, simplify processes as well as automate services to both manage costs and improve efficiency.

IDC’s Elbak said while IT today is seen as a business enabler, it has not reduced the pressure put on IT organisations to provide better services while, in best case scenarios, maintaining their current budget.

“Utilising IT resources more efficiently, as well as optimising and automating IT services and processes is essential,” he added. “This includes the use of different hosting and sourcing models and especially cloud services.”

This is echoed in the Computer Weekly/TechTarget annual survey, which revealed 52% of Nordic IT decision makers expect their spending on cloud services to be higher in 2017 than the previous 12 months and 37% are focusing on IT automation. 

Bimodal IT and agile development

All IT organisations are looking for a successful balance between old-school IT systems and integrating new technologies and practices. This is where many Nordic IT decision makers are now considering the two-fold approach of separating the traditional and the modern, coined as “bimodal IT” by Gartner.

Gartner describes the two styles of work in this approach: “Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasising safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and non-linear, emphasising agility and speed.” While some experts argue managing separate modes of IT is nothing new, bimodal IT is gathering traction.

“IT as a business enabler and driving force in digitisation drives the need to have a more agile IT organisation to handle legacy transformation as well as inject digital innovation based on new technologies,” according to Mattias Forsberg, CIO at Scandinavian Airlines.

Similar to this thinking are agile development models, such as DevOps, and fast prototyping increasingly being adopted by Nordic corporate IT.

Security and privacy

Security and privacy issues underpin all IT decisions today, not least due to the growing number of connected devices and cyber threats. At Systembolaget this means incorporating security more deeply across its organisation.

“As information is increasingly recognised as a key asset, we are reshaping our information security model, incorporating [it into] all aspects of the business,” said Listi. “The new model will be centred around a new chief security officer position as responsibility for this key asset should not reside solely within the realm of IT.”

What makes privacy consideration particularly topical in 2017 is preparation for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which all companies must adhere to by May 2018. With a potential fine of up to €20m or 4% of a company’s revenue, Elbak said preparation for GDPR should be found on every CIO’s priority list.

“In order to adhere, organisations need to map out and document all data flows inside and outside the organisation, appoint a data protection officer, and implement IT security technologies and process changes,” Elbak concluded.

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