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CIO interview: Mats Hultin, Saab Group

Saab Group's CIO talks to Computer Weekly about the huge challenge of integrating 40 separate IT organisations into one

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CWEurope: CW Nordics: February 2016:

Sweden-based defence and security company Saab Group is in the process of merging 40 IT organisations into one, and CIO Mats Hultin says it is the biggest change-management challenge he has ever had.

Hultin said his experience in transforming other organisations and his change-management work in various divisions of Saab were likely factors in him being given his current role.

He has spent 23 years at Saab Group, first working in the development of systems for fighter aircraft, and then moving on to customer support, among other things.

Before taking on the CIO role five years ago, Hultin was chief of staff at Aerosystems, one of Saab Group’s business areas. “I managed a really big transformation in Aerosystems, but it was nothing like the one I am handling now,” he said.

“In Aerosystems, I worked with one single management group, whereas I now work with up to 40 management groups. That creates a really different kind of complexity.”

There are several reasons to merge the group’s IT organisations, said Hultin. “We see the benefits with economy of scale and an opportunity to get more out of our IT investments,” he said. “Also, Saab Group has to be more agile and flexible and work better together as a company, to be able to grow globally.”

The IT transformation is an important part of achieving this, he added. “It is hard to work together as a company when you have 40 different IT organisations.”

The merger of the group’s IT organisations began in 2009, and Hultin took over as CIO in 2010. “A situation assessment had already been made when I came on board, so my task has been to execute, perfect and adapt the strategy,” he said.

The plan is for the group to have a single, unified IT organisation at the start of 2017. “We began by merging IT organisations together in regions, for example North America and South Africa,” said Hultin.

“But Saab Group is still the biggest [company] in Sweden, so the hardest job was to merge the different IT organisations here. When all the regions are merged, the last step is to tie it all together into one single global IT organisation.”

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Saab’s new IT unit will comprise about 250 people. “The number of IT employees has been, and will continue to be, about the same, but some people have left the company, some have got other jobs within the company, and we have recruited new people,” said Hultin. “We are reviewing which competencies we will have in-house, and which we will outsource.”

Saab Group began outsourcing on a large scale 15 years ago, and today the equivalent of 700 full-time jobs are performed by suppliers. “We will probably continue to outsource, but we will grow at the same time – that is why the number of IT employees in the company will not change,” said Hultin.

In preparation for the IT merger, the company replaced many of its IT systems. “We choose to think like this: it is not practical to build an IT organisation that is working with 40 different systems,” said Hultin. “We replace the systems first, so that we all work with the same systems when we are a new organisation.”

But it is no easy task to replace Saab’s IT systems, he added. “We are a complex company – we make a lot of different products and have lots of different projects. Other companies might be able to standardise on an SAP system, even though they have different brands in the company, but that is not possible for us. However, we have reduced the number of systems a lot.”

And this reduction will continue, because fewer applications saves a lot of money, said Hultin. “We are now making a big effort to get different business functions to work in the same way so that they use the same systems, instead of similar systems.

“But there is a lot of ingrained methodology and knowledge surrounding these systems, so we have to work really closely with the businesses to make sure we do this in a sound way.”

Reduce applications

It was not a hard decision to reduce the number of applications, said Hultin. “The hard part is to make the very tangible decision to replace a specific application,” he added. “Making a good decision has a lot to do with timing. It is hard to change systems in the middle of a project, so we are looking at when we can replace an application, rather forcing a change straight away.”

Another important task for Hultin is to support the group’s new businesses. “The world is getting increasingly insecure, and that means we see increasing demand for our products,” he said. “We are growing, which I think is really exciting. It is a good thing if we can help to make the world a safer place.”

When Saab Group acquires companies, the new IT organisation’s role will be to help speed up the integration process, said Hultin. “And when we start collaborating with other companies, we now have a solution that makes it easier. We virtualise applications, servers and clients, so we can give our partners virtual clients, enabling them to get access to some of our systems.”

And when Saab wins contracts in new countries, Hultin helps to build up the IT infrastructure. “Right now there is a lot of focus on Brazil, since it is a big and very important deal for Saab,” he said. “Many collaborations and partnerships are included in the deal, so our role is to build the IT infrastructure we need, and to integrate Saab and our partners, so we can work together safely.”

The most important lesson Hultin has learned during his five years as Saab Group’s CIO is to make faster decisions. “Technology is changing really, really fast and you have to make decisions without first investigating all the details,’ he said. “You have to trust your gut feeling and have the courage to make a decision, even though many people may not like it.”

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