CIO interview: Frans Westerlund, Fiskars

Fiskars CIO Frans Westerlund tells Computer Weekly about the challenges faced by IT when a business instigates a major strategic transformation

Fiskars CIO Frans Westerlund is managing the IT challenges that come with carrying out a major six-year transformation project at Finland’s oldest company.

Founded in 1649, the global consumer goods supplier has been expanding its portfolio of home, garden and outdoors products at a rapid rate. The related IT integrations could be a major headache, but for Westerlund it is just another step in the wider programme.

Westerlund started as CIO at Fiskars in 2009, soon after the company had decided on a major change in strategy to boost competitiveness. This meant shifting from a holding company structure, with several international consumer brands and independent country branches, to one integrated corporation.

Fiskars needed to consolidate its 20 country-specific IT teams and 15 enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems into a single IT organisation with shared global operations and business applications.

“When a company goes through a major change, IT also needs to transform to be able to support this change,” says Westerlund. “We had scattered teams and fragmented systems.”

He says the company started by harmonising its IT infrastructure. It then implemented a centralised IT organisation, initiated shared processes and created new decision-making models.

The result has been a complete IT governance overhaul to manage the new model. All strategic IT decisions have been moved from country organisations to Fiskars’ executive board, while on a local level decisions are made by each business sector’s management teams.

Still, this only represents the first phase of the transformation project. Westerlund says Fiskars is now 70% through its second phase – the implementation of shared IT processes and related information systems, such as SAP-based ERP – but the benefits are already tangible

“When you think, for example, about a shared infrastructure, then of course it makes it easier to integrate acquired companies,” he says. “We get shared email and collaboration tools straight away and can start to communicate like a single company.”

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The knowledge challenge

Westerlund joined Fiskars after 15 years in a variety of IT positions at Finnish telecoms – and former mobile phone – giant Nokia. He believes all modern CIOs should learn to look at a company’s business from multiple perspectives.

“I have been involved in logistics and production-related systems, in basic infrastructure, sales and marketing, as well as digital projects,” says Westerlund.

“A comprehensive view of IT can only be formed through doing different things in a variety of teams. This is exactly what CIOs need. They need to be able to work with all processes and businesses.

“If you can’t understand the business models and strategies of different units, it is impossible to build IT solutions for them,” he adds.

This comprehensive understanding has been vital to Fiskars’ strategic transformation. Westerlund emphasises it is not enough to change IT systems, governance and operational models, but the IT organisation and its expertise need to adapt as well.

Organisations need people who can do large projects that can spread over years, as well as short digitalisation projects where you need to be fast and agile

Frans Westerlund, Fiskars


“It is different to manage global systems than run a system specific to each country. It is more complex and requires different kinds of expertise,” he says. “In all transformations of this scale the biggest challenges have to do with expertise.”

Westerlund adds that you need to ensure the entire organisation is ready to receive a major change and you need to understand how good the transformation team is, “no matter if they are internal or external people”.

At Fiskars the knowledge challenge has been tackled by the centralised IT. A structure of 20 small, country-specific teams has been transformed into a unified organisation of 70 globally minded IT people in nine countries.

“In addition to modifying the organisation, we have trained our existing employees so they have the ability to manage IT globally and recruited new people,” says Westerlund. “Organisations need people who can do large projects that can spread over years, as well as short digitalisation projects where you need to be fast and agile.”

Westerlund admits that while the Fiskars IT team works seamlessly today, at the start of the transformation project they didn’t have enough of the right expertise internally and more support was needed from external partners.

But he believes this is a natural progression: “It is common for these kinds of projects that at the start your organisation doesn’t have the right expertise and you need external support to ignite change. Then the expertise is slowly transferred into your own team.”

Collaborate or fail

Fiskars’ new IT environment is already put to use supporting the company’s digitalisation – especially in marketing and sales – as well as its acquisition-driven growth plan.

In the past year Fiskars has both expanded into new business categories by buying US-based Bosch Garden and Watering, and expanded its home and lifestyle brands with the purchase of WWRD, the company behind iconic British brands such as Wedgwood, Waterford and Royal Doulton.

“The main thing for IT is to be part of these discussions from the start and when the acquisition negotiations happen, you start to prepare for the integration. If IT isn’t included in the discussions, it will be late to act when the acquisition goes through,” says Westerlund.

“It is always a business decision how a new company is integrated, but IT needs to be able to execute these decisions,” he adds.

Westerlund asserts the importance of dialogue and collaboration in modern IT. He says it is key to balancing a complex IT roadmap with several major projects.

“It is always the case with IT that there are more demands than capacity to do them. We need to continuously prioritise and have discussions with different business units to find the most important things at any given time,” he says. “This doesn’t only touch IT but is a challenge for the entire company.”

As an example, Westerlund cites digitalisation. When Fiskars finds a new digital focus area, the first priority is to ensure it has the right expertise and capacity to take the project forward. These can be found in IT, but also in business units or through partner networks.

For Westerlund this highlights how IT today has become an integral element to every business function – and digitalisation is driving it even further.

“Digitalisation is a fundamental change. It moves at such a speed that you have to really pay attention to keep up and make sure that not only own expertise is on the correct level, but that of the whole team,” he says.

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