Digital transformation is much more than a face lift — it requires a rethink of the entire the IT value chain.
Since 2011, Tom-Kenneth Fossheim has worked at Fjordkraft, Norway's largest electricity retailer and a rapidly growing mobile operator, as the Chief Technology Officer. We caught up with Tom to ask him what has changed during his career, what he sees as the future of enterprise IT, and how technology can help to drive innovation and ROI.
After a long, unprofessional “career” as the local IT nerd back in the 80s and 90s, my professional career started in 2001 when I landed a job as a developer for a large Norwegian ISP called NextGenTel.
After developing java applications, I was promoted to the position of Development Manager, and onto the role of IT Operations Manager — before changing to the oil and gas industry in 2011 working as Chief Technology Officer at Sharecat Solutions delivering SaaS solutions to major oil and gas operators like BP and Shell. One project highlight was heading the implementation project for a new global information catalogue for Shell, built on Microsoft Azure, as well as being responsible for the company’s migration of legacy systems to Azure.
In 2011, I moved from fossils to renewable energy when I joined Fjordkraft as their first Chief Technology Officer.
I’m a big fan of working on the really interesting, entertaining and creative stuff. Any mundane, repetitive — and quite frankly — boring task should be, if at all possible, outsourced to an IT service like a robot or a VPA. Hence, when I started out as a developer, my goal was to get rid of all these boring manual tasks for myself and my co-workers so that we could focus on being innovative and having more fun.
There is a real danger in focusing on automation and optimization alone that easily turns into a mere cost-cutting opportunity.
Luckily, I don’t believe that IT and business are as far apart as they used to be in this regard; IT is no longer seen as just 'a necessary evil’ but as a primary capability for growth and transformation. As well as remaining the vehicle for running cost-efficient operations of course.
I attribute this change in the IT-to-Business relationship to both parties maturing, and taking steps to better understanding each other. Also, the way technology itself has changed from an obscure, "automagical beast" that could only be tamed by the IT wizards, to being a pervasive fabric of user-friendly, household items fully integrated in our lives, has played a key role.
We all live in the digital mesh, contributing and consuming data and services in various digital ecosystems. In Fjordkraft, we believe we need to be a natural part of the mesh, and the relevant ecosystems, and we are working on several very interesting projects related to this.
We pay close attention to reports by expert bodies such as Gartner, Forrester, Future Today Institute and the Harvard Business Review, and have increased our internal spending on several relevant areas.
Some trends and technologies that I find extremely fascinating these days are AI, machine learning and big data - they are already starting to impact our business processes and our decision making, and we believe this will increase further in the years to come. I’m really looking forward to having a VPA that can do more than add appointments in my calendar, sing songs and tell jokes…
It’s hard not to mention blockchain when talking about hype. With a wide variety of potential use cases in addition to BTC, e.g. IOTA, this is an interesting technology for us to keep an eye on. Hopefully there will be some interesting use cases in the next few years.
I believe the segregation between IT and “the rest of the company” is no longer as clear as it was before. While many IT services are still being managed on premise with full control, an increasing number of cloud services are being adopted across different parts of the company alike. At Fjordkraft, we work closely together with the rest of the company to understand the different user groups and their goals in order to deliver services that allow us to grow and transform together.
Traditionally, IT has been more concerned with platform and technology homogeneity than user experience. We might have spent more time looking at TCO breakdowns and technical specs than on how we’ll meet user expectations. We might also believe, in earnest, that we know exactly which CRM system the sales team really needs, or which CMS system our web master really needs, but forcing our preferences or beliefs onto business users is not the way to go.
We need to view the users as highly skilled professionals who have a lot more experience in actually using the services than we do. To me, this is essential to running a modern IT department.
Fjordkraft is the first company I’ve worked at that has a very clear link across executive vision to core values and strategic goals, down to the key activities in each division, department and team. I’m very happy and fortunate to work in such an environment as this allows us to focus on contributing to the overarching company goals before we look at the technical solutions.
In this sense, ROI of IT in Fjordkraft is directly linked to the results of our strategic initiatives. Of course we have KPIs on for example the TCO of our various services as well — but larger IT investments are always linked to company strategy. ROI of IT is about realizing our strategy.
I have had the pleasure and the pain of being an early mover in projects where we either gained a significant advantage, or had to do major rollbacks.
The way I try to maximise the gains and limit the pains of moving relatively early is by staying informed. I do this through surrounding myself with talented people, attending relevant seminars and webinars, inviting and listening to experts, reading up on trends and new technologies, and paying close attention to industry leaders. Learn from both your own and others’ mistakes, but never be afraid to try.
Using cloud services like Microsoft Azure, AWS, etc. also allows us to fail fast without large sums of sunk cost.
I believe the key is to acknowledge that nothing lasts forever, but to ensure that any necessary (and unavoidable) replacement, upgrade or decommissioning is as painless as possible.
Some of the ways to achieve this are using microservices, connecting services via open APIs, ensuring clear segregation of duties, utilizing good practises, using relevant design patterns, and avoiding “smells” and anti-patterns.
Any IT organization that solely focuses on keeping the lights on at the lowest possible cost will usually just be told what to do, or rather, how much money can be spent. An organization like that is in danger of simply being outsourced whenever a more inexpensive offering is made available.
In order for you as a CIO or CTO to stay relevant within a modern company, you need to be able to show the business in what ways IT fulfills the company’s strategic goals, and in what ways you are able to support the growth and/or transformation of the company. We all want green KPIs, no alarms, and a perfect relationship between capabilities and requirements, but this needs to be balanced with being forward-looking and goal-oriented.
I sincerely hope that all your C-suite colleagues understand that IT and data is not only necessary, but a strategic asset for your business.
Two important things; understand them and inspire them.
You absolutely have to understand the business. I’ve found that others are very welcoming to the idea of sharing their visions, aspirations, goals and challenges with you. Invite them or ask them to invite you.
Second, show them the possibilities of your current technological capabilities. Tell them what potential lies in the near future. Showcase industry leaders and how they achieved their success. Inspire and enthuse them, so that instead of restricting or scaring them, you show them what wonderful things IT can do for them.
- Stay informed. Never believe that you are done learning.
- Understand the company, the industry and the business.
- Understand the key processes of the service management lifecycle.
- Learn from existing frameworks and methodologies (e.g. ITIL, COBIT, etc.)
- Surround yourself with talented people and let them grow.
- Be goal-oriented before you turn to solution-oriented.
- Never forget the users and their goals.
Read more about Tom-Kenneth Fossheim and Ardoq Mornings, Copenhagen!
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