Nokia outsources Symbian’s retirement

Nokia isn’t going to let Symbian live out its final years in the comforts of home. Rather Nokia has found a nice retirement community for its Symbian developers under the roof of Accenture. Three thousand developers in the Symbian software group will transfer to Accenture, which will supply Nokia with all software support for the Symbian platform for its remaining few years. Meanwhile, Nokia plans to lay off another 4000 employees starting next year as it tries to cut costs and prepare the way for its supposed smartphone savior Windows Phone 7 (CP: Nokia CEO says Microsoft deal will create dependency on both sides).

In one fell swoop Nokia seems to have solved a big potential cultural problem as it makes the transition from Symbian to WP7. Nokia has essentially placed all of its future bets with WP7, yet it expects its software team to remain committed to the Symbian platform, ensuring it doesn’t fall off the smartphone map while it waits for the first Nokia WP7 devices. How do you keep those employees motivated when they see the “real” work on WP7 is going on next door? If WP7 is the future won’t they want to invest their time and energy on WP7 software and services development, rather than Symbian?

By moving all of those developers to Accenture, it becomes the contractor’s problem, not Nokia’s. Meanwhile Nokia can start with a clean slate while pursuing its future with Microsoft. That might seem a bit cold, but Nokia and Accenture officials said that after Symbian runs its course, the two companies would seek to “retrain and redeploy” those employees in other areas (Briefing Room: Nokia announces plans to transfer Symbian software activities to Accenture). Maybe some of them will become WP7 developers continuing to work with Nokia as part of Accenture’s Mobility division (formerly Nokia’s professional services group). It certainly beats the alternative—Nokia squeezing another two years out of the platform and then firing all of those workers after the last Symbian phone ships.

The 4000 employees that won’t be going over to Accenture seem to be getting exactly that treatment. The layoff schedule seems to track Nokia’s retirement of Symbian closely. They’ll all remain on the payroll for 2011, but they’ll have their pink slips by the end of 2012, at which point Nokia’s WP7 portfolio should be up to full strength (Briefing Room: Nokia starts measures to align site operations with new strategy). Nokia will have a lot less need of developers when Microsoft takes over the nuts and bolts of its smartphone operating system, but Nokia is also making sizable contributions to WP7’s services and software stack (Unfiltered: Nokia, Microsoft trade off services, features in finalized WP7 pact). It will still need to maintain a stable of programmers. The question is whether it will convert its Symbian developers into WP7 developers or start over from scratch.

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