Morten Karlsen Sørby discusses Telenor’s digital transformation strategy, the challenges it is facing, and the search for new vendors and partners to work with What does a Chief Transformation Officer do?

Karlsen Sørby: In my role I work closely with the Group President & CEO to lead the ongoing transformation process Telenor has initiated to meet the new digital opportunities facing the company.

What does digital transformation mean to Telenor?

This is a very good question as there are many diverse opinions on what digital transformation is about.

This is probably driven by the strong functional history and focus telcos have.

To me a great customer experience is at the core of what we aim for.

Digital transformation is about experiences: where traditional customer journeys in physical stores and call centres are replaced by a digital sales and marketing, distribution and care.

In order to deliver this, processes have to be automated and digitalised, and new tools developed such as customer apps and marketing methods.

We know we have succeeded if we meet both the customer expectations and our financial targets.

What targets have you set for your digital transformation strategy?

We enter 2018 with clear priorities to deliver on our digital transformation agenda, to continue to seek efficiency gains and revenue growth, while simplifying our portfolio and way of work across the company.

We have a target of improvement in Net Promoter Score and improved performance in key financial parameters.

Personally, I think digital sales as a percentage of total sales is the best indicator for tracking progress.

Have you set any deadlines for achieving these aims?

We have established an ambition for year 2020 internally and are guiding financial targets to the market.

In order to reach the financial targets, digital transformation is a cornerstone.

What are the biggest challenges you face as you look to deliver on your digital transformation aims?

A lot of companies now have a strategy for digital transformation. So this is about execution.

Middle management focus on their KPIs and control of resources is one issue, as we need to have cross-functional collaboration and agile teams.

Another is developing analytical and software engineering capabilities.

And, last but not least, speed of execution can be hampered by legacy systems and thinking.

What’s been the biggest "win" you’ve achieved so far?

In 2017 we reduced the number of calls to our call centres dramatically.

We have also strengthened Telenor’s digital sales and marketing capabilities.

Furthermore, there is improved flexibility in our customer facing IT systems and new revenue streams towards third parties by having implemented API gateway in all our business units globally.

We have established a new platform for Asia and have moved live data traffic onto it.

This new platform will increase speed of service delivery and cost efficiency.  

What has been the most radical change Telenor has made as a result of its digital transformation efforts?

I now see more cross-functional work and we need more.

Teams are starting to work more agile as they find it much more fun, productive and engaging.

You have worked at Telenor for 25 years. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to transforming the company?

I just read an article published by BCG, which states that, generally speaking, companies are taking one of two paths to digital transformation.

One is where the transformation journey is developed by internal leaders and talent over time.

The other approach is the leap frog approach, where companies hire external talent and leaders, and scale up their in-house technology capabilities as quickly as possible.

In Telenor, I think we try to combine the two approaches.

Many will claim that 25 years of experience is a no-go.

I think it is about the ability to constantly learn, challenge and have a team (formal and informal), which gives you input and brings about new ways of thinking.

To what extent do you feel your digital transformation efforts are helping you to close the gap on digitally native companies?

It is difficult to claim we are closing the gap to digitally native companies, but hopefully yes within the industry.

Listening to Facebook and the argument that they have just started the journey and have reached one percent, the mindset has to be that the journey has just begun.

But with the capabilities and fact-based analytical insight I see that companies like Facebook, Google, Slack and Twilio hold, we still have a way to go.

How important are vendors/partners to your digital transformation efforts?

Very, but we have to find and learn to work with new partners, not just the old incumbents.

New partners offer a huge potential, but it requires insight and internal capabilities to find them and work with them to compliment the traditional sourcing process.


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