Former Nokia executive Tero Ojanperä believes intelligent platforms could be next success story for Finland
Finland has a history of creating successful businesses from new technology. The competition is hard, though, and ever-intensifying – how are we keeping up?
There are signs in both directions. On the one hand, there are stagnating numbers in productivity and digitalization, growth lagging behind neighbouring countries for a decade already. On the other hand, there is entrepreneurial spirit, promising startups, bigger and bigger venture rounds. There is tech company Wolt and its hundreds of millions of growth financing.
Tero Ojanperä, a newly appointed part-time professor of practice at Aalto University and one of the founders of Silo AI, the largest artificial intelligence lab in the Nordics, has an in-depth perspective on the development. Ojanperä has previously worked for years as an executive in Nokia, and subsequently moved onto the world of startups and AI. He believes that platform economy and AI are now key elements in technological development, and for him, they are intricately connected.
”If you take any significant global company, you see how platform economy and AI interweave. Because of this, I like to use the term “intelligent platforms””.
Intelligent platforms are also central to Ojanperä’s new role as professor of practice, a position that is split between the departments of industrial engineering and management and computer science, and is also tightly connected to the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence FCAI.
Ojanperä elaborates on his role by first explaining the what he means by intelligent platforms:
Platform economy has to do with a business model in which the network effect has a key role. When new users join a platform, earlier users benefit. One example would be Facebook where a friend joining in is a benefit for me, too.
AI, then, helps in making use of these networks as efficiently as possible, and especially of the data produced in them. Every single Tesla driver provides all Teslas data that teaches them to behave more smartly on the road. Learning with the help of AI is much quicker than without.
When the amount of data gathered by companies grows, also more traditional industry can make use of such elements of platform economy. For instance, a manufacturer of machinery can gather data from all of its machines and use it to further improve its products.
As the platform capabilities from the current business can often be applied elsewhere, platform companies have considerable potential for expanding into new fields. Ojanperä calls these “strategic leaps”. For instance, Wolt was able to use the logistics expertise it had gathered from food deliveries and expand quickly to other deliveries.
”New Nokias are already here”
So what does the future look like? Ojanperä is cautiously optimistic.
”If you take a look at AI, the past three years have seen major leaps in the right direction in Finland, he says.
According to Ojanperä, the possibilities of AI have gradually been understood in large corporations. In addition, the Finnish startup field gives reason for optimism. Ojanperä praises the ”Slush-generation” which in the past few years has founded several promising firms and has also reinvested the money from exits into new startups.
A positive attitude towards entrepreneurship should also not be underestimated. Aalto, Ojanperä notes, has played a key role in encouraging this.
”This entrepreneurial spirit didn’t always use to be there. It has arisen in the 2010s.”
One of the major breakthroughs of the Slush-generation is the gaming giant Supercell, which has not only succeeded in occupying a leading position in the global gaming industry, but has also managed to keep up the good work. Other high-flyers follow: Ojanperä mentions again the delivery company Wolt, the satellite company Iceye, the ad company Smartly – just as examples. All have roots in Aalto.
”There used to be a lot of talk about where to find the new Nokia. These are the new Nokias”, Ojanperä says.
Courage as bottleneck
A sigh of relief might nevertheless be premature. According to Ojanperä, especially small and middle-sized firms could understand the potential of applying AI a lot better than they currently do. Also bigger players still lack courage to take on challenges.
Overall, Ojanperä says that there is great need for education regarding new technology. In addition, useful innovations currently sometimes remain in research papers with no one to take advantage of their economic potential.
Such challenges relate to Ojanperä’s work in Aalto. He’d like to bring together people from different fields, from the university, and from business. If needed, he says he could also function as an interpreter when know-how from the academia is translated into the language of business. He would also like to develop new funding models for cooperation projects, as well as help utilize the existing ones more efficiently.
For FCAI, Ojanperä is prepared to offer his insights on what kind of AI research is especially sought after in the world of business, and on how research results can be brought into practice.
Here, I can really have an impact on what kinds of students graduate from the university
This spring, Ojanperä and the professor of strategic management Timo Vuori are starting a project together with the international business school Insead, the aim of which is to map factors that hinder, and speed up, the implementation of AI in companies.
Also students will get their share of Ojanperä. The new professor of practice says that he considers the possibility to take part in teaching “super exciting”.
“Here, I can really have an impact on what kinds of students graduate from the university.”
The head of the department of industrial engineering and management Risto Rajala thinks it great that the researchers and students of Aalto will be able to benefit from Ojanperä’s extensive experience at the crossroads of research and industry.
”Lately, the technical know-how regarding AI has developed positively in Finland. However, in addition to courage, know-how in application is needed. This is an exciting challenge not only for companies but also for students.”
Tero Ojanperä ja Timo Vuori’s blog about intelligent platforms: Intelligent Platforms
Professor of Practice Tero Ojanperä