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CIO interview: Martin Uudelepp, Fonus Group

The interim CIO of Swedish family law and funeral group Fonus tells Computer Weekly about his role as a “chaos pilot”

Martin Uudelepp’s assignment as interim CIO of Swedish funeral and family law company Fonus Group is drawing to a close. On 15 April 2016 he hands over the responsibility to a new CIO. His mission will have lasted just shy of a year.

Uudelepp started at very short notice in June last year.

“The CIO before me had to quit his job quickly and I only met him for a few hours during handover,” Uudelepp explains. “Then I was on my own. This is the typical commission – I take over where there is chaos, and make sure things get back on track again. I am a chaos pilot!”

He is also a one-man company. He set up Novotum, a senior management consultancy and entrepreneur business in 2011. “The assignments are usually half a year to a year long, so I have handled quite a few chaos projects by now. This is the first time I have stepped in as CIO, but most of the projects are linked to IT.”

In his career Uudelepp has procured a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform at Swedish housing company Riksbyggen, and rolled out Office 365 at Swedish staffing company Lernia.

“I like to come to an organisation where there is a strong urge for change,” he says. “Something has gone really wrong, so there will not be long negotiations before things happen. Most of the time what I decide gets executed the same day.”

When Uudelepp is called in, his first task is always to unravel what is really going on. “I have to get a grip on things, make an action plan, and in the end hand over to the person who is going to handle the maintenance. My work often involves moving and hiring people.”

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Priority list

Before Uudelepp started as CIO at Fonus Group, the board of directors gave him a description of his most urgent tasks. “I was to take care of the IT group, which had been left without a leader; handle two big ERP system projects; and manage the integration of a newly acquired family law firm.”

The next step was to try to understand what exactly had to be done, and what resources he had at his disposal. “Things have gone pretty well. One of the ERP systems is being rolled out now, and the other one will be rolled out after the summer. And when it comes to the acquired family law firm, we managed to migrate everything in time according to the contract. We are now planning for the next step, which is to move it all up to Azure before the summer.”

Fonus Group has also decided to go all in for Microsoft solutions, says Uudelepp. “We are moving away from Citrix to Intune, Windows 10 and Office 365. Microsoft Enterprise Cloud Suite fulfils our need for mobility in a very cost-efficient and user-friendly way. The company is currently analysing what it can move to Azure. “I hope we can move everything,” he adds.

Converted to cloud

Fonus Group used to host and own all its IT, buying everything with cash upfront, says Uudelepp. “Now we are going to get IT as a service, and much of it in the cloud. There are several reasons for that: lower costs, increased competence, better security, increased dependability, and less reliance on individuals in our own organisation.”

Uudelepp put together the new IT strategy six weeks into the job. In November 2015 he and the rest of the board took the formal decision to follow the new strategy. “The move to the cloud will be finalised during 2016. We are making very big changes very fast, and the reason for that is that we want to get rid of all the old stuff instead of making new investments.”

But moving away from old IT systems has many challenges, says Uudelepp. “One of them is to get the business to understand why we are changing systems. Another challenge is for us to get a grasp on what needs the business has, because Fonus Group has about 250 offices in Sweden and Norway.”

The shift also brings technical challenges. “There is no established maintenance management process in the company. This means that there are very few people with the right knowledge for us to talk to. How are we then supposed to chase up the business’s real needs?”

To solve this problem, Fonus is creating a new maintenance model, inspired by the maintenance management model Pm3. “This will give us a good and structured dialogue with the business,” says Uudelepp.

Smooth handover

As his CIO assignment draws to a close, Uudelepp is focusing on making the handover to the new CIO as good as possible. “This means making sure that the projects are under control so that he can feel safe and secure when he steps in.”

Fonus will not only get a new CIO, two new system managers and one support manager are also joining the company. “The new CIO has been taking part in the recruitment processes. I want him to feel that he is taking over his own employees, and I want the employees to feel that the new CIO is their boss.”

At the time of the interview with Computer Weekly, Uudelepp does not know where he is heading next. “I seldom get to know about a new assignment more than a week before I start – sometimes it is just a matter of days. I am connected to recruiters, who contact me when they get an assignment that fits my profile.

“I am not planning on taking time off before my next commission. A week or two would be okay, but longer would just be boring.”

Chaos pilot tips

After five years as a chaos pilot, Uudelepp has some advice for other IT professionals who wants to switch to this way of working: “Start out by analysing what kind of role you like and are good at.

“The next step is to contact different recruiters and try to sell yourself and your competences to them – it is like a job interview.

“And my last piece of advice: do not accept assignments you cannot handle. It might feel good to be chosen and to get the money, but if it does not work out, it will not be fun in any way.”

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