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«Striving for efficiency should preferably be replaced by achieving resilience»

Fabian Brechbühl, Head of IT at armasuisse, talks in an interview about the «Digital Journey» of armasuisse as well as about the opportunities and risks of the digital transformation process. He explains why employees should act not just as multipliers as regards digitalisation but also promoters, and which risks of digitalisation to look out for in order to prevent agile from becoming fragile.

Lea Ryf, specialist area Communication, competence sector Resources and Support

Portrait image of Fabian Brechbühl, Chief Information Officer and Head of IT at armasuisse.
Fabian Brechbühl, Chief Information Officer and Head of IT at armasuisse.

The «Digital Journey» is a learning journey through the technological, organisational and cultural transformation process in the DDPS and at armasuisse. What was your motivation in signing up as the person responsible at armasuisse for the «Digital Journey»?

First of all, thank you for the opportunity of an interview and a quick question to you: May we continue on first-name terms? I always offer this to all other work colleagues as well. It eliminates unnecessary distance, because in my opinion, mutual respect and decency are independent of that.

Back to your question. My motivation for this is probably genetically conditioned – I am very inquisitive by nature, love intellectual challenges and correspond to the type «generalist». As the Head of IT and CIO (Chief Information Officer) I am jointly responsible for the continued development of armasuisse. The technical resources of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) may only represent one sub-aspect of this, but they are elementary in their expression. So it is a matter of supporting the continued development of armasuisse as best possible and to this end knowing the requirements and the needs of the employees, be they procedural, organisational or technical. On the one hand, all these aspects occur in every traditional ICT project, while on the other hand they are key elements of a «Digital Journey». That is also why I try wherever possible to exert some influence on the ICT development in the Federal Administration. The «mass inertia» with regard to relevant changes or urgent innovations in ICT development is still often too strong in my view.

The «mass inertia» with regard to relevant changes or urgent innovations in ICT development is still often too strong in my view.

The symbolic image DigitalJourney VBS shows a hiking signpost in the direction of the mountains at the foot of which a camp has been set up.  Symbolically the most important elements are shown.
The «DDPS Digital Journey» presented as a graphical illustration.

Can you tell us more about the target vision, the ambitions and the areas of activity for digitalisation at armasuisse which will serve as the compass during the «Digital Journey»?

This type of journey basically has no beginning and no end, because today we already talk globally about «Industry 4.0» and further development steps will follow accordingly. I recommend recording our «travel destinations» in a digitalisation strategy specific to armasuisse, or to reflect them even more prominently in the corporate strategy. Ultimately, it is up to enterprise management to define the respective targets, ambitions and areas of activity for the office. However, as I am now able to work collectively on these issues at Department level and we have jointly developed possible solutions, I will continue to be involved in this process within armasuisse.

You have qualified as one of around 30 employees in the entire DDPS for the one-year learning journey with the ada Fellowship Learning Programme, which aims to train participants to become effective multipliers of digitalisation in their administrative units. What do you expect from this learning journey?

My expectations in this regard are high, accompanied however, by a correspondingly pronounced motivation and anticipation. In addition to the very important topic of multipliers which you addressed, I view the creation of a common understanding in particular as a major opportunity. armasuisse has the good fortune to be able to provide one person from each competence sector, which can build an important bridge, particularly in matters of digitalisation. These employees should in future not «only» act as multipliers but at best, also promoters, which adds positive impetus to the cause. Complemented by Enterprise and Human Resources Development, we could thus grow into a core team for digitalisation. And who knows, perhaps this might even enable us to establish a spirit which would help us to win the «Digital Economy Award» one day?

Employees should not «only» act as multipliers but at best, also promoters of digitalisation.

Fabian Brechbühl, Chief Information Officer and Head of IT at armasuisse, establishing the fields of development, initiatives and epics of the “DDPS Digital Journey”.
Fabian Brechbühl, Chief Information Officer and Head of IT at armasuisse, establishing the fields of development, initiatives and epics of the «DDPS Digital Journey».

What does digitalisation and the digital transformation process mean in your specialist area of IT?

Digitalisation in the traditional sense actually began back when the computer was invented in the 1940s. In addition to the ever faster pace of technological development, it represents the main driver for IT and ultimately makes this business so diversified and exciting.
As a basis, the performance and the availability of the ICT resources as well as the special applications used are of key importance and need to be managed.
However, this requires the constant tracking and evaluation of technological trends as well as the appropriate training and further education of all those involved.
In order to be able to anticipate the future development and the resulting requirements in my role even earlier, we launched, in 2017 and with the support of the National Armaments Director, the programme for introducing an enterprise architecture, which was successfully anchored in the company at the end of 2020. Interdependencies can thus be made transparent and complexity reduced using appropriate methods.
I therefore consider the enterprise architecture today to be an important basic requirement for the digital transformation process, so that «cause and effect» can be better understood and taken into consideration in the continuing development of a company.

What opportunities and risks of digitalisation and digital transformation lie in store for armasuisse?

This question must be considered today in a somewhat different context than it would have been before March 2020. What was previously considered almost impossible as regards the next steps in digitalisation is now equivalent to the «new normal».
Opportunities often present themselves when you abandon familiar paths in your thinking and ask yourself whether there is still potential for optimisation, automation or digitalisation in the most commonly used processes or whether, for example, the use of artificial intelligence or other achievements would make sense?
Based on a well-known quote, I would formulate it as follows:
«If you digitalise an unusable process, you will get an unusable digital process». So it’s a bit like when you move house – it’s better to have a clear out before you move than to lug all the clutter with you and to stow it away again somewhere in your new home.  It is therefore essential to take this into account in the continuing «Digital Journey».
On the other hand, and now I come to the risks, a permanent «desire to optimise» these processes frequently inhibit further development in a company. We need to replace the aspiration to efficiency that is still widespread today by achieving resilience. In times of information and data overload as well as the increasing dilution of work and private life («work/life blending»), it is therefore essential to pay the necessary attention to both the health of employees, as well as to oneself. We need to prevent the buzzword «agile» from becoming «fragile».

In times of information and data overload as well as «work/life blending», it is important to pay the necessary attention to the health of both employees as well as to oneself.

 

What does digitalisation mean for you personally and what fascinates you about it in particular?

Almost anything to do with technology and computers has fascinated me, ever since I was a child. It is therefore my personal challenge to continue to tackle new topics and technologies with enthusiasm as I get older, and to become more or less proficient in them as far as possible. To use them in a beneficial manner and thus «to make the world a little easier» is what drives me. I think this brings us back full circle to your initial question regarding my motivation.

Brief profile of Fabian Brechbühl

Portrait image of Fabian Brechbühl, Chief Information Officer and Head of IT at armasuisse.

Fabian Brechbühl (49) joined armasuisse in 2008 as Head of the IT sector. Among other things, he managed the introduction of the competence centre Enterprise Architecture at armasuisse and is responsible for the «Digital Journey» within armasuisse. The graduate civil engineer (FH) holds an EMBA in General Management and previously worked as a Senior Consultant for Enterprise Development, ICT and Construction Management.