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How should IT be used to govern companies?


In addition to his primary occupation as a researcher at the Department of Applied IT, Johan Magnusson frequently serves as an expert on issues of IT, business, and digitalisation. He is often seen giving talks at conventions and he is a regular columnist. In his research, Johan puts considerable emphasis on the dilemmas of IT governance that several organizations face.

Today’s bureaucratic governance needs to become more flexible and agile

Johan Magnusson
– One problem is the strong bureaucracy that characterizes IT nowadays. Reporting by IT departments is only concerned with efficiency, while innovation and new ways of thinking are considered as risk factors, says Johan Magnusson.

Johan Magnusson arrived to the IT Faculty from the School of Business, Economics and Law in 2015. He has nothing but positive things to say about both the atmosphere at the department, and the overall atmosphere at Lindholmen.

– This is the first place I’ve been to where everyone takes such interest in what other people are doing. You get plenty of recommendations on articles and methods from inspiring and extremely competent colleagues, Johan Magnusson says. He is also very fond of the close collaboration and the short distance between academia and industry at Lindholmen.

– Since we are placed in the middle of everything and next to the industry, it is so easy to run into one another. But I think we could become even better at exploiting these partnerships.

Problems based on reality

Johan is primarily into applied research, assisting companies in solving concrete challenges. His experience from the world of business benefits him when he gives lectures for students, as he makes sure each theoretical assumption is linked to authentic examples. The students appreciate that.

– I don’t think discrepancy between theory and practice is a good thing. They should be linked together, Johan says.

Back in 2005, while still at the School of Business, Economics and Law, Johan co-founded the strategic initiative Centre for Business Solutions, together with his colleague Urban Ask. The centre is still active. By bringing in IT solutions from major software vendors, students get the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge to real solutions.

– We are no longer at the stage where it is "enough" with just an education. Today, you have be very much aware of the purpose of your education and which type of position you want to work in.

IT has become a prerequisite for innovation

Johan devotes much of his time to the study of IT governance. In 2010, he completed a doctoral thesis entitled Un-packaging IT Governance. A study of Chief Information Officers in Large, Swedish Organizations. As a regular columnist on the subject, Johan explains that a well-functioning IT organization is a necessary prerequisite for the innovation and development in an organization. How organizations can be governed by the use of IT is an issue which needs to be addressed. IT is not always a top priority today, despite the transforming power of digitalisation.

– One problem is the strong bureaucracy that characterizes IT nowadays. The reports from IT departments are only concerned with efficiency, while innovation and new ways of thinking are considered as risk factors. Consequently, such initiatives almost have to be covert. Digitalisation may cause that IT departments as well as non-reflecting IT governance act as obstacles to innovation. Companies tend to miss the relationship between their IT management and the structure of their organization. Also, they miss the opportunity to use IT to transform their organization.

– With the new transformative IT, companies are generally involved in smaller projects. This requires alternative forms of IT governance, Johan explains. We need to complement the existing bureaucratic governance with a governance that is more flexible and agile.

More than one string to his bow

Johan Magnusson’s projects spans several fields, the most notable being Competing on Visualization. The intention is to support companies in processes of decision-making.

Johan is also one of the initiators behind Alfrek, a platform intended to make research increasingly accessible to practitioners. Johan explains that if research findings are re-packaged – and, thus, become more concrete and accessible, they could attain a higher level of impact.

Furthermore, alongside a team of colleagues from eHealth, a research group at the department, Johan is involved in 3R. He describes it as one of Sweden’s largest IT investments. Their goal is to design healthcare solutions for the future. Assistance is coming from, for example, one of the executives at the regional council, currently working as an associate professor at the department. Johan is optimistic: – We have quite a different approach than most other researchers working in the healthcare sector.

Eventful academic career

Johan Magnusson’s original intention was to become a consultant and work with knowledge management. In order to reach that goal, he obtained no less than three undergraduate degrees: in psychology, informatics, and business administration. He started his own business and began to develop software, but eventually he started to feel it was not completely right for him. Instead, Johan started to work part time as a teacher, an occupation he became more and more fond of. In 2002, he was recruited as adjunct at the School of Business, Economics and Law in Gothenburg.

Eventually, after having completed a licentiate degree in informatics, Johan decided to specialize in accounting. He has however continued to work as a consultant, advisor and entrepreneur in addition to his ordinary duties ever since.

– It has been an eventful career, Johan says.

Johan thinks he has benefited from combining research and teaching.

– Teaching and research naturally go hand in hand. My students are really smart; they can give me a lot of input which helps me develop my theories.


Interview: Erik Pedersen
Translation: Catharina Jerkbrant