“IT doesn’t sit around to make IT, it is there to solve business issues or support business opportunities. That’s the insight I have brought into Nokia,” says John Clarke, CIO and senior vice president of Nokia.

It has taken just ten years for the mobile industry to reach three billion subscribers, and of these, 850 million devices are Nokia devices. The Finnish mobile phone company has the lion’s share of this market, and is the world’s largest maker of phone equipment. “The number of mobile phones in the world exceeds the number of toothbrushes,” says Clarke.

“The greatest thing about my role is that we are creating a new industry, and Nokia is at the forefront of a new mobile ecosystem. Not sure if it will be called Web 2.0 or Mobile 2.0 or Web 3.0, but we are at the forefront of trying to create that vision.”

But the behemoth can’t afford to rest on its laurels. It must continue to innovate to hold on to its position. This includes converging Web 2.0 with mobility, and striking a balance between the need to innovate and security.

“We have the ability – given our global size – to create an industry and create a new dimension to that. We are right at the very start of that transformation around mobile services and development. That’s why it’s an exciting time to be a CIO, and be part of the innovation around this whole stream of mobile services, mobile devices, that are changing how we work,” Clarke explains, adding that Web 2.0 and mobility are not yet natural partners and there is still much to be done.

The 20-year veteran of IT explores issues such as: how do social networks form? What is the flow of information? How do business processes work? This questioning is important, because Nokia is undergoing a transformation designed to connect its human resources with the business value. The programme, called Nokia Way of working, or Wow for short, is based on engaging employees and encouraging feedback to create a “flat, networked organisation”. Clarke describes the programme as a way to engineer opportunities and ideas.

One such Wow trend is the explosion of mobility in the enterprise where the next generation of “digital natives” bring their own mobile device to the organisation. Recently, speaking at a Gartner event in Barcelona, Clarke encouraged this boom of mobility as contributing towards today’s “liquid professional workplace.”

“Most new recruits will bring a multimedia mobile device into the enterprise,” says Clarke. “And these devices that are invading the workplace are growing more powerful, with vaster memories and multiple functions.”

Intelligent devices
However, Clarke says this plethora of new devices and the use of social networking and new Web 2.0 applications is something employers should “encourage and maximise on”, because it provides enterprises with new opportunities, as mobiles are becoming an “essential, intelligent media device” for the end user. An added benefit of this is that when an employee walks in the door with a mobile device, they are practically walking in the door with a full book of contacts.

His take on social networking and mobile devices is unconventional compared to most IT leaders. While many corporations strive to control use of personal devices and social networking tools, Clarke praises social networking website Facebook. “New employees can bring Facebook to the enterprise, and bring all their contacts with them. The old blank phonebook destroys the concept of social networking. Facebook, or the social phonebook, is an opportunity for employers.”

Clarke recognises that there is a fine line to tread between security and functionality, in order to liberate employees and allow them to do what they do well while also controlling information.

“There is a sort of tension, which is a good tension to have, between the issue of control versus the issue of openness. A lot of that tension is around technology and security topics that haven’t been fully thought through.”

He points out that a lot of Web 2.0 applications with rich feature sets may not be robust enough for the enterprise yet, and lack inbuilt security. Yet, there is a danger of oversecuring and overstandardising technology in a way that destroys their performance.

“There is a debate raging on which side should change. Have we made the corporate ecosystem too rigid to allow new technologies in? Or must we make Web 2.0 more robust, more secure?” he says. “Most CIOs have great pressure to do everything. On the one hand, open the doors and let every user use what they want to use, but then what happens to information security? Equally there is a great pressure to keep the doors closed and say ‘we don’t care if the world changes, we’re going to do what we do’. You’ve got to find a compromise. By now, most CIOs are trying to find the most feasible compromise path to take.”

Nokia operates in an intense industry, where new products and services are continually going to market, and quickly. Clarke’s philosophy is that people learn through experimentation. Web 2.0 technologies provide Clarke with the opportunity to mesh together applications and data and try out different things. Web 2.0 applications can be a way to maximise the strength of the company, make people collaborate, share and innovate across the company internally.

Going green: Nokia’s contribution

Environmental campaigner group Greenpeace has rated Nokia as the ‘greenest’ electronics provider in its latest Guide to Greener Electronics. The company is striving to minimise its environmental impact all the way through the company – from product design, through closer control of production processes, and better material use and recycling. The company is even investing in the architecture of its properties to improve its environmental footprint, looking at reduced flow water features, motion sensing light switches and high-efficiency cooling systems.

