Preparing for Norway’s Digital Era

Last year, Telenor Group was one of the first supporters of DIGITALNORWAY, a new initiative to accelerate Norwegian businesses as they head into the digital future. Read our interview with Walter Qvam, Chairman of DIGITALNORWAY-Toppindustrisenteret.

Written: May 2017

1Q/ Can you give a 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ as to what is DIGITALNORWAY and why it exists?

1A/ Main reason DIGITALNORWAY exists is to help companies in various sectors meet the challenges of digitalization in their business. Some industries are already doing so, such as finance, media, and telecommunications for example, however ‘heavy-weight’ industries (oil & gas, transportation, shipping, food, etc.) are to a lesser degree. However they have similar types of challenges, as well as opportunities, regarding digitalization.

At DIGITALNORWAY, we will bring companies and competencies together and establish arenas and methods where companies – SMEs, as well as large corporations, can get help running digitalization projects within their own business.

2Q/ In your presentation at the Telenor Research Breakfast Meeting on 30 Jan, you had a slide that highlighted that only 2% of Norwegian CEOs believe disruptors will affect their business. Where does Telenor’s CEO and its organization lie in this percentage?

2A/ Sigve Brekke is among the 2% who believe that disruptors will affect their business. To reaffirm, he has stated that Telenor is not going to be the same in a few years’ time. At DIGITALNORWAY, we believe that it is important that CEOs voice that kind of concern and view, because it is important that we all feel a sense of urgency.

3Q/ As we prepare for and deal with this digital era, what role do you think Telenor can play with respect to impacting and making a difference in the Norwegian society and its people?

3A/ Telenor has a big role to play. In the last 15 years or so, Telenor has played an important role in transforming the everyday life for consumers in Norway. Norwegians are fluent in using digital communications tools, and communication services have been important in this. Now, Telenor has an important role in the next wave of B2B digitalization, with respect to 5G solutions, communication applications, to name a few, which will fuel transformation within industries in Norway.

4Q/ Let’s talk more about the disruptors making waves especially in the commercial sector. What is your best form of advice to ‘traditional’ companies already working in such a sector for decades – how should they regard these disruptors and deal with them?

4A/ First one should recognize that there is a lot of hype regarding disruptors. Remember that if a company consists of a big production line making physical objects, for example, and it is competing successfully internationally, it must already be quite lean and efficient. It can be challenging then to start to change what seems as a very good operation. Nevertheless, this is the issue, and being a CEO may consist of risking that and go into the unknown– a big question to address.

Our advice at DIGITALNORWAY is to begin to expose that company in controlled steps. Think of experimenting outside of your own business with solutions that perhaps may be considered ‘disruptive’ to parts of your business. Get help from people, perhaps outside your company and industry, to look at completely different ways of meeting customer needs, enabled through digitalization, within a controlled environment outside the operation itself. The most important thing is to get going! Not wait for a clear answer to what digitalization will represent to your business, because this may never come.

5Q/ Would you eventually want Norway to be noticed, nationally and internationally, as a destination for technology-focused institutions, local and global technology companies and start-ups?

5A/ Yes would love to see that happening! We do have a bit of catching up to do. For example, in comparison to Sweden (a close case for us) the Kista area (outside of Stockholm) has a digital productivity that fuels entrepreneurs, unlike what we have had in this country. However, we are seeing things beginning to move also here, particularly in the Oslo area. And, we know from our history, when Norwegian people get together and put clear objectives in place for success, we often succeed. Norway is a society where people historically are ‘fighters’.

At DIGITALNORWAY, we will do our part to make this happen – to make an arena, provide experts, cases and energy which accelerates this process. Already we see in Oslo, for example, that the number of start-ups have risen significantly — something is happening, I am encouraged by that and DIGITALNORWAY will work with these people to strengthen this trend further.

But we have also examples of where we have been too late and have let opportunities slip us by as a nation. For example, when it comes to putting in place incentives to attract global data centers to Norway. We have the climate as well as natural resources, 100% green power, strong capabilities, but we still do not have the final incentives in place. Norway should be part of this growing data center industry. We must keep working at it!

6Q/ Your answer, especially paragraphs 1 and 2, sounds a bit like a Silicon Valley-type of concept.

Would the Norwegian one differ from Silicon Valley and if so how?

6A/ In Norway we have distributed expertise with companies and Universities– for example a tech hub in Trondheim, small Universities along the coast and additional activities in the Oslo area. We will not have a concentrated Silicon Valley set-up, but we can be successful in becoming a Norwegian ‘virtual Silicon Valley’ so to speak.

7Q/ Speaking of Silicon Valley, a recent report from law firm Fenwick & West LLP shows that women hold just 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies.

Is that the direction you would Norway to lead towards? What type of example would you like Norway to set with respect to women and digital-focused companies and how do you think such can be attained?

7A/ We must beat those numbers, be much more diverse than what that Report states. The way to do it, I am not sure. In Norway we have a quota system for Boards, but I do not feel that such a method works for this type of environment. It would be wrong. Regulation, within the experimentation and entrepreneurship arena, à la quota won’t work. We must agree and commit amongst ourselves towards a high ambition for diversity and drive towards this.

8Q/ Norway economic landscape is still looking bright. According to the European Commission:

Norway belongs to the leading group of the richest countries in the world measured by GDP per capita. Norwegian public finances are boosted by significant revenues from the petroleum sector. Traditional economic activities are shipping (fourth largest fleet in the world), fisheries and fish farming.

If Norway doesn’t prepare well for this present digital era, how can your economic landscape change? What are the ramifications for the Norwegian society as a whole if this digital transformation is not met?

8A/ That is the big question. Income from the oil sector over the following decades will steadily become lower. Hence, the economic impact of this natural resource is getting smaller. Markets and consumer preference will affect it. When oil was discovered in Norway 50 years ago, we were a shipping nation and this industry had the same role as oil has today. Shipping was not as lucrative, but an important part of the Norwegian economy and most importantly it was the competence base we leveraged on when we developed the oil services industry. Now we have a couple of decades to make a similar transition, building on the very significant competence that we have, not the least in the oil and gas industry.

At DIGITALNORWAY, we believe digital transformation is more of an opportunity for Norway in comparison to other countries whose GDP is based on an industry with low-wage workers. These countries will have a bigger transition to make than Norway. The good news is that we are a small economy that is not ‘heavy’ with low-cost industry work. As a result, an easier transition can take place without a big transformation of our workforce. We can have an easier way to the upside of digitalization through the creation of new businesses, industries and sectors.

9Q/ Where can folks find out more about DIGITALNORWAY, who can they contact for more info and insight and any upcoming seminars/conferences they can potentially attend?

9A/ is still being developed, but regardless one can still go there for more info. DIGITALNORWAY will be officially established in June and an opening event will take place before the summer holidays. We are currently in project-modus–building the organization, infrastructure, services and a network of experts. After summer, we will be operational and much more visible, for example conferences are planned for the Fall in Oslo and other places.