Pekka Nurmi, Director of Corporate IT at Cimcorp, talks with Sarah about the company’s efforts to modernize IT to increase its ability to be strategic, nimble, and most impactful.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be talking about how organizations can work smarter when it comes to their IT strategy and IT operations. I'm joined today by Pekka Nurmi, who is the Director of Corporate IT at Cimcorp. Pekka, thank you for joining us today.
Pekka Nurmi: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay, so we're going to talk about how Cimcorp has made some changes in IT to work smarter instead of harder. Before we do that, tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your role at Cimcorp.
Pekka Nurmi: Well, like you mentioned, I'm head of the whole of our corporate IT systems in six countries and three continents. And maybe a little bit different about my background is that I was actually a management consultant prior to working as a IT director, and I think has helped me a little bit in this transformation.
Sarah Nicastro: So your consulting background was in management? So on the business side or on the IT side?
Pekka Nurmi: In the business side, but I always ended up doing something with IT. So I sort of all the time, every year, I gravitated closer toward the IT topics all the time. I did have IT background. I'd been programming some software to couple of companies in way, way, way down the line, but the IT, of course, always something that I'm always seem to be gravitating toward that, so I think the current position came naturally.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I think some of the conversations we've had on this podcast, folks talk a lot about how traditionally IT and the business side, in many instances, were fairly siloed, and there's more of a need to really merge that together. So I think having that business background and bringing that to an IT role could be really helpful in creating that closer collaboration.
Pekka Nurmi: I really think so, that that is the case, and a really good idea I think to having the background.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, I've talked to folks where the two within a company are at odds, and it doesn't work very well, right? So everyone needs to be friendly and work together, and I think when you have some experience seeing the other person's viewpoints, it's helpful in being able to do that.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. So tell us, how would you describe Cimcorp's IT strategy overall?
Pekka Nurmi: Well, I think the big idea, like a really big scale, is that we have six offices all around the globe, and the idea is that no matter where you go, you would always have that similar technology and back-end systems waiting for you, so you can just hop on the plane and arrive to another continent, and start working. That's the big idea.
Pekka Nurmi: But more about the strategy is that we seem to be and we are always reducing the number of the systems in house, because we really started from a situation where the number of different systems was just immense. And we were in the continuous loop that update, upgrade, and then you would [inaudible 00:03:56] to lag so much in behind. So we really decided, okay, we need to cut down the number of systems and concentrate on the core systems in general.
Pekka Nurmi: And also what we're doing at the moment is we're trying always to find things to outsource, and there is so much of new stuff we have to take care of, like a compliance, information security, and embedding IT and IT processes to be since development. And that seems to be the core, so we really always are trying to find things that, okay, we don't have to do this anymore. This is a ... Well, it wouldn't be fair to say trivial things, but less important stuff.
Sarah Nicastro: Right. Outside of your core competency, right? You want to be able to focus on what matters most, and not have to become an expert in everything.
Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. And I've been discussing with many of my colleagues in similar positions at similar companies, and we seem to agree on the thing that unless you're a little bit proactive in replacing and updating and upgrading, you will be on the worst side of the slope, and you always are playing catch. And that's not a good place to be.
Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. And so from a high level, it sounds like global consistency is important, and then looking at simplification of complexity in the systems that you're using. And simplification in management, so that you're focusing on what matters most instead of trying to focus on every single thing.
Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. It's like when we start discussing with business, okay, what can we do and where can we improve? I really hate to say that. We could do that, but then I'd have to update system number one, system number two, and system number three, and maybe then, if all things go forward, we can do that. And that would be six months later. I prefer to be able to say that, okay, we are almost there. We have this one system, maybe two if things aren't bad, and then we can move forward. But the complexities, that can drag you down a lot.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and so the idea of consolidating to less systems and also the idea of outsourcing in the areas where you can leverage external expertise, it's almost the management of IT, the planning, the strategy has become the job versus the management of systems, right?
Pekka Nurmi: Exactly.
