One of the joyful idiosyncrasies of working at Goldman Sachs over the last few years has been the experience of having to use the firm’s homegrown mobile-phone app for email.
Named Orbit, the software was developed by Goldman’s engineers several years ago after the bank began asking employees to use their personal devices for work and found other mobile-email applications weren’t secure enough for its tastes. Users would often grumble that Orbit could be slow and clunky to use, but at least it was safe.
Now, word has arrived that Goldman has begun moving users away from the Orbit app and onto a similar application from Blackberry, according to people with knowledge of the change. Though still early, there are now thousands of employees who have migrated away from Orbit to Blackberry, one of the people said.
Later this year or early next, the firm will also begin using Microsoft 365, the Seattle-based software firm’s suite of mobile Office applications. Over time, Goldman will pursue a hybrid approach using Blackberry and Microsoft’s apps for employee phones. Orbit will be relegated to the scrap bin.
Goldman’s reversal is an example of how hard it can be for non-tech companies to develop big software projects and invest the time and money to keep it up to date. Excitement and resources are often drawn to new projects, but as the software becomes dated and sucks continued development resources, it can be difficult and expensive to maintain. Paying an outside company a flat fee, on the other hand, means getting a product that’s always up-to-date and cheaper.
It’s a change that would have been unthinkable just a couple years ago. As corporate America began transitioning away from the ubiquitous Blackberry devices, Goldman developed the tech to give employees a way to access email and documents securely on their mobile phones. The in-house solution became a point of pride among employees who saw Goldman’s high standards of security and tech acumen as a differentiator.
As Blackberry’s handsets fell from use, the company began moving into secure software for mobile devices. In 2015, the Canadian company bought Good Technology, whose mobile-email app was being used by others including some of Goldman’s Wall Street competitors.
In 2015, Goldman sold the Orbit software to Synchronoss Technologies, Inc. in return for a minority stake in the joint venture, which was to have sold the software to other companies. At the time, the Wall Street Journal suggested the move was another example of how Goldman the technology firm was spinning out homegrown technology solutions so that they could thrive in the wild.
Over time, Goldman grew frustrated with Synchronoss’s management of the software and what some employees perceived as a lack of resources going into improving the product, according to one of the people. It’s unclear what Goldman’s decision means for Synchronoss’s plans.
As outside software offerings have improved and gone into widespread use it makes sense for Goldman to consider off-the-shelf solutions, according to Matt Papas, who has oversight of Goldman’s workplace productivity tools. More than a year ago, the engineering division shared its preference for buying over building with employees in a company-wide memo.
One key benefit: it allows Goldman to take advantage of software in use by hundreds of millions of people, as opposed to having the bank’s employees be the first to try a product or a software update.
“We don’t want to be in the business of building corporate IT infrastructure for the masses,” Papas said.
Goldman is now focusing its in-house engineering resources on building tech that supports the company’s core business, such as the Marquee platform for institutional trading clients; SecDB, the risk management platform credited with steering the firm through the financial crisis; and Marcus, the digital bank.
Goldman’s Twitter account hinted at the changes afoot, when it posted last week a photo of old, boxed up handheld devices and hinted at its love of the mobile app.