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  • CFO Europe Magazine

Middle Man

A new breed of executive -- equally fluent in the ways of finance and IT -- is bridging the gap between two traditionally adversarial roles.

As at Elementis, early and intense collaboration between finance and IT is critical. “It’s only when you tackle the base assumptions that you find where it all goes wrong,” Blackwood says. “It often takes somebody new, a director in charge of both areas, to examine those assumptions.”

That was the thinking at Gunnebo, a SKr6.7 billion (€730m) security products group based in Gothenburg, Sweden, when it hired Hans af Sillen last year. Af Sillen spent 15 years working his way up the finance ladder at industrial group Atlas Copco, and — unusually — joined Gunnebo as its first-ever CIO.

Although he considers himself a “finance guy,” af Sillen is no stranger to technology. “I’ve been involved with ERP, of course, changing, adapting and implementing systems. I’ve also taken the lead on business intelligence projects. I’ve headed CRM implementations, quotation tools and web tools for ordering and delivering products. I’ve also dealt with infrastructure issues, like wide area network projects, collaboration platforms and these sorts of things. I’ve had a bit of exposure to IT,” he deadpans.

After dozens of acquisitions, Gunnebo was left with a jumble of poorly integrated systems, prompting a major restructuring that coincided with af Sillen’s arrival. At the end of this year, the group will pare itself down to around 60 companies running more than 30 technology platforms. Within three or four years, af Sillen’s roadmap calls for a single, homogeneous IT environment, “basically scrapping everything that Gunnebo had before,” he explains.

Securing the Future

With his finance background and fresh perspective, af Sillen’s approach to Gunnebo’s IT overhaul was different from that of a pure technologist. For instance, choosing one of the widely used systems from SAP or Oracle would have been the safest route, but af Sillen chose “a stronger and more economically efficient” system based on tools from Microsoft.

The “rather unique decision” to go with Microsoft for ERP, portal services, business intelligence and other functions will give the company “the biggest bang for the buck,” he asserts. For a company like Gunnebo, which is not particularly capital-intensive or transaction-heavy, traditional manufacturing-focused solutions would be “overkill” and risk overcomplicating the transition.

In January, af Sillen took over as CFO at Gunnebo, while retaining his duties as CIO. As with IT, he is now drawing up a restructuring roadmap for finance. Given his financial background, but recent history in IT, “finance probably thinks I’m an IT guy, and vice versa,” he jokes.

Although the middle ground between finance and IT departments remains a lonely outpost, it is likely to attract more settlers as pioneers like af Sillen and Anichebe continue to prove their worth.

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