Sarah Nicastro: So it's more of, like you said, staying ahead of things and looking at, okay, where do we need to be in six months? Where do we need to be in a year? So the more you can rely on folks to be a part of getting you there, then the more you can focus on staying ahead of that strategy, right?
Pekka Nurmi: Yes. And finding suppliers and partners who have a vision of the future, what can it be, because we cannot be inventing everything in-house. We are relying on our partners insights on many of the topics, so it's about finding who has the right vision, who has the capability to execute that, and things like that. So it's like managing a network of partners who are on the same page with you.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So I'm curious to ask you, Pekka, though, I would say the majority of companies that we would have listening to this podcast would agree with the concept of focusing more on core competencies, right? So however you get there. Simplification of systems, outsourcing of different areas of expertise. But I think there are some that really, really struggle with the concept of relinquishing control, and so they're fighting their desire to do it all, and that all is growing and growing and growing and growing, and it becomes harder and harder and harder to do it all. Because as digital matures, there's just more sophistication, more capabilities, more opportunities. And so the world is expanding, and they're trying desperately to keep it all within their grasp.
Sarah Nicastro: So what would you say to those folks about the value of letting go, and then also how to shift the mindset, and know that it actually could help you more to not try and control everything in-house?
Pekka Nurmi: That's very familiar topic. That's where I started when I got this position. The IT department that, okay, we've done all, everything in-house, and this is how we want to operate, but through a lot of discussion and opening the idea that how management sees IT department, I think that opened up the idea that ... Like if we're trying always to do everything, we will be so slow that ... We would be a focus of top management, like a gaze on the IT department. "Why are you so slow all these things?" And through that, and a lot of discussion, and more discussion, and meetings, and staying in the different offices and talking to IT people, we gradually were able to see that. Okay, we just cannot go on like this. There's just too much to do, and being able to prove the point that, hey, we actually are quite slow on certain topics. So my team gradually realized that you have to do something.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's the idea, I think, that in today's landscape, the pace of innovation I so fast that it becomes almost impossible to keep up if you're trying to become a master of all, right? It becomes advantageous to rely on the experts in those different areas versus ... It's almost unrealistic to think that you can take the time to do all of those things and stay ahead to the degree you need to be competitive and all of those things.
Pekka Nurmi: And it's fantastic to see those small wins. Being able to prove that we're on the right path because being able to do something in two weeks with our partner that would have taken six months in some other way. So it's like, okay, this is good. This is a good way. People are happy about it, and we get compliments from the management. "How did you guys able to do that in such a short note and timeline," and the cost wasn't actually that bad.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and it comes back to the idea of any change, right, or any evolution. If Cimcorp was used to doing this all itself, and you come in and you say, "No, we really need to shift and look at outsourcing more," the first few times you have those wins, you have more and more light bulbs of, "Oh, okay. This can work. It wasn't a failure. Everything's okay," and then the comfort level increases, and you start to see how you can really expand there. That makes sense.
Sarah Nicastro: So talking about innovation, I came into this space, Pekka, in 2008, and have been interviewing folks like yourself on a daily basis since then. And it's been really interesting to see how digital environments have matured and become more sophisticated, and just the wealth of opportunity that exists to companies today with the technology that's out there. How would you say the focus of IT innovation today differs from IT innovation of a decade ago? What are the major shifts?
Pekka Nurmi: I had a fantastic discussion with one of the colleagues from another company regarding this exact topic, and we were thinking, okay, 10 years ago how we would have solved this item at the time. And we would be selecting really dedicated IT people that is into IT, but they're probably thinking that, hmm, actually regarding one of the topics we were discussing about, we decided that actually we don't want to have IT staff on that at all. It's more like we were starting to discuss that wouldn't there be some business consultant that has some capability in IT that would define that area?
Pekka Nurmi: So I think that this goes back a little bit to where we originally discussed about the consulting background and things like that. So the business is much more involved and should be much more involved. It's not like the IT side has become any less important, but in order to get things done and the complete ideas, it's like the scope of things has increased. It might be 10 years, but it's enough that you solve the IT side. But today, you have to solve the IT and business side on the same time.
