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Nordic CIO interview: Magnus Åkerlind, Loomis

Director of global IT co-ordination at Swedish cash-handling company Loomis tells Computer Weekly about harmonising IT globally while protecting local independence

Swedish cash-handling company Loomis has 23,000 employees and operations in around 400 branch offices in more than 20 countries. Its services include secure cash storage, cash transit and processing.

The organisation is decentralised and is created through a number of acquisitions, according to Loomis director of global IT co-ordination Magnus Åkerlind

We want to ensure a local responsibility for all aspects of the business in every country and branch. My role is to make sure we co-ordinate our resources, focus on the right things and do not take major risks,” he says.

Every country in which the firm operates has its own IT organisation, which is an advantage since the businesses are local.

The local premises and customer expectations should direct IT,” says Åkerlind. But we have seen that decentralised IT in many aspects drive cost, and smaller countries do not always have the resources to keep up with the evolution in IT.”  

He adds that there are limited benefits of having different infrastructure and systems for things like communication in the different countries. And it is a waste of resources to run five different projects with the same idea and goal. So my task is to make our decentralised organisation more unified,” says Åkerlind.

The difference between Åkerlind’s role and that of a CIO is mainly that he is not part of the group management. And nobody in the different countries reports directly to me. The only one who has that connection to the countries is our group CEO. The rest of us have dotted lines to the countries,” he says.

The fact that the local IT directors do not report directly to Åkerlind is one of his major challenges, he admits. I cannot instruct them what to do – I can only support them in moving in a common direction. If I want to make a formal decree, I have to lift it to our CEO, who then issues it. My role can be seen as 20% technology, 20% economy and 60% politics.”

Loomis’ IT structure resembles that of the European Union (EU), explains Åkerlind. We both have a number of sovereign countries and an umbrella organisation, he says. And the umbrella organisation tries to find ways to co-ordinate, and then it tries to sell it to the countries as the right way to go. We do not want to make the countries feel they are not in control.”

Before Åkerlind assumed his current role in 2012, he was head of IT at Loomis in Sweden for more than five years. This means that I have a good understanding of the business, which is a great asset when working at a group level,” he says.

Differences in local circumstances

Loomis has the same three main business areas in all countries it operates, but the local circumstances differ a lot, says Åkerlind. That means that our services are very different in different countries, which makes it hard to find a one-size-fits-all when it comes to IT. Our services are highly depended on laws, regulations and the local banks.”

And the markets are getting even more dissimilar, as they are developing in different directions, adds Åkerlind. For example, the cash volume is still increasing in some countries, particularly in the south of Europe and in the US, while Sweden is moving towards a cash free society, he says. This also means we have to think about finding new business opportunities, particularly in the Nordics.”

My role is to make sure we co-ordinate our resources, focus on the right things and do not take major risks
Magnus Åkerlind, Loomis

The three main business areas are national transport of cash, cash-management services, and international logistics of cash and valuables. Cash in transit within countries is the core of our business, and we use traditional track and trace systems for this business area, explains Åkerlind. But we have much tougher demands on security and monitoring than other transportation companies. We need to know where every bag and every car are at all times, and we have constant communication with the drivers.”

The cash-management services are performed at cash-processing centres, where banknotes and coins are counted, authenticated and quality-checked. Then we make sure the money is deposited in the right bank accounts. In several countries we also function as the central bank’s cash deposit, says Åkerlind.

This business area operates much like a traditional manufacturing industry, and therefore needs another kind of IT systems than the cash transport area, he adds. A challenge for us is that there are very few suppliers of systems for our niche. We have enormous possibilities to automate the cash processing, and we are trying to figure out which things we are to develop ourselves and what things we should buy.”

The answer will be different in different countries, according to Åkerlind. In some countries we will develop everything by ourselves, since the circumstances in that country are such that we cannot find a standardised system that fits without too much customisation, he says. But we want to use standardised systems with some customisation in as many countries as possible, since it is costly to develop ourselves when digital progress is so fast.”

Read more Nordic CIO interviews

The IT systems for the third business area, international logistics of cash and valuables, are integrated with Loomis’ national cash-transportation services and the services of other companies. This means that we cannot pursue IT development independently in this area,” says Åkerlind.

Safe Point

Loomis has recently created a new product, called Safe Point. It is based on a digitised safety deposit box, which sends information about what is put in it and what is taken out,” explains Åkerlind. “This makes it possible for us to really take advantage of the possibilities digitisation offers. When our customer deposits cash in the safe, a bank we have a contract with deposits the money on the customers bank account – before we have picked up the cash.”

Safe Point increases the customer’s liquidity and provides real-time knowledge of exactly how much money there is in all of the customer’s safes, says Åkerlind. It also means we can optimise our logistics, since we do not have to pick up the money at specific times,” he adds. Instead we come when the cash in the safe reaches the level we have agreed on. Safe Point is a very important project for us. Currently we have more than 16,000 Safe Points at our customer locations, and the number of safes is growing steadily.”

A fter the summer, Åkerlind will take a six-month break from his work responsibilities. I am going on paternity leave,” he says. The Americans think it is interesting that the organisation keeps functioning even though we in Sweden have five to six weeks of vacation in the summer and go on parental leave for many months. No one will take over my role as it is when I am gone. My responsibilities will be divided between different people, and I will also make myself available when it is needed.

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

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