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How IT can inspire innovation across the business

Clare Simmons — April 2015
From HR to R&D, business units are increasingly looking to the IT team to help them drive innovation, says Statoil CIO Sonja Chirico Indrebø.

As the IT leader of Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil, Sonja Chirico Indrebø is witnessing a revolution in the way her company innovates. “I see a big change in the sense that IT used to be linked to business support, ensuring you had good ERP and good HR systems. But in recent years we’ve become much more connected to the value chain and its business processes.”

Statoil’s IT department works closely with its research and development group to support and even drive innovation in exploration, production and other areas of its core operations. But as the opportunities for digital technology have grown, its role in innovation has spread. “IT touches every part of the business,” she says, which has led to an expanded remit: “To connect people and ideas in new ways — to make smarter ways of working.”

This deeper engagement with business has also changed the definition of what IT success looks like at Statoil: IT initiatives are no longer measured in traditional IT terms, but in terms of the value they generate for the business. “We don’t measure whether IT feels they’ve succeeded — we ask the business if IT has succeeded [for them].”

“We’ve become much more agile — we show benefits to the business much faster.”

To demonstrate the value IT is providing, Indrebø has become explicit about how IT strategy supports business strategy. “For me, as CIO, it’s about stakeholder management – it’s about understanding the business, putting myself in their shoes and seeing what it is they really need.” She then takes this back to her IT organization and translates the business’s aspirations into IT terms. “It’s a tricky challenge from a CIO point of view because you have to be much more than an IT person.”

Indrebø points to another fundamental change in the nature of IT delivery in recent years. The historical model for IT projects, in which applications and services were under development many years before any benefit was delivered to the business, has given way to a much more iterative, modular way of working — on both the IT and business sides. “We’ve become much more agile, we show benefits to the business much faster.”

She adds that the IT team has encouraged the business to iterate their IT needs in “smaller buckets,” so that results can be demonstrated more quickly. These changes all contribute to what Indrebø describes as “a real shift in mood: the business is seeing IT as actually helping them.”

As IT has had a wider impact across the business, Indrebø has seen a growing engagement with executives from across the C-suite. “The whole top management is much more involved in IT. They’re seeing opportunities because digitalizing the business is very much what we’re doing.”
First published
May 2015
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About: Sonja Chirico Indrebø
CIO and SVP of Norway’s Statoil since 2011, Sonja Chirico Indrebø draws on deep domain expertise built over more than two decades in oil and gas IT. She joined the $81bn company as a senior offshore telecoms engineer in 1998, having begun her career at Aker Solutions.

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