Aligning Business and IT to Enable Rapid Software Development

Söderberg & Partners offers financial and insurance services—primarily employee benefits, non-life insurance, and wealth management—to businesses and consumers across Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the UK, Spain, and the Netherlands.

With over 4,800 employees, they are regarded as the Nordics’ leading insurance broker. Since 2012, Söderberg has received several awards in customer satisfaction, with 78% of its customers classifying them as “the industry’s innovators.”

In recent years the over reliance on manual work and traditional IT delivery methods began affecting Söderberg’s efficiency and ability to innovate. As an organization with a historically “build first” mentality, Söderberg began exploring alternative development approaches that could complement their existing tech stack and reduce their time to deliver software for the business.

In 2022, Söderberg evaluated low-code platforms and ultimately selected Mendix. Today, their team has successfully expedited their delivery timelines, developing eleven applications to automate and optimize internal processes.

Meeting the Demand for Bespoke Software

Due to their many complex and unique business processes, Söderberg has historically been a build-over-buy shop. However, building only with traditional programming resulted in a backlog of software requests — primarily back office processes that were deprioritized in favor of customer-facing systems — that were never met.

This inattention to the back office meant that Söderberg’s employees and brokers had to spend more time on manual or legacy-based processes and therefore less time directly supporting their customers. With a strong IT team the issue wasn’t a lack of expertise, but rather a lack of resources.

Tasked with finding a solution was Robert Karlsson, who has been with Söderberg & Partners his entire career and today serves as CTO for the Non-Life business area and Head of Intelligent Automation.

“It wasn’t that we felt IT couldn’t deliver. It just almost became a competition between different IT project over few resources,” Karlsson shared.

Investing in business development and fast-tracking innovation projects was an early priority for Karlsson, who started by exploring robotic process automation (RPA) solutions. “There shouldn’t be a queue, it should always be fast. Once I tried RPA myself, I realized we couldn’t keep building just with traditional code anymore and needed to expand our toolbox,” he said.

During this exploration Karlsson discovered low-code by way of PowerApps, but quickly realized it couldn’t support their larger and more complex system needs. “We built a few things in PowerApps that we shouldn’t have before we stumbled on platforms like Mendix and OutSystems,” he added.

By April 2022, Karlsson and team selected had Mendix for its:

  • Multi-cloud offering that made it easier for Söderberg to meet compliance and industry regulations by hosting in their own private cloud.
  • Cost-efficiency compared to traditional coding, both in development and long-term maintenance.
  • Openness and ease of integration with other systems of record and industry-standard solutions.

“We felt that Mendix solved the issues we had. We finally were able to solve business cases that we hadn’t bothered looking at before,” said Karlsson. “From a CTO or CIO perspective, the work is not just what to build, it’s more how to connect systems. Brokering in Sweden is quite scattered, so with Mendix we could also connect and automate processes that are very specific for insurance brokerage,” he added.

Sales Process Automation

Söderberg delivered their first project, a document processing solution, in just 3 months. Since then, the team has leveraged Mendix to support new revenue-generating processes and opportunities.

One project in motion is a tool for the Customer Success team, a tool that guides the sales team through their workflows to sell additional Söderberg & Partners services to existing customers. The application digitizes the customer onboarding process, including entering personal information and signing customers up for savings or fund accounts.

By streamlining employee workflows, the application has enabled the team to increase their lead conversion rate by 300–500%.

“The selling process was new to us as was the team selling the services,” Karlsson shared. “But before we had Mendix or an internal automation team, this would have been built by the normal IT or not built at all.”

Mendix integration capabilities were also critical in the development of the Customer Success application. The tool leverages:

  • API integrations to automate the account generation process
  • An integration with Scribe to capture digital signatures
  • A third-party for account scraping to minimize data inconsistency

“It’s quite integration heavy,” Karlsson shared. “The application puts all these processes together into one workflow and produces something complete that you can run with the customer. It connects an account to the bank to automate payments. That way, when we get paid from the client, we rate pay the carrier or insurer. It essentially has a UI for the back-office people running the process, but a lot of the generation of invoices is done through APIs. It’s more or less a service that actually gets integrated to other platforms.”

Karlsson and team have also developed an invoicing platform for non-life that will handle approximately 400 – 500,000 invoices annually.

Their existing ERP system couldn’t scale with Söderberg’s unique practice of taking an insurance carriers premium invoice and create a Söderberg invoice with both a premium and the broker fee together. The customer thus received a combined invoice with both Söderberg’s and carrier’s premium.

ERP systems aren’t built to handle that workflow. We’ve cleaned it up, but we ultimately cannot change those systems,” Karlsson explained.

Like Söderberg’s Customer Success application, the non-life invoicing platform relies on several integrations including payment automation and scheduling, reconciliation, ERP system connectivity, bank unification, and additional APIs.

“With the Mendix application we can do all this for many different businesses areas in different countries as well,” said Karlsson.

Closing the Business and IT Gap to Deliver Value

Key benefits of adopting low-code and implementing a cross-functional team were improved communication with business stakeholders and shorter time to value.

“But that fusion in combination with a different development model, that’s really where the power comes from,” Karlsson explained.

Maximizing low-code’s potential requires involving more people in development with a focus on that business value. Karlsson notes that learning Mendix takes only a couple weeks, so having diverse team members quickly onboarded further improves solution quality.

“Putting this technology in the hands of those that want to learn is key. You can see how they approach problems differently than traditional developers. That’s what encourages them to use the best features of the platform,” he shared.

By focusing on the people and process, Söderberg both expands developers’ technical skillsets and improves IT’s problem-solving efficiency.

“Low-code is five times faster than traditional methods. We’ve built parts of our workflow in four or five months with just five or six people,” he said. “It’s impressive how much software you can produce in less time.”

When expanding the Mendix development team, Karlsson seeks candidates who can lead entire projects, from meetings to design. “They should focus on process automation and digitalization, not just technology. Preparation, planning, and a complete vision are crucial,” he said.

Low-Code Development Fuels Innovation

Söderberg & Partners’ low-code journey proves that Mendix can create digital solutions for employees that fast track innovation projects in the insurance broker space.

While Söderberg as a whole still utilizes a combination of traditional development tools, low-code, and market solutions, the complete coverage of bimodal software development broadens the range of business cases Karlsson’s team can address.

“It’s a great resource allocation tool and strong alternative in our IT structure. It’s quite easy to recommend Mendix to our business units as a better tool for certain projects now,” he said.

When reflecting on their low-code journey, Karlsson offered lessons for those just getting started with the Mendix platform:

  • Internal promotion is crucial. Leaning on an internal network allowed the business units to promote the possibilities of low-code to the entire organization. They were able to leverage management conferences and use POCs or use-cases to show value and increase exposure. “You need that sponsorship,” he said.
  • Executive buy-in matters. Having laid the groundwork with RPA, Söderberg garnered several internal sponsors and support from top management when they dove into low-code development. “They saw how fast we can solve problems that would otherwise divert precious resources away from key things no one else could accomplish.”
  • Identify project fit to deliver true value. “You have to gain trust. People believe it when you show real progress. We made easy or quick wins sometimes or we delivered high value and that has helped us grow as well. If an internal business unit wants something, that’s where we come in to help, and that has given us opportunities to create more and more Mendix applications,” he added.

With 11 applications and counting, Söderberg has set a strong foundation for their future with Mendix.

“This is more than technology,” Karlsson said. “Developing with low-code is a great way to bridge the gap between IT and business. If you look at just the technology, you’ll end up further separating the two. You have to find the right balance to engage stakeholders; otherwise, you can’t help them efficiently.”