Last week, Nokia announced that 7,000 jobs would be cut
from the handsets side of Nokia, saving the company about 1 Billion dollars in salary costs. 3,000 of those were the shifting of Symbian and its staff from Nokia to Accenture, where Symbian development is now effectively outsourced.
A few notes about the Symbian
move. This is something Elop had to do, and do fast:
- Nokia had seen perilous declines in profitability in its handset unit. This kind of cost-cutting is necessary. Rivals like Motorola and LG are still making losses and SonyEricsson was barely profitable. Nokia's profitability was on a severe downward slope, one of the answers is job cuts. This was to be expected. CEO Stephen Elop was tasked to rescue the company and many expected cuts in the 5,000 - 6,000 range. That he did 7,000 tells the investors that he is acting decisively and boldly and is not afraid to take on entrenched interests such as the unions.
- The outsourcing of Nokia non-core functions is normal operating procedure at Nokia at various reshuffles. As in the past, when Nokia grew some departments strongly, in response to a rapidly shifting world, Nokia would often find it could not hire the right competences or not manage them well, unless done in-house. But that is expensive. As the various new processes then matured, it was normal for Nokia to shift them to outside companies such as Satama or Accenture. This shift of Symbian staff was expected and is not a surprise.
- It was actually the right thing for Stephen Elop to do. He had to 'burn the boats'. Like Spanish conquistador Cortez is said to have done (some disagreement if he did), when he landed his army in Mexico to fight the Aztec Empire, he (so many believe) burned his ships with his troops to see, there was no possible retreat. They had to fight or else perish.
This is the toughest year Nokia has faced since it was on brink of bankruptcy back in the days of a multi-industry conglomerate some three decades ago (when Nokia made just about anything from toilet paper to television sets, from rubber boots to military computers) What Stephen Elop needs is the clearest single-minded focus of all of his employees, to work on the task at hand, make Nokia's transition to Windows Phone 7 smartphones a success. He cannot afford the backroom bickering that all the disgruntled Symbian staff might be doing at the water cooler.
Now he has outsourced the whole problem to Accenture. If any of the former Nokia Symbian staff grumble there, it is not sapping Nokia morale. And if Accenture staff says nasty things about Symbian (and by inference Nokia) in public, they can take action. The employees who were shifted to Accenture will know, they narrowly missed being fired outright, and will mostly feel happy that they now have an employer who is at least committed to them and their skills, not looking to get rid of them.
Now Symbian the operating system can do its death in peace and quiet, without much further stain on Stephen Elop's early career, soon becoming just a footnote of tech history. And for however many handsets Nokia still makes on Symbian (very likely will do that promised 150 million but probably not many million beyond that), Nokia can focus on the hardware only, again distancing Elop from Symbian and what came before him.
This was the right thing for Stephen Elop to do. We may agree or disagree on his choice of Microsoft Phone 7 as his new smartphone operating system but once that decision was made, he had to get rid of MeeGo, Qt and of Symbian, all which have no place in the future with Microsoft (Ovi will be obviously refocused to utilize the Microsoft partnership). This was the right thing to do.
Meanwhile on that know-how. What a rich deep resource pool was shifted to Accenture in the move! Whatever you may think of Nokia smartphones and Symbian of late, it was this smartphones software group which did most of the heavy lifting and inventing, seeing an improbable, unlikely future, and made it happen. Remember, Nokia sold touch screen smartphones long before there was an iPhone. Nokia created the world's first pure gaming smartphone half a decade before the iPhone emerged as the world's favorite pocket gaming device (Nokia did that with its own app store too long before Apple launched its app store) and the world's first consumer-oriented smartphone. Obviously on the enterprise side, long before there was a Blackberry, there was the Communicator, as Nokia invented the smartphone itself, and then early in the previous decade, Nokia was the first phone maker to split its smartphone business into divisions, one focusing on enterprise smartphones and their apps.
Nokia was the first phone maker to audaciously claim that what they offered for the pocket was a true computer - something today in the iPhone era, all PC makers agree is true. And while Symbian was indeed an old operating system, it was designed for phones or pocketable devices, it worked very well with smartphone also of modest performance specs, and did have most of those things that were missing from the early iPhones, and also missing from many rival operating systems early on, like multitasking, folder views, Microsoft Office suite compatibility, while being the most compatible system around supporting just about everything including Adobe Flash of course.
Symbian is an old and obsolescent operating system, which is true. But it was kept alive with continuous updates where all of its contemporary operating systems had been killed along the way. Symbian had always been developed with backwards compatibility (an expensive option, but one much better for developers and end-users than deciding to not have it, like Microsoft did last year when they announced that the new smartphone operating system Phone 7 would not be compatible with Microsoft's legacy OS of nearly ten years, Windows Mobile). And Symbian was being developed always to supply multiple handset makers, another factor that added costs (compared to say Apple or RIM or HP/Palm whose operating system only needs to power smartphones for one maker, addressing one specific customer segment). Where many complained that Symbian was out of date, in reality, it was the operating system of choice by Japan's NTT DoCoMo, powering their smartphones/featurephones which by most measures are the most advanced phones on the planet. So there was (and still is) life left in that operating system, in spite of its age.
That Symbian had survived this long and still remained viable - and the latest iteration, Symbian S^3 is quite user-friendly even as a touch-screen OS - is testament to the hard work and dedication of the Symbian development staff, led increasingly by Nokia. That Nokia itself had achieved one massive milestone after another in the true inventions and innovations of smartphones (even if to modest successes in some cases, where Nokia's invention was clearly ahead of its time - this is no crime, look at Apple's Newton, which while failing the market, is still seen as the first modern PDA).
The smartphone environment and the operating systems and app stores we use today are all richer and better because of the pioneering work done by Nokia and its smartphone developers. Much of that staff, in particular on the side of the software and OS skills, has now shifted to Accenture. What Accenture gains in this transfer of knowhow, is an immense depository of the deepest knowhow into the future of digital convergence. If Accenture wants, it can use this as a big stepping stone to building a bigger future for Accenture in the digitally converging space.
I wish all my friends and colleagues at Nokia/Symbian and now Accenture the very best. The options if you had remained at Nokia were not good. But hopefully at Accenture your skills will be recognized and celebrated and you will find a new career and greater success there.
Symbian is dead, long live Symbian... :-)
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