Karsten-Fogh-Ho-LanngNNIT is an international IT service provider offering IT consulting and the development, implementation and outsourcing of IT services for regulated industries with annual revenue run-rate of US$300 million . NNIT employs about 2,000 employees primarily in Denmark, but also in China, Philippines, Switzerland, Czech Republic and USA. Against the background of changing enterprise IT consumption models, IT service providers are both disruptors, and being disrupted. We(RF) caught up with Karsten Fogh Ho-Lanng(KF), CTO at NNIT, to understand how the firm is staying ahead of the curve.

RF: What are you seeing as the mega-trends of IT at the moment?
KF: We see two major trends affecting us as a system integrator. Certain components like the core network and ERP system have to be pretty stable, while other, often front-end solutions, like mobility, are up for constant development. It’s our job as a system integrator to ensure seamlessly interfaces between all the components that make up the customers IT and network. On the business side, utility based business models moves more and more into the client organisations.

RF: How have your CIO-level customer requirements evolved?
KF: I think that transparency, utility-based payment, agility in regards to the two-speed IT-strategy discussion we had earlier, as well as clearer orientation towards the business itself sums up the CIO-offices agenda of today. This of course does not detract from the table stakes that is part of the job i.e. supporting the business and keeping the operations at peak performance.

RF: Anything-as a service is gaining share of wallet. How are you transitioning your capabilities and portfolio?
KF: XaaS is obviously part of our offerings. And we’re in favour of standardized services since this means that infrastructure elements can be mass customized and thus automatically integrated. Based on that we can build best-practices networks with economy of scale. We apply both quantitative and qualitative competitive measurements to our offerings and approach the market with a model we call the “halfpipe”. And obviously, hard qualities like the geographic location of our datacenters, our skill-sets, pricing and development times have to be competitive. In addition we work with a set of softer competitive differentiators, such as customer satisfaction, image, business culture, and a flexible attitude to our customers demands and expectations.

RF: How has this translated into the work NNIT does?
KF: In many ways, some of our traditional values still hold. Orchestration of technology with clients based on broader strategic partnerships with technology providers is becoming still more important. Only now,  we see major competitive changes in the value chain which obviously also affect our technology strategy. Digitisation of more business processes also means we are seeing new profiles of business managers becoming part of our stakeholder community. This digital disruption is fuelling faster adoption of the half pipe model.

RF: We are seeing change at an industrial scale in the technology sector. How has this affected the way you mitigate risk on behalf of your customers?
KF: Betting on technologies and even vendors is one of the values we bring to the table. We find we’d rather put our money with a large vendor’s technology stack where we experience the sense of loyalty that we think is essential to building a good partnership. Lately we have seen seeing some forward integrating technology vendors broadening their share of the value chain on the expense of system integrators like ourselves.

RF: What role does thought leadership play in the way you go to market?
KF: A big one. Our consultants are domain experts who are distinguished by their ability to bring together technology-enabled possibilities, organisational readiness and contextualise this within the limits of regulatory compliance. A three dimensional balancing act like this requires that we have views on the way forward, and can influence stakeholders in our client organisations and motivate their teams. Thought leadership is a critical part of how we achieve this.

RF: How do you define your role as the company’s CTO?
KF: The absolute core is about selecting the right technology to align with our business strategy. So you can say that technology and market focus need to go hand in hand. This is yet again a three-factor dynamic: our overall technological strategy is aligned with our corporate strategy which is again aligned with the market development. But we do occupy an interesting space in the market. While our strategy is of course driven by market demands, as a system integrator we have great freedom in always being able to optimise our technology mix. But this can be both good and bad since it is as much about “deselecting” and avoiding major strategic mistakes.

KF: Your advice for aspiring CTOs?
RF: This is quite simple: Make only commercially oriented technology choices – and make them before anyone else. In other words, if we were in the video-tape business our job would have been to go with VHS before the battle with Betamax broke.

You can follow Karsten via @KHolanng

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