Pekka Nurmi: So I think that this is the core change that has happened in the 10 years.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. No, that makes sense. I think the importance of it is has it even increased significantly. You look at all of the digital transformation that's underway in every business today. I think the importance is critical, but I think what we're talking about here is the idea that it's shifting from the criticality of internal execution to the criticality of strategy, right? And how that allows you to scale the way that you need to be innovative and competitive.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So I wanted to come back to the title of the podcast, so talking about working smarter, right? So I think we've touched on some of those things, and we're going to dig in a little bit more. So we talked about simplification of systems. We've talked about outsourcing in areas where you can really benefit from leveraging external expertise. Is there anything else you would say is a characteristic of how Cimcorp is looking at IT in terms of working smarter instead of working harder?
Pekka Nurmi: Yes. We've done a lot of work on that topic, and I think the core thing is trying not to over-complicate any of the processes and topics. If we look at ERP systems or software in general, they already have a built-in processes, and tried out ways to work. And all the jobs I've had and all the customers I've had, I always saw that idea that everybody was trying to over-complicate that. "My process is so special. Our business is so special." And as an outsider, you could always say that I've seen this a thousand times. It's the exact same process repeating itself time and a time and a time and again, but the people running it are always saying that this is special. "We need special software." And the loop starts from there.
Pekka Nurmi: So the idea is to have an open mind that maybe somebody has found the golden nugget or golden egg of approaches that's already built into the system. Like ERP systems, they have tens of thousands of clients, and that have been running for decades actually. So the process, it might have been already evolved. And in many cases, I've found that accepting the ERP system might actually be already really smart.
Pekka Nurmi: And having the talks with the people that "This is really so special," or is there someone we can do a benchmarking on? And finding the ways that, could we just use this? There might be some idea in the background, and try it out, and if it's not, then we do something.
Sarah Nicastro: It's such a good point, Pekka, because I think the sense I get in talking with people is almost customization is a badge of honor. It's like, "No, we could never use an out-of-the-box solution. That's just preposterous. Our business is far too important for that," right? And I think, again, going back to evolution over the last 10 years, there probably was a point in time where that was more accurate than it is today.
Pekka Nurmi: Exactly.
Sarah Nicastro: Where the solutions were not sophisticated enough, or weren't incorporating best practices from 10,000 customers, or what have you. To the degree where it was x-percent there, but you needed to add onto that. I think you're making a really good point in that, while businesses have been maturing and evolving and transforming, so too have technology providers, right? So the point you're making about, hey, maybe it's worth taking off that badge of honor and not looking at it from the context of we need to make this super complicated because we're important and we're different and all of these things. And looking at, wow, could we make our lives a lot easier, maybe spend less money, have a faster implementation, maybe get better value if we open our perspective a bit and just consider that.
Sarah Nicastro: I think that's a really, really important point, just to think about the progression that's occurred, and next time you're evaluating software, why don't you think about looking at it a little bit differently, and not staying stuck in the history of it, but looking at what is out there right now.
Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. And also in my career, I've had a chance to look at ERP systems that were implemented two or three years ago, and I was invited to check that, how are we doing today with the system? And that always ended up like 60 to 80% of those modifications, the customer started paying for the ERP provider that, okay, we remove these customizations because the ERP system was right in the first place. But they just didn't accept that. So I've been seeing that happening so many times over.
Sarah Nicastro: And to your point, it's probably beneficial to, like you said, try it and if you do find areas, proven areas, where you need something, that's fine. But don't go into it with the expectation that you could never, because you might find that you could make things a lot easier. Okay.
Pekka Nurmi: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
Sarah Nicastro: Very good.
Sarah Nicastro: So from an IT perspective, part of your job is helping Cimcorp to stay ahead of customer demands, and to enable internal operations and enable externally for a good customer experience. What would you say are the top demands of today's customers that end up falling into necessity from IT? You take customer expectations. How does that translate into what you're expected to deliver?
