Saab and System of Systems: Taking the holistic approach
Digitalisation is making the needs of Saab’s customers’ more and more complex. One of our responses to this challenge is a ‘System of Systems’ approach, where Saab works more closely with a customer as its ongoing provider of complete solutions.
Saab’s name is widely regarded as a byword for innovation. But while we keep innovating best-in-class technology, another key area in which we need to keep evolving is in our customer interactions.
Digitalisation is bringing software that makes for increasingly sophisticated weapons and systems. Many customers use interconnected radars, ships or aircraft. They need a defence supplier that can take an overarching ‘system of systems’ approach to help them operate in this more complex environment.
“It’s about taking a holistic view,” says Robert Humeur, who works with Business Development and Strategy in Saab’s business area Surveillance, and has been leading a campaign activity around system of systems for a select few customers.
“System of systems helps us be the ones who supply capabilities rather than just bits and pieces of equipment by spec.”
Defining the concept
System of systems is not a new concept; nor is it for Saab.
“In its purest approach it’s about putting together building blocks, connecting physically separate objects for them to work together,” explains Humeur.
“In our bigger ‘home markets’, we are already system integrators at the top level - which makes us builders of system of systems. We are integrating ships, aircraft and ground stations for our customers, for example.”
Why do we need system of systems?
Despite Saab’s existing exposure to system integration, the approach needs to become more widespread across our organisation.
“If we take the example of our radars: they are world-class, but the more complex nature of electronic warfare means our customers require more complex solutions, and to be able to respond to that means we have to think in a system of systems manner.
“In a product development roadmap, normally network control functions have been quite far down the roadmap because it’s not something that’s been required of a single radar from the customers. But once you start interconnecting radars, you need these functionalities. The work my team is doing now is to offer our customers an increase knowledge and competence of the importance of network functions in product roadmaps.”
What are the benefits for Saab and our customers?
Before joining Saab four years ago, Robert Humeur worked on the customer side, and it’s this insight, allied with his expertise in sensors, that makes him clear about the benefits system of systems can bring.
“It makes us better at interacting with partners and potential customers,” he explains.
“Rather than just providing individual pieces of equipment we can provide something that meets their requirements for capabilities. But the challenge is always about defining capabilities that you can’t really trickle down to a single system. How do you define an air surveillance capability?
“It’s easy to specify how far the radar should reach or the object it should be able to detect at a specific distance, and we’re pretty good at that. But how do we advise the customer about how they mix and match different solutions? Which different partners should we bring in to fill different capability gaps? How many radars do we need? What kind of bandwidth do we need for connecting them? What are the cybersecurity implications and how do you ensure they talk together in a secure way?”
“It’s hard to drive these developments in the traditional product development cycles,” he adds. “So it’s about influencing the individual sub-systems like the radar requirements, defining all these areas around it and bringing in our cyber expertise to run control systems.”
“Whenever you start interconnecting things such as combat air networks, naval strike groups, submarine capabilities, you need to have system of systems thinking. And we also shouldn’t be afraid to use what has already been invented. Often at Saab we have great ideas that are literally sitting in desk drawers but haven’t had the right opportunity for use.”
How will system of systems change Saab?
Like so many other companies and industries in this digitalisation era, Saab is always on a transformation journey.
“In industry now we see some companies moving towards very efficient hardware production and some companies shifting to more of an integrated software and service business standpoint. With a software service model, we can roll out capabilities and demonstrate them before we invest too much. It’ll help us be more efficient and invest in the solutions customers need. And that can help us be more profitable. It’s a win-win for everyone.”