November 30, 2015

Slush 2015: Digital fireworks light up the November sky

It was hard not to be dazzled by the energy and creativity on display at Slush this year. Of course, digital innovation never sleeps; can't we have the same fireworks all year round?

Back in 2000, Pekka Viljakainen sold his digital media company Visual Systems to Tieto. Under our ownership, it was renamed Digital Innovations - an apt descriptor of the cutting-edge work it was involved in. Although I wasn't personally a member of the team, I found their vision dazzling from day one. 

Even then, Digital Innovations was exploring how digitalization could be used to help companies improve their interactions with customers. The team weren't just looking to create visually appealing websites - they wanted to innovate new services with our customers, and even new business models.

Fifteen years ago, this was ahead of its time, and it can be argued that it laid some parts of the groundwork for what Tieto's internal CEM startup is doing today. Yes, our methods are very different, but our philosophy - the combination of design and IT - has deep roots in Tieto. It's in our DNA.

Anyway, much of what we saw at Slush 2015 this month reminded me of the early 2000s, and the energy and creativity of the Digital Innovations unit. For one thing, Thursday's agenda included a design track in which some of the industry's top speakers and thought leaders shared their insights on the importance of their work in digitalization. I don't have the attendance figures in front of me, but according to my own metrics - that is, the difficulty of getting through the crowds - it was the most popular track in the conference.

Another thing that surprised me - perhaps even more so than the emphasis on design - was that this year's Slush wasn't meant just for the startups and investors as one might think. I was impressed that a lot of large companies were also involved, and had left their prejudices and preconceptions at the door in search of new ideas.

Exciting examples at Slush 2015

A good example of this would be the Finnish engineering company KONE, which arrived at the conference with an open call for startups and other innovators to join its partner ecosystem and submit proposals to improve the so-called "People Flow experience" in smart buildings. "Whether you're a 'rock-star' new company or a single-employee developer, KONE wants to hear your ideas, plans, inventions, apps, business model proposals, or technology ideas," it said.

Accenture’s approach was Digital Innovation Challenge, joining forces with Fennia, Ilmarinen, Neste and the Finnish Defence Forces to coach student teams on their ideas for innovative new services, products and business models.

Finally, Tieto - alongside 16 other companies, including TeliaSonera, Nordea and Finnair - took part in perhaps the most overwhelming event of all: Ultrahack, Europe's biggest hackathon. Held over four locations and with over 400 participating teams, Ultrahack was a massive success; our own challenge was won by a team of just three hackers, whose concept makes queueing in stores a thing of the past.

After Slush, where next?

For me, the most amazing thing about all of this activity is that it shows us how large companies are now looking for innovation and growth in totally new places and a totally new way. It may be November, but the world's innovators haven't gone into hibernation - just this month, they were setting off digital fireworks in Helsinki.

Still, despite the high spirits, we must not make the mistake of treating innovation and collaboration as ideas we revisit once or twice a year. Sustained success means continuous work, not one-off campaigns and competitions. This is something that Tieto Experience Hub - like the Digital Innovations unit before it - takes very seriously. Together with our partners, we're looking to create dazzling new solutions all year round.


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