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Service economy researcher doubles as do-gooder

Professor Risto Rajala gets enthusiastic about super-teams and about how his research could promote more sustainable industry.

'As well as investing strongly in my own work, it is great to get to learn from other fields as well', says Risto Rajala. Photo: Pekka Niittyvirta.

Professor Risto Rajala, what do you research and why?

My research is connected with the change which has been taking place as we rapidly shift, especially in the technology industry, from production-centred thinking to service-centred thinking. In the US, where the phenomenon is perhaps at its most advanced stage, over 80 per cent of the gross national product comes from services, and even in Finland the figure is estimated to be over 70 per cent – and growing all the time.

I'm especially interested in how digitalisation changes management of service operations and service productivity. Another important area is the institutionalisation of service-centredness; the way that different beliefs, values and justifications for action become part of companies’ strategies. The research is both interesting in itself and also significant and relevant. The majority of large Finnish companies are thinking through at the moment how to improve productivity and adapt their strategies.

How did you become a researcher?

I have actually always wanted to do research, and already after my first year of studies I applied for work at the Nokia Research Centre. After completing my Master’s Degree, my professor suggested that I apply to do a PhD. Before that, I had been working also for Fujitsu, where I realised that I wanted to research technology companies’ service strategies also in a scientific manner. So I took hold of my professor’s suggestion – and I have been enjoying my work to the full.

As well as really enjoying understanding the world more, I also want to try and make it a better place. My goal is to find ways to make industrial activities more sustainable and more environmentally friendly – and technology and digitalisation play a key role in this.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Research is fascinating in itself: one can learn new things all the time and comprehend how little we really know and how much is still to be learnt.

On the other hand, research is such an abstract task that concrete achievements, such as getting an article into a top journal, are wonderful moments. I still remember the feeling when for the first time an article of mine got into a journal that is respected in my field. I thought ‘wow, I want more of this’.

In our field, research does not mean working away in a closet on your own. In fact, we gather a lot of data from companies or in cooperation with them, and then we analyse it in teams. It is wonderful to gather together the kinds of super-teams in which people’s skills complement each other – teams which can be among the best in the world in what they do.

What are the most important qualities for a researcher?

Interest and curiosity are essential. It’s important that you don’t invent everything yourself, but instead build your work on what’s already been discovered. A researcher must also want and be able to work systematically using methods that have been shown to be good and correct, and in this way to analyse and further our knowledge.

What do you expect from the future?

I believe that my most significant scientific findings are still to come. As well as investing strongly in my own work, it is great to get to learn from other fields as well. Here at Aalto, there are very good opportunities for that!

Risto Rajala and the other recently tenured professors at Aalto University will present their research in the multidisciplinary afternoon starting at 14.15 on 15 March. We hope to see you there!

See the lecture programme here

 

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