Pekka Nurmi: We are using IFS ERP system, and they are talking about moment of service in their topics, and I actually fell in love with that slogan, "moment of service." Because that describes quite accurately what we need and what the customers need. So the IT systems really have to be there, present, and have a real-time information that you can provide that. There's no other way. When the customer contacts you, they might have a spare part they would need desperately delivered overnight, or something, other issues going there, and what the customer wants to hear is that, okay, it's a can-do answer. And within that first email, phone call, whatever support ticket you might have done, and they really want to hear that, that, okay, we are on that, and we know what's going to happen, and when we going to be able to fix it.
Pekka Nurmi: So the moment of service is actually really fantastic word to describe the need of IT.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I agree, and I think there's a lot that relates to that moment of service in the sense of it's a moment, but it's far more than that, right? So that moment of service is a moment of experience, but what happens in that moment, that can mean it's brand perception, right? It can be customer loyalty. It can be the difference between revenue growth or revenue loss. Service as a differentiator is where we are, right? And so how you align your infrastructure and your people to be able to, like you said, what do they want? Boom. We're ready. We have it. We're there. We're giving them what they need. It really is the name of the game. Everything you're doing is working to ...
Sarah Nicastro: And we're going to talk about this in a minute, but it's really this game of mastering complexity. And I say "mastering," not "simplifying," because you can simplify to a degree through some of the steps you've talked about so far, but the rest of it you have to master. Customers don't care. They don't care how much effort you're putting into delivering when they need it, but you have to be able to do it, right? So, yeah, that's a good point.
Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. There is a huge amount of complexity in the background, but like you said, the customer doesn't care. They want their issue solved in as fast as it's possible.
Sarah Nicastro: Huge and only multiplying. It's not a huge amount of complexity that's going to stay level, right? The more sophisticated everything gets technology-wise, and the more consumer experiences that impact what customers want, that level of complexity keeps climbing and climbing and climbing.
Sarah Nicastro: And going back to the beginning of our discussion, that's why I think it's such a good point for folks to understand the idea of mastering it all yourself is not sustainable, right? You have to start looking at how to work smarter instead of harder because you can't do what you need to do in that moment if you're trying to ... I'm thinking about little people inside trying to master all of this complexity. You have to look for ways to streamline that.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So let's talk about the IFS ERP and then your recent transition to IFS Cloud as a real world example of the things that we've been talking about so far in action, right? So this is an example of how you're walking the talk of what your strategy is in real life. So just tell us a little bit about the migration from IFS ERP, which I think you deployed around 2016, and then transitioning to the new IFS Cloud, and how that touches on some of these themes.
Pekka Nurmi: Well, I've been doing exactly like we discussed before that. What I've been getting people to accept is that the baseline in the IFS might be acceptable for the business process. And for us, IFS has been able to provide many of those. I'd say they're like blueprints for our operations, and they've been giving us areas where we can work smarter. We've been even getting ideas on how to set up our VDM systems in the background based on what IFS, how the architecture has been formed in that system.
Pekka Nurmi: Really, the idea is that we've been trying to accept that what the platform enables, and we've been trying to channel our energy to provide value to the customer using that. But the innovation in that is really about we are accepting IFS as a platform, and we already discuss about limiting the number of those systems. We did our homework, and we decided that IFS is a good platform for us.
Pekka Nurmi: So it all comes together. And in our case, it seems to be working quite well.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. Now, how would you articulate the difference between the IFS ERP deployment circa 2016 to what IFS Cloud offers?
Pekka Nurmi: The change has been immense. The first feedback we are getting is that the HTML5 interface is huge improvement. People love the face that you can access with your mobile phone all the time. That's big plus. And it has developed a lot.
Pekka Nurmi: Back in 2016, we knew where IFS was going in the future, and I think with IFS Cloud, we are getting that system that we bought in 2016. So I'm really happy about the roadmap for IFS really came to reality for us.
