For an established company like SilverStripe, the secret to its longevity lies in its start-up mentality. Caitlin Salter takes a look.
Founded in 2000, SilverStripe is an open source web content management system (CMS) used by government organisations, businesses and non-profit organisations around the world.
The CMS is easy-to-customise and has more than 870,000 downloads and more than 20,000 members in the online community. Since its launch three versions have been released with version four on the way.
SilverStripe has been behind a number of major websites, and a turning point for the company came when it won the contract to run the website covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention in the United States. SilverStripe ran the website covering the week-long historic event, which ultimately ended with Barrack Obama being named the Democratic candidate for the election – SilverStripe’s own slice of history.
Closer to home, major customers include Westpac, Meridian, AA and Skinny Mobile plus government agencies and local councils.
But despite celebrating its 17th birthday this year, SilverStripe has managed to hold on to its start-up culture and celebrates its emphasis on continuous learning.
Head of channel excellence Diana Hennessy says it’s a mentality that helps the team think outside the box when comes to creative web solutions.
“We are a stable company and people are surprised we’ve been around for so long because we have kept our start-up culture.
“We deal with a lot of large organisations now, and we see those organisations as massive tanker ships. To move a tanker ship you don’t use another tanker ship, you use a small tugboat – we see ourselves as those tugboats. Being agile and nimble is our goal.”
Delivering a change in mind-set
There are two sides to SilverStripe’s business.
Firstly, it’s a technology platform that delivers customer experiences through digital—the open source CMS.
But it’s also a high-end digital agency that collaborates with clients to deliver the best results.
When working with clients, SilverStripe takes a holistic approach, embedding their teams into each organisation and working on-site with them. SilverStripe provides agile services such as coaching, and the goal is to not just be another group of developers developing code for companies, but to help the organisations along their technological journeys.
“We set out to help our clients and we’re often used as a hammer to break down internal walls. We do great development, but we also add value by highlighting ways clients can do better.”
SilverStripe’s service is all about helping its clients through their digital transformations and making sure their platforms are user-focused. It’s not just about adopting new technologies, but also about the mind-set behind that.
Chief marketing officer Nicole Williams says a big part of SilverStripe’s approach is problem-solving – looking for solutions when it seems there are none.
“Often we sit down with a team and they’ll think they won’t be able to achieve something. We ask the question: what if your boss asked for this tomorrow, could you do it?
“SilverStripe plays a big role in uncovering which barriers are true and which are organisational restraints.”
SilverStripe has found its footing working with complex organisations, either top tier private sector firms in banking and telecommunications, or the public sector.
“We’re at the pointy end of development,” Hennessy says. “We often get approached to do things that haven’t been done before and are risky to do. Or we’ll take on complex projects that use older development tools and we put a better face on them.”
The potential of open-source
As an open-source platform, SilverStripe’s source code can be inspected, modified and enhanced by anyone. This shared culture means there’s innovation coming from all corners of the globe to make SilverStripe better.
While some companies might say this means there is no guarantee of stability, SilverStripe makes sure the code is safe to use for all its clients.
“We are the guardians of the open-source, rather than the director. It’s a sharing of great ideas and our large organisations love that concept,” Hennessy says.
It’s the creative thinking SilverStripe is known for that sets it apart from its competitors. When client Westpac secured Air New Zealand’s re-vamped OneSmart airpoints card, there was only three weeks to put together a platform to draw new users.
Initially the short target seemed impossible, but the SilverStripe team unpacked the task and ended up building a simple but fully working platform to encourage users to sign up for the new service.
“It was less about us barging our way in, and more about showing them that there’s always a way to do better than the past. In this case we had a massive impact because they were able to launch as quickly as possible and they had a significant return on investment,” Hennessy says.
Innovation in the public sector
Working with public sector organisations is hugely rewarding work for the SilverStripe team. Because the public sector doesn’t have direct competitors, when a government agency builds new projects, they can be shared with other agencies.
“There’s a massive opportunity for New Zealand government to save money by sharing code and it saves the tax-payer too,” Williams says.
Code-sharing is a great leveller for Government organisations, Hennessy says. Code commissioned by a larger Government organisation can be shared with a smaller organisation that might not have the resources to build it. It’s a way for all organisations to be at the same level of importance in terms of web presence.
While public sector may be seen as a slow-moving area of web development, Hennessy says they have found a lot of their clients to be extremely forward thinking.
NZTA launched a BETA version of its SilverStripe-built website and opened it up to six weeks of customer feedback. It’s in this type of innovative space that SilverStripe flourishes, Hennessy says.
“We’re not interested in one-off projects. We want our clients to evolve and listen to feedback. We want to create new things based on that data and get our clients listening to their users.
“You have to constantly validate it, and make sure things are still relevant. We put the tools in place to make sure that happens.”
SilverStripe has come a long way in 17 years. It now has more than 70 staff and offices in Wellington, Auckland, Melbourne and London.
Looking ahead, it has plans of continued growth and has simple goal for its day-to-day practices.
“The main thing for us is to make things better for the users of the organisations we work with and to make sure they have an outstanding customer experience,” Hennessy says.
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