RIIS Finds Innovation and Inspiration in Oakland County

Southfield-based RIIS (pronounced “reess”) was founded in 1998 by information technology developer, writer and speaker Godfrey Nolan. (The name pays homage to inspirational photojournalist Jacob Riis.) For over a decade, RIIS has ben optimizing web applications and internal business processes. It has evolved over the years as new technologies have been developed and made accessible to the public market, including most recently the development of mobile applications.
Nolan explains that, even as recently as five years ago, the majority of their work was in custom development for telecommunications companies including business process development, job development and project management in fields as wide and varied as healthcare, finance and even a small amount of automotive. Added to that roster now is about a dozen mobile applications, a growing field that, while it currently constitutes less than one quarter of their work, is showing huge growth potential. “We do a lot of work locally,” Nolan says, naming off local clients that include big names such as Proctor Financial and Blue Cross Blue Shield. “The issue before was finding sales. Now the issue is finding people,” he jokes. (He then adds, in all seriousness, that they are always looking for skilled and experienced developers — developers take note.)
Nolan is originally from Dublin, Ireland. He was doing telecommunications contracting work there and wanted to do the same thing here, specifically in Oakland County. “Being from Ireland I see a huge opportunity here and certainly Oakland County is hugely prosperous; there’s lots of work and lots of things to do,” he explains. He fell into work with Michigan’s LDMI Telecommunications (based in Southfield), then started doing telecommunications work of his own. RIIS started off with just “two guys and a laptop,” then grew into six people, then twelve, 20, and now 40.
Despite showing steady growth, two years ago Nolan started to feel that RIIS needed some help in order to grow from an entry-level to second-stage company. As president of RIIS it was always Nolan’s first priority to be an innovative company that consistently meets customers with thought, attention and understanding, not just delivery. “We had all of those classic things underway, but it was obvious to me that we weren’t taking care of the little things.” So he enrolled in Oakland County’s FastTrac NewVenture program, specifically designed for entrepreneurs in the early stages of business development. “It was perfect for me,” he states. “The timing was great. It gave me the tools I needed to go from 20 people to 50 people – we’re at 40 now, and that has doubled in the last two years.”
He adds, “I knew that if we continued in the direction we were going we’d basically run out of time to run all the things we needed to take care of. We needed to get more structure.” FastTrac provided them with the tools and knowledge they needed in order to grow in the right direction, and also helped them branch out into new technologies such as mobile app development by providing them with some market research on mobile apps and allowing them to enter the Oakland County iPhone Challenge Competition. “[We were] trying to do some mobile work as part of [our] venture. [FastTrac] makes you think of strategy,” Nolan says. “The whole thing is about tying [your product] together with a marketing strategy.” Their app “Dirty Spoons” (which allows users to check if there are any health department violations at area restaurants) placed second in the competition, and this opened the doors for them to really start focusing on mobile app development; they’ve created about a dozen since then.
“If [Oakland County] needs publicity for how helpful FastTrac can be, we’re the posterchild,” Nolan states. “It really helped us get to be in the right place at the right time and get to where we needed to be, and that was purely because of some of the work done in FastTrac but also because of the competition.” Nolan says that there are ongoing sessions that pique his interest on topics that range from lines of credit to peer perspective, “a group of people in the same sort of situation I’m in … there are lots of lessons to be learned from other people, and that’s what FastTrac [is all about].”
Look for Nolan’s latest book Decompiling Android (about mobile sourcecode protection) in June.