Technology can help us save the planet – LUT alumnus Mika Ruokonen is fascinated by the development of the digital market and its humanity
"I could tell you a great story about how important role the family and school friends and other such factors have played in shaping my career so far. But it doesn't always go that way. Many of the moves I've made have taken place by chance. My first job was in a company set up by my friend from senior high school, and since then I've just applied for an open position. If I remember correctly, to Deloitte and Sanomat I was selected from among hundreds of applicants," says Mika Ruokonen, Business Director of the software company Futurice.
LUT alumnus Ruokonen has made an impressive career in digital business. At the age of forty-something, his list of achievements is quite long; he has been in charge of profit centres, held roles in strategic business development, as well as sales and marketing, worked as a consultant and led various multidisciplinary teams.
According to Ruokonen, in high school he was more interested in playing guitar and waiting for the weekend than in ambitious career plans. He says that he ended up studying economics because he is from the university city of Lappeenranta and was interested in international matters. Therefore, he chose international marketing as his main subject and went to student exchange – an experience he considers particularly worthwhile.
"Language skills give you an ability to manage different situations, since, when learning a foreign language and living in a foreign culture, you have to cope with uncertainty. That's a skill you need in life in other matters as well."
Since then, there has been a lot of demand for Ruokonen, not least at Futurice, one of Finland's fastest growing technology companies. Futurice has over 600 employees, some of them working in Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom. The customers include BMW, Volkswagen, Samsung, Kesko and Valmet. In 2019, Futurice's turnover was 66 million euros.
"If you don't have a clear dream profession since your childhood, as was the case with me, then a degree in economics and business administration is a good general qualification. It will help you find employment in very diverse tasks. Opportunities open up unexpectedly, and the future vision keeps on getting clearer and clearer," Ruokonen says.
The ICT sector contributes to solving environmental issues
Ruokonen dreams that he could utilise his expertise from an environmental perspective in the future. Like many others, he has also realised that planet Earth is in an acute crisis, and the next decade will be decisive in many respects.
Information and communication technology (ICT) consumes an estimated one tenth of the world's electricity, which means that its carbon footprint is relatively large. Ruokonen says that the sector's most significant impact on the environmental issues becomes visible in how the sector develops its own activities and in the fact that ICT companies help other industries use technologies to reduce their environmental impacts.
Digital technology can play an important role, for example, in the transport sector and heavy industry by reducing loss, waste, emissions and energy consumption.
"I would like to be involved in exploring how it could be made easier to measure the environmental impacts of different companies' business and make them more transparent than before, and how digitalisation and data could be utilised in this process."
The application of the research area of artificial intelligence, algorithms and machine learning, robotics and autonomous systems significantly promotes the transition towards sustainable development, says Traficom in its Report on the impacts of emerging technologies in the ICT sector on environmental and climate change.
In practice, this could mean, for example, a more widespread use of aeroponics in agriculture. The Futurice website also presents a variety of other future visions alongside aeroponics, such as data collection with the help of satellites and drones. Some of these technologies are already in use, but we can expect even more efficient use of data in the future.
Ruokonen already favours small everyday acts of green living. Ruokonen and his wife have not had a car for more than a year, they do not eat meat, and Ruokonen stopped buying new clothes for six months ago. Instead of buying, the family has sold, recycled or donated unnecessary items and clothing.
"I don't want to take moral high ground here. Before the coronavirus pandemic, we used to be eager long-distance travellers. "
Learning does not end at graduation
Ruokonen has been praised for giving people concrete ideas for developing their business activities. He has even written a few books, Biteistä bisnestä! Digitaalisen liiketoiminnan käsikirja (2016) on how to turn bits into digital business, and Growth Reinvented: Turn your data and artificial intelligence into money (2020).
The latter work provides companies with tools for expanding their operations and increasing their turnover by means of data and artificial intelligence. Many companies continuously collect great volumes of data but do not know how to commercialise it.
"Today, this kind of competence is in great demand, which the coronavirus pandemic has increased even more. In 2020, many companies were forced to take a leap 10 years forward in the use of digital technology," Ruokonen says.
The features that fascinate Ruokonen in digitalisation include new technologies, content creation and the utilisation of data, but also the human dimension. He says that the factors lying at the core of digital commercialisation are human behaviour, modes of operation and change management. People tend to feel uncertainty when faced with something new.
"In my work, I often answer to questions related to digital threats, the presentation of which is human and even necessary. However, digitalisation can also bring great joy and major benefits. From a company's perspective, to be successful, digitalisation must specifically influence people's modes of operation – as an example, we could mention more extensive use of e-commerce."
Futurice has been handing out copies of Growth Reinvented as a gift, for example, at its business meetings. Namely, it often happens that when business leaders meet, they tend to talk about a specific book. Ruokonen is an eager library user and tries to read at least one book a week.
"When I have given my book as a gift at meetings, people have shown honest interest towards it. In my opinion, it is one of business manager's duties to read a lot, societal literature included. It is smart to keep up with your times and learn about future research. You don't stop learning when you have completed one degree or another," says Ruokonen, Doctor of Science (Economics and Business Administration).
Born in Lappeenranta, lives in Helsinki
Has a Doctor of Science (Economics and Business Administration) (LUT, 2008) degree
Was in student exchange in Austria and France during his studies
Has been working at Futurice for 4 years now
Worked at Sanoma for 6 years, his latest position being head of a business unit at Sanoma Digital Finland
Acted as senior consultant at Deloitte
Worked as project manager at LUT in the Global Network Management project
Started his working career at the software company Viope in Helsinki
Hobbies include skiing, tennis and other exercise
LUT School of Business and Management celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2021. In honour of the anniversary year, we publish interviews with former and current staff members and the alumni of the School.