Sarah Nicastro: And that goes back to the point you made at the beginning about if you're going to rely more on partners ... So if you can acknowledge the fact that you can't do it all, and then you know that you need to choose smartly who you want to work with, right? Because you're trying to work with less people. As you said, you're trying to really simplify the ecosystem in terms of eliminating too many disparate systems and looking for more of a platform relationship. It's a good point of don't just look at what's there now. Look at what that roadmap looks like, and think about how the organizations that you're choosing to work with, how are they innovating and what are their plans, right? Because you want to future-proof yourself in the sense of, do they have what you need now to run the business and deliver the moment of service the way you need to, but then also as your business evolves, are they evolving too so that you're not in a position where in too short of a time you're like, okay, well, this worked, but now we've outgrown it, right?
Sarah Nicastro: Really it's the same concept we talk about with a lot of the folks that we have as guests on the podcast of moving away from a transactional relationship and moving more toward delivering outcomes and building partnerships, right?
Pekka Nurmi: Exactly.
Sarah Nicastro: Good.
Pekka Nurmi: And I think one third of the decision to select IFS back in 2016 was actually that. How do we see IFS as a partner for our future? So we have a pre-finalist system in that one, and that this was really clear that with IFS we decided that we can trust them to be our partner and guide in the future as well. And that's really important.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay, so we talked a little bit about the fact that a lot of what IT is responsible for today is that concept of minimizing but also mastering complexity. So like we said, customers don't care how hard Pekka is working every day, how hard Cimcorp across the board is working every day. They just care that you're delivering what they need when they need it, right?
Sarah Nicastro: So when it comes to delivering that ultimate simplicity to customers, what are the keys to doing that? So how does a solution like IFS Cloud or other tools that you use ... What are the key ingredients to mastering that complexity to be able to deliver an experience that really hides all of that complexity from the customers?
Pekka Nurmi: I think I'm getting back to the basics that we cannot invent everything in-house. We absolutely have to be able to trust to the partners we select and the people we do business with. And we don't want to select partners that wouldn't be giving us anything in return. Like, okay, we pay you money, and you provide us the service, but we really want them to be providing innovation and the platform actually. Like with IFS, they are giving us the service platform in so many ways.
Sarah Nicastro: And I think it's worth revisiting that point of why a platform play versus disparate solutions makes sense. And I think what it really comes down to at the root of it all ... There's many reasons, right? Part of it is just for you the complexity of managing multiple relationships instead of one relationship. But I think when you look at it from the customer perspective, and when you look at it from the ability to deliver in that moment of service, it comes down to eliminating failure points. The more systems you have tied together, the more opportunity there is to falter in mastering that complexity, right? The more cohesiveness you can create behind the scenes, the better your chances of delivering that simplicity to customers.
Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. Of course, we do alternative scenarios. That's what we do, and we started one alternative. And when we discovered that we would have to build 19 interfaces between two systems, and most of them two-way interfaces, so that was immediately the point that we don't want to do that. We don't want to be spending the time working the interfaces, all the changes in the system that will affect the interfaces. So, once again, we found a position where we would be digging a hole underneath us with those interfaces.
Pekka Nurmi: So, once again, one platform, one solution will help us to focus on the business actually.
Sarah Nicastro: So another area I want to talk about, Pekka, is around data. So we talked about how complexity has increased and it's continuing to multiply, and I think a lot of that has to do with the criticality of data, and data as a resource. So you mentioned the real time data is essential for delivering what you need to in the moment of service. So there's leveraging data within Cimcorp to do that, right? And then there's the idea of the potential for leveraging data externally, right? So with a customer base.
Sarah Nicastro: So tell us a little bit about what that looks like, and how you're looking at data and its limitless potential both internally and externally.
Pekka Nurmi: Oh, this is a topic. We always seem to have multiple data improvement programs ongoing all the time everywhere. That seems to be the thing of today. There's always something to fix, and especially now that we've expanded to new countries, and there's different cultures and people with very different backgrounds. And the most reason we have found that we need to have a ... What would be a right way to say it? We want to enable people to understand that the importance of why they are entering the data, and if I'm not entering this, this will affect this and this many departments after themselves.
Pekka Nurmi: And we've been finding that when it comes to data, we have to provide more understanding to the whole organization around the data, and also we've invested heavily into data warehousing because that is the big thing in future development.
