Democracy from the clouds

Signavio is the first company to provide software as a pure cloud service. It enables work processes to be represented graphically

Die Gründer: Torben Schreiter, Nicolas Peters, Willi Tscheschner, Dr. Gero Decker (v.l.) Photo: Signavio GmbH

How do you bake a chocolate cake? You need flour and eggs, sugar and a little butter. Probably some baking powder too. And chocolate, of course. And when you’ve got all the ingredients, the question is: in what order do you put them all together? At what point do you switch the oven on? On the one hand, it needs to be hot on time, and on the other, you don’t want to waste energy. Gero Decker points to a diagram with arrows, boxes and symbols. This is what it would look like if you were using the software of Berlin company Signavio to bake a cake.

Of course, this isn’t about cake. And not about the order of the ingredients either. It’s about medium-sized and large companies and their process management. „But the cake diagram is a good example of what we do,“ says Decker, Managing Director of Signavio. Simply put, the company founded in 2009 makes business processes visible. Special software is used to suddenly turn invisible, convoluted work processes into simple graphics.

The software evolved from a PhD thesis at the Hasso-Plattner Institute of the University of Potsdam. „A colleague of mine at the time had a vision that all programs wouldn’t be stored on the desktop any more, but would be used via the internet,“ says Decker. This was in around 2006. The idea was spectacular – a program that runs via the web browser. Smartphones or cloud systems were still a thing of the future. „The most complicated thing you had at that time was eBay,“ says Decker, one of the four company founders.

The theoretical paper was first turned into a big experiment, and then a spectacular, novel product: for the first time, software that is provided as a pure cloud service. More than 500 companies now use the software. These include major banks, but also frozen cake manufacturer Coppenrath & Wiese. The software has many advantages for the companies. The cloud service enables them to save the costs of expensive programs. The software is rented rather than purchased. Nothing is stored on the desktop, there’s no need for time-consuming updates on every single computer, and all the employees use the same, most up-to-date version.

„There used to be just a few gurus in companies who knew about process management,“ the entrepreneur explains. The new software enables more employees to input their knowledge and play a role. But also business partners, suppliers and customers. „The result was a kind of democratising effect, combined with added value for the companies,“ Decker explains. The processes were optimised, errors avoided. This is how the companies see it too. In the first half of 2014, Signavio grew by 72 per cent, and branches have now been set up in the USA and Singapore.

But the beginning was far from easy. „The first year and a half was very difficult,“ says the 32-year-old. The founders went door-to-door with a PowerPoint presentation. The response: catastrophic. Potential customers were sceptical that the company was too small, the technology too untested, the risk too great. Only health insurer AOK believed in the idea and came aboard. Ever since, the process-optimising clouds have had the wind at their backs.

Stefanie Paul
Kluge Köpfe 2014