Senior researcher of platform economy implements digitalisation into studies


Timo Seppälä, Professor of Practice in Digital Operations, knows the challenges related to product and service innovations by industrial companies.

Professor of Practice Timo Seppälä, what do you research and why?

My area of interest in research is related to how new digital technologies impact the business practices of industrial and service companies. A central part of this is the formation of digital cooperation platforms for product and service business, which facilitates the emergence of new production and service innovations with less product development and commercialisation costs than previously for the industrial company markets.

A platform in this instance refers to digital resources that partners have use of free-of-charge or for a small fee in order for them to create innovations such as data. In this way, we can form new markets, as has happened for example in the mobile phone markets. Industry has its own examples such as General Electric's Predix, Siemens' MindSphare or IBM's Watson software packages.

Finland has an abundance of strong expertise in the area of platform economy, but often upper management lacks time or personnel with expertise in platform economy, which prevents development in these areas. Additionally, it is, as of yet, difficult to compile economic analyses on profitability. Researchers can give us the knowledge, but the solutions must be made by the management of companies. Little by little we are beginning to gain an understanding of the value of a platform economy to companies, and this is also beginning to show in practice. Fortum, for one, has already adopted software for the piloting of a new type of platform architecture and for gaining more expertise.

How did you become a researcher?

When I graduated with a master's in science in technology, I worked for quite some time in numerous companies in the machine and electronics industry. Compiling a book on the Finnish electronics technology with people from the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (Etla) resulted in my becoming a researcher at Etla and at the same time I completed a master's degree in business. In autumn 2013, I also began to teach at Aalto University's Department of Industrial Engineering and Management and received my doctorate from the same department in 2014.

In my current position, I still divide my working time between Etla and Aalto. At Etla, my area of research is global value chains and platform economy, and at Aalto I implement digitalisation into studies.

What have been the highlights of your career?

In the past, I headed business activities worth 2.5 billion euros for six years in Elcoteq, and I had more than 10,000 indirect subordinates. This was a tremendous experience in all respects. A second highlight is related to my childhood dream to graduate from Aalto with a degree in Industrial Engineering and Management, and this dream finally became reality when I received my doctorate in 2014.

What is the most important quality for a researcher?

Determination in decision-making and furthering their work, as well as an interest in phenomena-based study in addition to a quantitative approach. A researcher must also be able put different things together to form entities that they can link their expertise to.

What is the most important thing that you want your students to learn from you?

I would like them to gain an understanding of how theory is realised in practice and how research of practices helps in formulating new theories. Once we understand how things work in digital service provision, we can develop these by linking them to our own experiences for example in industry, and in this way create new narratives, real life stories.

What do you expect from the future?

Interesting challenges and the opportunity to challenge my own way of thinking. The atmosphere at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management has a discourse-driven and built on trust; added to this the expertise of each employee supplements that of others allowing us to move forward in an agile manner!

Photo Mikko Raskinen, Aalto-yliopisto