Siili Solutions: Information system development together with the customer
The Helsinki-based Siili Solutions was founded ten years ago as a 'home for experienced coders', matching experts in the sector with various software development projects. The current CEO Seppo Kuula took charge in 2010, when 68 experts worked for the company. There are now 350 employees, based in Helsinki, Oulu, Germany and Poland.
"Having always been a product developer and salesman, I viewed Siili as more than a seller of expert resources. We were able to go much higher up the value chain and provide entire information systems agilely built alongside the customer. Even back then, one of our strengths lay in world-class information management, for which Nokia had prepared the way in Finland. In 2011, our turnover grew by almost 70 percent and our number of staff to 106."
Siili has grown by an average of 30 percent per year over the last four years. Turnover is expected to reach 28–32 million euros in 2014. The company has grown profitably since it was founded. No capital investments have been required. Self-financing has been sufficient for a series of business acquisitions.
For example, Fusion, which was acquired in 2012, brought expertise in digital services. This would never have been possible through recruitment alone. Comwise, an Oulu-based company which currently has 47 employees, was bought the year before last.
"Based on its fast piloting, Fusion brought task-design expertise to the mobile side in particular, while Oulu provided us with one hell of a mobile platform team."
Siili has handled tasks such as the design of Microsoft Mobile Devices' online services, the modernisation of Kela's online services, the creation of a streaming service for various online and mobile platforms for HBO Nordic and the revamping of YIT's global online services.
In 2012, Siili was listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange, in order to raise its profile rather than money and to build credibility among its customers. These form the basis for growth.
Finnish service exports to Europe
A Tekes project in 2014 involved creating a basis for internationalisation. The result was a market analysis focusing on competence management, productisation and service upscaling for international markets. Following an acquisition, an office was opened in Berlin during the project.
"Perhaps Sweden would have been an easier market, but Germany represents up to a quarter of Europe's software market and has faster market growth. Another acquisition brought us an office in Poland. Germany is so close that it is almost part of Poland's domestic market," Kuula explains.
Employee expertise the priority
Siili's people, its employees, are the key to its success. The company continuously trains its employees and takes them along to customer projects.
"In most cases, a handful of employees are the first to master the latest technology. The others have deep expertise in an existing one. We have them learn from their more experienced colleagues. This kind of 'tribal activity' is unusual in Finland. It means that coders, service designers and analysts form their own communities. They may be working on totally different projects but still come in to swap news, learn new things and forward information to their own teams once a month. We have weekly tribal activities on various themes," comments Erkka Niemi, Development Director.
"Our use of tribal activities dispenses with one management layer, which saves a lot of money and bureaucracy," adds Seppo Kuula.
Siili stays up to speed with emerging trends by gathering data from its sales team and business managers on enquiries made with the firm, on what is clinching sales and on what is not selling.
"We continually ask individual experts about where they think their area is going. Our service development team keeps abreast of sales and what our employees are thinking and, alongside the management, decides what to do next," says Niemi.
Projects into parts and the creation of pilots
Seppo Kuula believes that the business model of large information system providers is a thing of the past.
"Big players start by tripping over the fact that they don't build services alongside the customer. They develop a huge project based on the customer's specifications. Eventually, the project is late and, for example, the browser the service supports is no longer even available. That's our opening in the market."
Seppo Kuula, who has been named Tivi magazine's software entrepreneur of the year, has a recipe for growth-hungry software firms which is based purely on understanding the advantages of digitalisation.
"Do things together, transparently, pilot, develop in small parts, iterate and productise your services together with the customer. That is the kind of activity that the Act on Public Contracts should support. There is no need for a separate information system in each government agency. They should centralise. I can see no reason why this would be beyond Finland's capabilities."
The firm's five-year vision is clear.
"By 2020, Siili will be an international player and Europe's leading actor in terms of innovativeness and efficiency."