This year’s KPMG CEO Outlook shows that CEOs now see themselves as the chief disruptors of their own companies. Disruption has gone from being seen as an external threat to an internal aspiration, and Nordic CEOs are no exception. “They are both curious and a little bit afraid of what disruption could mean for their business,” says Rune Skjelvan, Partner and Head of Advisory at KPMG Norway.
Some see disruption as an opportunity “to outgrow their competition,” he continues, while others “are afraid that they are making investments too late.” He cites the example of one client who, a few years ago, was adamant that certain processes could not be automated, but is now asking for help to implement the automation they previously rejected. Skjelvan sees cost‑cutting as the prime motivator in this.
DNB’s CEO recently stated that the company is no longer a bank; it is now a technology company.
“When they launched a new payment solution, Vipps, they got more than one million users in five months, many who were not customers of DNB,” Skjelvan explains.
“After a year, the app had been downloaded more than two million times. The market penetration of a payment solution was unprecedented in the Norwegian market. DNB utilized disruptive technology to reposition themselves completely in the market and contributed to changed behavior of bank consumers. Ten years ago that couldn’t have happened.”
Nordic firms are optimistic
When it comes to their own ability to cope with disruption, Nordic firms are optimistic. One theory to explain this is that because Nordic consumers are so accustomed to technological change, they are relatively unfazed by it when it upends their work life.
“Consumers in Scandinavia are quite digitally advanced, so they also expect their work and business life will work in the same way,” Skjelvan says.
“With high educational and income levels, adoption of new technology is rapid.”
But Nordic CEOs are likely to have another reason to be keen to disrupt their own models. As Skjelvan explains, salaries in Norway are relatively high.
“That means that if you want to cut costs and improve your services for customers, you need to adopt and embrace new technology, and quickly.”
This can have knock‑on effects: offshore labor and geographically dispersed supply chains may now be more expensive than manufacturing at home. Nordic companies that have embraced offshoring over the last decade or so are now considering bringing production back to their home countries or near shoring, using more robotics and other technology.
This positive attitude to technology also extends to artificial intelligence (AI). Nordic CEOs expect it to increase, not decrease, the numbers of skilled employees in the region – because skilled supervisors of new technologies will be required as work is brought back onshore.
“We see the previous focus on pure labour arbitrage by sending work to low-cost countries, gradually being replaced by more balanced delivery models, where a small skilled workforce, leveraging cognitive and robotics, can handle tasks more efficiently and at a lower cost,” says Morten Mønster, Partner and Head of Advisory at KPMG Denmark.
Overall, companies expect to increase their outsourcing efforts, but AI, robotics and automation are important parts of the strategic considerations, when deciding what tasks and areas to outsource, and what should be insourced locally.
Mønster points to AI reinforcing existing business models, and mentions Vestas and Maersk as examples of companies leveraging cognitive intelligence as part of their existing business models, rather than building new models around AI. Compared to their international peers, this is a distinctive feature of the region.
78% of Nordic CEOs are concerned about integrating automated business processes with AI, compared to 52% of the core sample. Nordic CEOs are concerned with the quality of the data used for decision making in this area, with only 27% saying they are ready to adopt advanced AI technology.
Nordic companies with a digital business model are embracing AI. Spotify relies on AI for recommendation engines and Klarna uses AI for detecting fraud and credit assessment.
However, examples of the use of artificial intelligence among incumbents are now more and more widespread. Examples include Novo Nordisk, who use Watson in their R&D, and Siemens Windpower, which is using machine learning to bring down the cost of windmill maintenance.
There are plenty of examples in the financial services sector. SEB has begun using one of the most advanced digital assistants, Amelia, internally and for customer service as well. Danske Bank has launched a robo-advisor called June that customers can use instead of a traditional adviser. Firms are beginning to deploy robotics which entail both rule‑based AI and image recognition. This is spreading in the Nordic countries and is being used for a large array of tasks such as preparing customer meetings, making payments, handling critical illness claims at lightning speed, fixing data issues and enabling new digital solutions. Voice and chatbots are appearing with a voice‑based solution in a Norwegian bank and chatbots are being deployed at a large insurer.
The AI revolution has begun and Nordic companies are on the right track.