From school to work

Software firm Visma Solutions wanted to get close to people who can. At the Lappeenranta campus, basic research and business support each other.

There is a chronic lack of competent employees in the software industry. Visma Solutions Oy, a company that develops financial administration and ERP software, is no exception to this rule. Hence, the growing company decided to expand to where new experts are made: a university campus.

“The students have the latest research data at their disposal, and their views are fresh. Keeping in continuous touch with new trends and new people is important for a software firm,” says Inka Lampinen, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Visma Solutions.

Since last autumn, the company has had a branch office at SYK’s Skinnarila campus in Lappeenranta, right next to the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT University) and the Saimaa University of Applied Sciences. The company’s head office is still located in the centre of Lappeenranta.

This is Visma’s home territory: the company’s roots are in Lappeenranta and LUT, in particular. Ari-Pekka Salovaara established the company in 2004 while he was still a student at LUT. Originally, the company’s name was Severa. It was later merged with the Visma Group.

Important recruitment channel

The Visma Solutions sales team mainly works in Helsinki, but most of the company’s software development takes place in Lappeenranta, which means that recruitment needs are focused on Lappeenranta.

Inka Lampinen says that Visma does not focus solely on people’s educational background; the applicant’s personality and suitability for the company culture are the most important elements. In practice, the institutes of higher education in the region – and especially their IT study lines – are an important recruitment channel.

Although intangible knowledge work such as software engineering is basically independent of physical location, innovations will only thrive in practice if people also interact face-to-face. The importance of physical location is further emphasised in Visma’s new office: the transfer from studying to working life is literally very short.

“Many students work for us part-time while they’re studying. Now it’s easier all year round as well, because we’re located in the campus area right next to the university,” Lampinen says.

R&D and business hand in hand

Naturally, the cooperation between businesses and academia is not limited to companies recruiting students. The cooperation is bidirectional: experts from companies act as visiting lecturers in different courses, for example.

One of the paradoxes of computer science and software engineering is that their progress is both fast and slow at the same time. On one hand, programming languages and tools develop so quickly that keeping abreast of development is arduous even for professionals, while on the other hand, major breakthroughs in basic level algorithmics, for instance, take place very rarely, as such breakthroughs require years of patient research.

Jussi Kasurinen, Adjunct Professor at LUT, who is in charge of the information technology study programme, says that it is precisely this bipartite development that creates a natural division of labour between academia and businesses.

“Both supplement each other. Companies offer information on the current status of practical software development, and this practical knowledge is shared with students by visiting lecturers, for example.”

“On the other hand, basic academic research feeds innovation. It’s no coincidence that business hubs all over the world are located close to educational and research hubs.”

As an example of the coexistence of basic research and business, Kasurinen mentions the study of 3D scanning algorithms at LUT. Researchers were studying two alternative approaches and were able to prove that one was a theoretical dead end. This saved companies using 3D scanning in their business a great deal of sweat and tears in their development work.

Regional magnet for experts

Jussi Kasurinen emphasises the significance of the Lappeenranta campus community and close cooperation as a source of attraction for the entire region.

The Helsinki metropolitan region is clearly the largest software industry hub in Finland, which leads to a cluster phenomenon that feeds itself: expertise and jobs are created where they already exist. The software firm hub that has developed around the Lappeenranta campus is an important regional counterbalance to this development trend.

“Offering students an employment opportunity right here is important. Many people who are in the final stretch of their studies are also about to start a family, and employment after your studies influences your place of residence for years, maybe even the rest of your life,” Kasurinen says.

Visma Solutions

  • A Finnish software firm that develops cloud-based software for businesses. Part of the Norwegian Visma Group.
  • The most important products include the electronic financial administration software Visma Netvisor, as well as the ERP systems Visma Severa and ValueFrame.
  • Approximately 220 employees, net sales EUR 48 million (in 2018).

 

Text Tommi Niittymies

Photos Jani Kautto