DIGITAL HEALING

The Software Doctor Is In

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Seerene's chief Oliver Muhr is all smiles.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Company software is a huge risk when it’s outdated, full of bugs or insecure. Now a German startup hopes to remove the danger and to make a fortune doing so.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The Internet platform was established in 2011 by two employees of the Hasso-Plattner-Institute.
    • It generates a sort of X-ray of every single app in an IT system.
    • Seerene now has 30 employees and offices in Hong Kong and New York.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Oliver Muhr is chief executive of Seerene, a German startup headquartered in placid Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin.

But on a recent winter day, Mr. Muhr enjoyed a sunny view of San Francisco Bay from Peet’s Coffee in the historic Ferry Building. Though his tired face spoke of jet lag, he was right where he had always wanted to be – at the center of the Internet revolution.

“We will be the next company worth billions in the German IT landscape,” he predicted confidently.

“We help chief IT officers sleep peacefully again.”

Oliver Muhr,, chief executive of Seerene

Mr. Muhr flew across the globe to meet with investors in Silicon Valley who had sunk $5 million in the new company through Earlybird Venture Capital.

Seerene was hatched at Germany’s Hasso-Plattner-Institute and isn’t as sexy as Facebook or Google. But it takes aim at a serious problem that is often hushed up in the digital 21st century — a growing mass of software that is outdated, insecure and full of bugs.

Companies and governmental agencies have come to utterly depend on technology that has proliferated over the decades and is no longer understood by anyone.

Software is often repeatedly revised, quickly cobbled together in emergencies and then promptly forgotten. Every new intervention can have unpredictable economic consequences — and is a growing nightmare for managers.

Mr. Muhr helps companies understand it all and targets weak points to be removed from the snarl of software.

“We help chief IT officers sleep peacefully again,” he said.

Even the tiniest malfunctions can have devastating results. For example, United Airlines’ reservation system broke down right at the peak vacation season and hundreds of planes were grounded.

Or sometimes software doesn’t works at all right from the start. When the U.S. government tried to roll out its $7 billion health insurance website, it crashed because individual software components couldn’t work together. It was a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration and heads rolled at responsible agencies.

In Germany, workers also curse outdated office technology. The co-head of Deutsche Bank, John Cryan, minced no words last year in identifying a widespread problem at the bank. After numerous acquisitions over the decades, no less than 45 different IT systems are being operated within Germany’s largest financial institution. Mr. Cryan criticized it as “antiquated” and “incoherent.”

These are the kind of situations where Seerene can intervene, and perhaps save a company billions.

The startup now has 30 employees, most of whom hold doctoral degrees. Offices have opened in Hong Kong and New York, and clients include SAP, IBM, Deutsche Post, Lufthansa, Mercedes-Benz, Generali and Adidas.

The Internet platform was established in 2011 in Potsdam’s August-Bebel-Straße by two employees of the Hasso-Plattner-Institute. It generates a sort of X-ray of every single app in an IT system. Experts then analyze each one, without having first to extract any company data.

The results are displayed in diagram form – as columns in green, yellow or red. Programs marked in red are in severe danger of failure or malfunction.

“We are, so to say, the Google Maps for software,” explained Mr. Muhr.

“You can clearly see whether a piece of software is good, bad or dangerously programmed.”

Seerene is a cloud application, which means it lives in the Internet and can be used by clients when needed.

Mr. Muhr, a former KPMG manager, believes that the snapshots of thousands of apps — from hundreds of companies with nearly 400 billion lines of code —puts Seerene years ahead of its competition and can make predictive analysis possible.

Jason Whitmire of Earlybird Venture Capital thinks in even bigger terms. “This application could change the way software is written and providers are managed,” he said.

The potential is great because software also guides atomic power plants, electrical grids and airplanes.

“Who wouldn’t want to know the condition of the software in a plane currently flying passengers across the Atlantic?” asked Mr. Muhr.

Seerene even wants to teach Google how to program better. Using the Potsdam cloud application, Mr. Muhr and his team took apart the Android operating system that is installed on more than a billion smartphones throughout the world.

The result of Seerene’s analysis: “The efficiency of Android could be increased by at least 30 percent,” said Mr. Muhr.

 

Axel Postinett is based in the U.S. and specializes in consumer electronics, the video game industry, e-commerce and internet corporations for Handelsblatt. To contact him: postinett@handelsblatt.com.

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