Clarke is keen to encourage more green initiatives. Nokia recently ordered video walls into its major head offices. The idea is to both reduce the carbon footprint from flying and create a better work/life balance for employees, by allowing them to have the technology that lets them work together where they are.

The challenge Clarke faces is how to provide the ecosystem that supports collaboration and breaks down barriers, which then encourages new ways of working, thinking and collaborating. Environmental improvement is just one aspect of this. “We want break down some of those traditional inhibitors to ways of working,” he says.

Pioneer of the blog
Clarke, himself, has been quick to embrace the Web 2.0 philosophy of user-generated content and open innovation. He was the first senior executive to write an internal blog. While Nokia’s employees have been blogging for years, before Clarke blogging was only a “grass roots” phenomenon, mainly used by engineers and designers to collaborate.

“I started the blog, literally, on day one at Nokia, and I was the first senior vice president to have a blog. I wanted to make a clear statement to my peers that we could engage in a different level of dialogue. It sounded like a good thing to do. And now we have more energy around it, and the CEO blog has popped up. The next stage is to extend the blog outside Nokia, to a wider community, as I’d like to start a discussion with our customers and our suppliers about some of the trends that we discuss internally today.”

Clarke sees blogs as a useful tool, where employees and teams can “gather collective intelligence and turn it into something meaningful”. As a management tool, the blog has allowed Clarke to collaborate with other thought leaders within Nokia, regardless of their role in the organisation.

“There is a high degree of collaboration within Nokia, but it comes down to trying to gather collective intelligence from this dialogue. We are moving towards a world of virtual and remote working. How do you tap into that intellectual quotient of your employees if they are spread across the world? So these tools are very important to us, but they are only the start of something bigger,” he says.

When asked what this would be, Clarke refers to his bookshelf. “I’m reading two books at the moment: Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams and Hot Spots by Professor Lynda Gratton from London Business School.”

A hot spot company, as defined by Gratton, is one where new ideas flow freely and growth, co-operation and success are achieved at a level that exceeds all expectations. In such companies, technology is used to bridge the boundaries around teams, and workplaces buzz with collaborative energy. Instead of the traditional work-for-reward culture, companies can thrive on voluntary contributions from a vast number of users. Examples of hot spot companies include Linux and Wikipedia.

Inspired by this, Clarke is exploring how to tap into that energy within Nokia. It is an ongoing objective to engage employees, harvest their collective intelligence, and then reward that information. “The future of Nokia is its people systems. I’m interested in using social networking technology to create the buzz of a hot spot company. If we don’t engage employees – and this doesn’t just apply to Nokia – we are in danger of losing talent. So how do we infuse them with excitement and enthusiasm? That’s what is interesting for me right now, as I travel, read books and think about things,” he says.

Blogging has also transformed Clarke as a leader, and he encourages his peers to also start a blog. “It ensures you are being very authentic. It is easy to get feedback when people think you are true and honest with what you are saying rather than playing a corporate line. I’ve had some open dialogue about what I see as good and bad about IT and processes inside Nokia. I’ve blogged about what we do well and what we sometimes don’t do very well to prompt a conversation.”

He adds: “I think it is improving people’s communications skills. Because of time pressures, you have to say things far more succinctly, which is better than everything coming through on 25 PowerPoint slides.”

Clarke maintains his enthusiasm on the changing function of the CIO. “In Nokia, my role encompasses both process and technology. There is something in the creation of the chief process officer function. The CIO must be more and more involved in the overall operations of the company. Hopefully, a lot of CIOs will become chief operating officers because a lot of what they do these days is so intrinsic to what a company does, so there is a natural evolution.”

He continues: “CIOs can also play a big role in transforming the people capability of companies. The Wow programme is about changing the DNA of our culture. My responsibility as CIO has a big part to play in this, because people’s ways of working are influenced by the systems they use. If you ask them what their job is, they will describe what the system does. They associate what they do with what the system does, and vice versa. But when you ask them what they want to do in future, they are locked into what they do today.”

Coming from a position of CTO to CIO, Clarke has found his focus has increased from systems designs, to one that includes process, organisation and cultural design. The CIO is not just managing the IT shift, but the bigger transformational change that occurs. And the skills required to achieve this are not those usually connected with the IT department.

“There is a demand on CIOs today to engineer a radical transformation of the company. That requires a higher degree of courage, because, if you are in a successful company, it’s very hard to talk about the need to change things.”