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50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2019

An Interview with Mika Muukkonen, Head of Technology, Vice President of Symbio: ‘We Have Taken a Customer-Centric Approach to Unlock Innovation and Deliver Exceptional Products and Service Experience’

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“Embedded in its operational DNA, Symbio’s innovation and design thinking process goes beyond a problem-focused approach to deliver optimum design and functionality for organizations and its customers.”

To stay ahead in the competitive business world, every organization is faced with a challenge to disrupt their existing set of rigid processes, and deliver at a greater speed. Through its Agility and DevOps capabilities, Symbio has been putting clients on a successful path of transformation and increased productivity for more than two decades. With deep expertise ranging from advisory to driving and implementing projects, the company has not only facilitated its clients to deliver continuously faster and smarter but also helped transform their culture to embrace innovation continuum.

Symbio also provides consulting services in R&D operations, software development, design and research, quality assurance and last but not least, DevOps.

The company was incorporated in 1994 and is headquartered in San Jose, California. Globally, it has locations in Beijing, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Taipei, Espoo, Tampere, Oulu, and Stockholm.

Mika Muukkonen, Head of Technology, Vice President of Symbio, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?

Since its inception, Symbio has focused on Software Development. In the very beginning – way before my time in the company – the focus was to provide extremely demanding software development services to.. shall we say ‘Big Blue’. The growth has always been technology-driven – it has included organic growth and targeted acquisitions, and the demands today are by no means less challenging. As an example, our globalization and localization experts provide truly best-in-class solutions for our customers’ needs, up to a full-scale software platform localized to 80+ languages, but to get there, it took quite a few years to build the full capacity. With customers across APAC, Europe, and the Americas, we have grown into a full-fledged IT services company, and most recently, the continuously maturing and technology-wise ‘leapfrogging’ China digital services economy has been good hunting grounds for Symbio’s services.

Q. What kind of responses have you received from your consumers over the years? How have they motivated you to shape your offerings/grow the company?

Our culture is to not just focused on scoped service delivery but to understand the business challenges that our customers face and accordingly suggest technological and operational insight. We strive to be a trusted partner with our customers vs. being ‘just a vendor’, and as a result is not uncommon to get statements like this from our partners, in this case from CEO of Tamul Multimedia: “Symbio has been a great innovative co-creation partner for us. Together with Symbio, we made it possible to provide IVI solution at a reasonable cost to the conventional mid – low end car audio segment.” Understanding the true value of our work is the best motivator there is and it pushes us to find the right people to drive the growth coming from client’s 100% trust to our expertise.

We also perform customer satisfaction surveys of our customers every year. We take their feedback, good, bad and the ugly and learn from it. We convey the plan to the customer and then track progress against the plan.

Q. Is your company a leader or a follower? Do you formulate your own core values?

Symbio has always been a leader – but with a sharp and selective aim. We were one of the first companies to recognize the potential of advanced software delivery within specific industry domains from China and continue to do so. In 2016, we were the first in the world to launch the first truly affordable solution for Connected Car Display Audio market. For us, leadership always comes back to innovation within the industries we’re involved in.

However, following is not a shame either. In today’s technology landscape software frameworks move from early adoption to mainstream extremely quickly, and to be on par or above the competition, we embrace them when required, accepting the fact that the ‘heavy lifting’ has been done elsewhere. If any technology advance allows us to seize opportunities, it’s fine by us.

And yes, we have formulated our own core values based on input from various people from different geographies. Here’re some examples of our Symbio core values:

Smart: Our teams believe in dreaming big and acting Smart; Symbio Smart Suite keeps innovating.

You First: For us our customers and our people always comes first. We do all that’s needed to unlock the intrinsic motivation of our people

Boldness: We remain Bold, be different and never settle for ordinary.

Q. Fostering a culture of feedback is crucial to the success of every organization. How is this true with your company?

We are a very flat organization. We meet continuously within and across all levels of our organization. Everyone is encouraged to provide feedback, good, and bad. Moreover, we recognize both bottom-up and top-down on creative ideas and synergy. We have empowered our team to address dynamic customer needs, and believe in continuous, informal communications and feedback. It is not uncommon for an idea, comment or observation from an engineer reaching any C-level manager in less than 24 hours, and sometimes in real-time, by means of our use of instant messaging throughout the company. There are no organizational impediments when it comes to getting the message across.

Q. How often do you innovate?

Innovation and discovery for us is a continuous process. While working with our customers, we strive to understand what the end-user experiences and needs are, which helps us focus on the essentials. We engage our customers as partners, at the very early stages of the process, as it is crucial to have the right talent at the right place at the right time, to hit the perfect storm which nurtures true innovation. Our workshops with our clients, for example in the field of secure mobile applications for banking/finance -sector have been mixes of design thinking sessions, hackathons and rapid prototyping – very hands-on and tangible.

Our Productization initiative is partly an outcome of our Innovation process, complemented by both rigorous technology shortlisting for right choices, emerging/disruptive or mainstream and injecting robust process harness for product rollouts. Through this ‘growth hacking’, products have been launched successfully to the market; as an example, Performance Pro 360 coaching platform for BPO operations has been licensed to 10,000+ users over past 12 months.

Q. Do you have any new products ready to be launched?

Yes, we do. We just launched Symbio Smart Auto 2.0 (Elysian) product in the market as part of the overall Symbio Smart Suite. Selected by CRN as Top 30 Hot Products at CES 2018, Elysian is a feature-rich integrated infotainment solution for automobile industry and has been successfully adopted by some of leading car manufactures, and was. We do have a few other products at various stages of development to be launched in the near future, such as Smart Safety which monitors and improves individual’s occupational safety in hazardous working environments. It’s a nice thought that our products truly help people.

Q. Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?

From technology perspective, from where I look at things, it’s going to be about partnerships, integration capability and responding to rapid change. We have been helping our customers successfully by implementing new technologies such as AI, Big Data, Cloud Computing and other advanced solutions. In order to continue on that path, we want to focus on having certain partnerships in place to increase our ability to provide very deep integration services on highly scalable, global, distributed cloud/edge services. Additionally, automotive sector is moving towards service-centric infrastructure, and we must anticipate and prepare for that to keep our products competitive. Responding to change means for us constant evaluation of software frameworks, testing frameworks, open-source -solutions and seeing how they fit in and how they should be best used. That means attracting and training new talent, and requires us to focus on our human capital management with clear goals over next two years.

We continue to see ourselves going forward as ‘transformation’ specialists for our customers, helping them in all the aspects – culture, lean thinking, business-IT collaborative work environment, technology and generating business value.

Mika Muukkonen: VP, Technology

Mika Muukkonen is Head of Technology, Vice President of Symbio. His role includes scoping, prototyping, hacking and identifying the correct technology solutions for our customer’s needs, as well as hands-on involvement in software development and daily operations at our global delivery centers. Mika has 20+ years of experience in the IT industry, majoring in Geography / GIS solutions at University of Turku, Finland, and has been involved in wide array of projects in the field of software development, ranging from embedded Linux systems to large enterprise cloud/edge systems. He is a strong advocate for Agile/SCRUM practices, having been immersed in Agile work since 2005.