Pekka Nurmi: But it's a really big topic, data, but that's a big focus area, and in my mind, I return to the situation where we have multiple systems. And with multiple systems, we would have to worry about the data. And, once again, we would find ourselves being farther away from the core idea.
Sarah Nicastro: Right. And I think there's so much to sort out yet about the real potential for all of the data people are gathering now, right? And how to make use of it, like I said, both within the company and within the customer base. And I think part of why it's important to relinquish some of the control of the systems that allow your business to run is so that you can focus more of your energy and efforts on sorting out how do we leverage data better in the future, right?
Sarah Nicastro: So that's a strategic focus, right? That's something that is worthy of thinking and time and resources and energy, whereas you don't want to spend those time and resources and energy managing a bunch of configurations on a bunch of different systems because it's not bringing value to the future of the business.
Sarah Nicastro: And I don't think anyone has a real good handle on exactly how powerful the data side can be into the future, but that is a really good argument for why you need to focus less on systems and more on strategy, right?
Pekka Nurmi: Exactly. I'd say this is exactly the way.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So I wanted to ask, Pekka, you mentioned a couple times throughout the conversation interacting with some of your peers, and I think that's a really good point because that's the premise, honestly, of Future of Field Service is being able to learn what other folks are doing. But how do you do that and how is that important to you being able to stay in tune with how other companies are tackling challenges and handling their own innovation?
Pekka Nurmi: What I actually do is I continuously encourage my staff to find these benchmarking companies, and be active in ... There's these end user groups we are finding. There's an internet-based communities where people have discussions, and I've granted them time to help other companies, and also search help from other companies. So I think we don't want to be stuck inside the walls of our department, and I think it's more like encouraging that we discuss with the outside all the time, more and more, because we can only win. Of course, you cannot spend 90% of your time discussing with some other companies. You have to have some limits on that, but still the basic idea is that every week you should try to find somebody to help, find somebody to get insight on what you do.
Pekka Nurmi: And we seem to be finding. Today, we are getting emails from other companies that have heard about us and want to discuss. So it took one or two years to get us started, but we're finding really good partner companies we can discuss with. And also some of the partners have active ... They provide also insight that this company might be benefiting you, and maybe you two companies should discuss.
Sarah Nicastro: Right. Right. Yeah, I think there's so much power in building that collective knowledge, and it is very important to make the time to look outside of your own company and your own day-to-day. Because I think creating that space is what allows you to not mimic what someone else is doing, but survey the landscape to get different ideas to bring back into your own business. I'm a huge advocate of that, and I think it's a really good point, particularly if there are folks listening that some of the things we've talked about relinquishing control and outsourcing makes them nervous. Talk to some other people that are doing it to see if you can increase your comfort level a bit.
Pekka Nurmi: Yeah. Of course, you have to be really careful to which companies you talk to and which people, but generally, I'd say I really recommend that. It has provided a lot of value for us.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay.
Sarah Nicastro: Last question for today is what do you envision the IT strategy of 2031 looking like?
Pekka Nurmi: That's a big question. First thing that comes to mind is obvious there's going to be more public clouds being used, and information security will by any mean be of lesser importance than it's today. But I think along the lines about what we discussed earlier, it's going to be more about businesses' IT strategies aligning in many ways. And I would say that there would be more partnerships with the IT suppliers, just like we discussed before, as sources of innovation and platforms and new ways of working.
Pekka Nurmi: And maybe there would be more deeper level partnerships on IT with our customers, too, just thinking about all the IOT data that we discuss about. All of that I see as a big part of IT strategy for in about 10 years' time.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So that will keep you busy.
Pekka Nurmi: Oh, I'm sure.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. Well, Pekka, thank you so much for joining and sharing your story today. I really appreciate it.
Pekka Nurmi: Thank you.
Sarah Nicastro: I think there's some excellent points in here for people to consider, and I certainly appreciate your perspective.
Pekka Nurmi: Yeah, thank you. It was nice to be here. So very good discussion. Gave me a lot of ideas, too.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. Thank you. Yes, yes. All right, you can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter, @thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more by visiting IFS.com. As always, thank you for listening.