Q&A: Giving customers what they want is key for Saab Security Systems' chief technology officer.
Headquartered in Järfälla, Sweden, Saab Systems supplies customized decision support systems, products and components to the defense, aviation, space and civil security markets. The company has more than 1,200 employees in Sweden, South Africa, Australia and Denmark.
eWEEK Editor Debra Donston recently spoke with the CTO of Saab Security Systems, Jenny Hallmats-Bergvik. In a phone interview and via e-mail, Hallmats-Bergvik discussed Saab Security Systems flagship product, the Wearable Command Unit, and the challenges of adapting products to customers varied needs.
Could you explain your role as CTO at Saab Security Systems?
Im responsible for product development and product managementstrategic product management based on the needs of the market.
What are some of the challenges that you find yourself dealing with?
We have the challenges of finding new technologies. And many of the challenges relate to the products and the product developmentfor example, how to adapt products for the customer and the segments we are developing the product for.
How does the requirements-development process work with customers?
Sometimes the customer knows the requirements and what they want. If they dont really, then we have a process to find requirements together with the customer and to understand the environment the users are working in.
Do you find that the customers you deal with understand the potential and the limitations of technology? In other words, do you find yourself often resetting expectations?
What we often do is let customers try out technology and see how it works. When they try it or look at it, they see what they can do with it and the possibilities it gives them.
So, no, I wouldnt say that [expectations] are unrealistic.
So, they may be underestimating potential in some cases? Its like a revolution to their way of doing things. What industries are your customers in?
Theyre basically in three different segments: first response, including police, ambulance and rescue service; critical infrastructure protection; and crisis management, from communities up to the international level.
Could you explain what the Wearable Command Unit, or WCU, is?
Its a very unique productan outcome of experience with developing command-and-control systems. The WCU is a command-and-control system adapted to work in a commercial market, based on off-the-shelf products [and] aiming to give the users situational awareness.
The WCU is based on the net-centric security concept, which aims to provide a structured integration model for security service consumers and producers. A stated goal of network-centric security is to ensure elevated levels of security through a reliance on technology-based solutions. These systems are intended as a means of alleviating the burden carried by employees, with technologies that complement rather than replace labor.
A further goal is to make it easier and more cost-efficient to integrate older existing systems and future systems. By ensuring this level of integration, the customer can feel that earlier investment in systems is not wasted and that the system lends itself to future upgrade.
Could you give an example of how the WCU is being used?
The WCU gives users a common situational picture or awareness and the capability to communicateeven if the users are in different places or in different environments or at different command and control levels. It really means that they can be anywhere, but they can still share the same information.
If you look at the basic functionality, you can have a mapa common situational picturewhere you can see where all the others are. And you can handle case managementwho should do whatand the others can see what they are doing.
What technologies underlie the WCU?
The WCU is a client/server-based platform that we have developed. So its built on our own integration model. But its built on [Microsoft] .Net, with C# as the programming language. And its developed to be running in a Windows environment.
Did you choose .Net and Windows because those are platforms you tend to use often, or was that something that you felt would help with the commonalities you needed for the platform?
We use it because its our own server-oriented architecture, and because its a development platform for the future. You can use it on standard computers, and we can follow the commercial market. And its also more cost-effective.
Did you develop this for a particular customer?
We started to develop it together with the Rescue Service. But then we saw that the requirements are almost the same for even more users or customers.
Encryption and compression are important to what you do.
Yes. We have a lot of mobile clients. We communicate through TCP/IP.
Secure communication as an integral requirement within the market has been a strong focus for us throughout the development of the WCU. Our products are designed to operate in an environment where certainty must be achieved regarding the integrity of communication.
Our ongoing commitment in this regard includes the use of both compression and encryption technologies throughout our solutions, integrating AppGate and Suns Security Server technologies.
Furthermore, compression is of the utmost importance, as it reduces the consumption of valuable resources, specifically transmission bandwidth. Encryption and its converse, decryption, of communication disallow the introduction of third parties.
Authorization is a further point of measured design effort on our part. Users have roles specified, providing a means to both limit complexity to the user and ensuring division of labor within the system. Each role has permission to activate a number of plug-ins, which in turn has access to perform different tasks within the clients workflow model.
What other products are you developing now?
From my perspective, Im working on developing the WCU for different customers, but also on keeping the framework the same. Our architecture is handling consumers and producers. Its easy to integrate with other systems, but it also has a plug-in architecture, and that makes it easy to add extra functionality to it.
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