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Nordic CIO interview: Emil Dahlin, Svevia

Swedish construction company Svevia is transforming digitally, driven by chief information officer Emil Dahlin

Swedish construction company Svevia has embarked on a path to mobility, innovation and e-commerce. It is the only way to stay competitive in tough market conditions, according to CIO Emil Dahlin

“Traditionally, the construction industry has been behind many other industries [in digitisation],” he says. “But it is a much more competitive market than it used to be, and there are foreign players in Sweden pushing the market. We have to be much more innovative and digitise to enhance our operational efficiency.

Dahlin knows a few things about efficiency. When he first became Svevia’s CIO in 2012, Dahlin started with cost-cutting measures, reducing operational expenditure by 25%. He has since been able to shift the focus to new technologies and skills. The move is reflected in the renaming of the company’s IT organisation as “digital business development and IT”.

Mobility push

Svevia’s digital push started with its internal processes. The company, which specialises in building and maintaining road infrastructure, employs about 2,000 staff dispersed across 100 locations in Sweden and Norway. The challenge is that over half of them spend most of their time at construction sites and on the move, in other words out of reach for a traditional office IT infrastructure.

“[Because of this] we are using a lot of cloud services already,” says Dahlin. “We also have a strategy of deploying mobile tools in all processes where they create new opportunities or improve latency.”

By the end of 2017, Svevia hopes to equip all employees with a tablet or a smartphone so they can access email, intranet and enterprise apps anywhere. This is in preparation for the company’s plan to launch an extensive mobile workplace project in 2018.

The first steps have already been taken. In 2016, Svevia launched and made publicly available a mobile security app targeted at those working alone in dangerous jobs. A worker signs in on the app when they start a job, and if they don’t open the app again within 10 to 15 minutes, an automated SMS alert, or a call, is sent to a nominated contact person with the worker’s geographical location included.

Photo: Mikael-Dubois

“We have a strategy of deploying mobile tools in all processes where they create new opportunities or improve latency”

Emil Dahlin, Svevia

“The app is backed up by a cloud solution, so as soon as a click is registered, even if the phone breaks or coverage goes down, the message is already in the cloud and sent forward regardless,” says Dahlin.

The CIO is also harnessing mobile apps to tackle productivity bottlenecks. Today, Svevia’s road surfacing teams can use a project management app to plan projects and make orders on the go, instead of spending time on office visits.

Another app allows managers to pre-approve purchase orders, so when corresponding invoices come in later they are automatically matched against the pre-approved order. If all the details are correct, they are automatically cleared. 

But mobile tools of this kind are only as effective as the digital processes behind them. Dahlin illustrates this with Svevia’s decision to move entirely into electronic invoicing in January 2016.

“At the beginning, it was a real struggle for the accounts payable department, as you would be surprised how many large vendors in Sweden still don’t invoice digitally,” Dahlin recalls. “With foreign vendors, that is okay, but many large Swedish vendors couldn’t invoice electronically, and that was really surprising.

But the move has paid off, with 92% of the company’s incoming and outgoing invoices now in electronic format.

Read more Nordic CIO interviews from Computer Weekly

  • The CIO at Sweden’s Public Employment Agency has been bringing the organisation in line with other departments’ digital developments.
  • The CIO of the Swedish Pensions Agency discusses its DevOps journey.
  • The Swedish National Land Survey’s CIO talks about the organisation’s approach to digital transformation.
  • Viking Line CIO on his strategy for meeting the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation.
  • Swedish transport authority opens up its IT to ensure it provides customers with a service that suits them.
  • The CIO of alcohol retailer Systembolaget reveals how she addresses the challenge of running IT at the state-owned company.
  • For PostNord, one of the Nordic’s largest logistics companies, the rise of e-commerce means the continual digital rehaul of its business models.

While Dahlin is happy with Svevia’s mobility push so far, he says it wouldn’t be possible without user involvement.

“Coming up with good ideas isn’t difficult, and prototyping isn’t a big thing either – we have good vendors helping with that. The challenge is scaling up, implementing, driving the transformation and getting people to use these new ways of working,” says Dahlin.

His answer is to involve users early in the process of developing new apps or services. He says you cannot assume people will simply start using something – you need to ensure the services are user-centric from the start.

“We need to be an innovation catalyst in the business”
Emil Dahlin, Svevia

The services must also work in various conditions. A lot of Svevia’s work is done in remote areas around the country, making reliable mobile networks crucial.

Some 60 to 80 of its offices are connected to the cloud via 4G. Consequently, the company has established an internal support team responsible for mobile connections and will deploy a new failover system in early 2018. This will provide seamless overflow to another internet service provider if network issues arise.

To be on the safe side, Dahlin has also imposed a rule that business-critical systems always have offline backups of their cloud and mobile-based counterparts.

Innovation bootcamp

Svevia’s digitisation work has seen Dahlin nominated for “Swedish CIO of 2017”, and he is particularly proud of showing what a small IT organisation can achieve.

Svevia has just 27 IT employees and 10 consultants organised in self-managing teams. Dahlin is hiring a few more people to set up a digital business development team with the mandate to work closely with the company’s businesses, customers and suppliers.

“Parts of the business are very adaptive and innovative, and then we have the opposite side where we see there is a struggle every time we want to introduce something new,” he says. “We need to be an innovation catalyst in the business.”

These aspirations are further boosted with a new concept called Svevia Innovation Lab. Run in collaboration with educational partners, the lab will enable the company’s trainees (up to 20 people annually) to get a fresh perspective on its operations. It will culminate in a week-long bootcamp where trainees, Svevia’s staff and supplier representatives work on creating new digitisation ideas for the company’s 2019 development plan.

More immediately, Dahlin will look to improve the company’s digital customer experience in 2018. In particular, he would like to drive e-commerce services in the construction industry as it is one of the areas where he feels the industry is lagging behind other businesses.

“A lot of construction companies are looking at new business models,” he says. “If you can find new value for your customers, so they don’t just look at the lowest price in a tendering competition, then you have [struck] gold.”

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