Who designs and controls our digital platforms? Does it matter?


“If you use a proprietary [software] program or somebody else’s web server, you’re defenceless. You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software”

So claimed Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software movement, quite provocatively. Do you feel “defenceless”? Hopefully not, but sometimes it is worth considering how ICTs  shape our lives and society.

Few would deny that digital platforms have huge and increasing control of our personal lives, business and governance. The algorithms determine the stories we read on Facebook, the search results we see on Google and even partners we find on Tinder. Hundreds of thousands of full-time labourers, from Uber drivers to Handy cleaners, follow supervisory  commands which are delivered to their mobile phones by an algorithm.

Increasingly many decisions on the public sector are also made by digital platforms which process big data algorithmically. As you may have read, judiciary is not an exception: New Jersey recently replaced a human-led bail system with new software which uses maths and data science to predict whether or not a person is a risk to the society if released.

As digitalization accelerates,  many  people have started to ask questions on who designs and controls the platform technologies. Grassroots movements such as Platform Co-operativism, Internet of Ownership and Commons Transition are pushing demands for more open and democratically governed digital platforms. They have also inspired hundreds of “open” platform co-operatives, such as FairMondo, Loomio and Open Food Network.

The phenomenon seems to resemble the early days of the Free Software and Open Source software movements. People demanded more control over how software is designed. Many started small software projects, which based on the ideas of transparency and open collaboration (e.g. GNU operating system which later turned Linux). Within relatively short timeframe, the marginal idea went mainstream. Large software companies, such as IBM and Sun Microsystems, shifted to open source -based business models.

Today, open source software is very commonplace, mostly uncontroversial and consequently unvisible. But what happens to alternative digital platforms that echo similar demands of ‘openness’ and control by users? Are they the next mainstream?


VTT Katja Henttonen

Katja Henttonen, Digitalization Specialist
Twitter: @KatjaHenttonen

Päivi Jaring VTT

Päivi Jaring, Senior Scientist



See more:

Ongoing research on this topic in the Accelerate project.

Simonite, T. (2015) . “When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm.” MIT Technology Review December.

Computer says no: New Jersey is using an algorithm to make bail recommendations.

Are you ready for the shift from B2B to B4B?

B2B is over! The manufacturing industry is shifting to B4B, where suppliers no longer focus on selling things to customers but rather on creating outcomes and value for their businesses. In B4B models, customers pay much less up front for a product or service, sometimes nothing at all. Instead, the supplier gets paid when customers use their products and often only according to the benefits they receive.

So where does the value come from and how can businesses reinvent themselves to stay in the game? For suppliers value will come from knowing what outcomes customers really want, creating solutions to meet those needs and making their value-add visible. It’s also about finding win-win outcomes balancing both supplier and customer needs, which we are seeing more of in new partnership-based businesses.

Digitalisation must go deep into the DNA

These B4B models require transparency, which digital technologies enable. Digitalisation is also a big part of the solution where products can behave more like digital platforms that bundle data to enable outcomes to fit customer needs. So once you’ve sold a product it can become a launching pad for new future products and services for your customer.

Digitalisation is critical, but on its own it’s not enough. If it’s used like a sticking plaster, only quick fixes can be achieved whereas B4B models require real and sustainable value add. Real change needs to go deep into the DNA of a business, reflecting the most critical customer needs in a real operating environment.

B4B much more than just nice apps and XaaS offerings

We all know the story of Air BnB and the two guys with one extra room who couldn’t make rent. They launched a web site and disrupted the entire global travel and hotel business. Doing the same in big industry is much more complicated. Most of us understand how the hotel business works. You take a room, have your stay, and pay the money, and then you leave. But how many know how to run an electricity grid? If you really want to change the DNA of a smart grid, something critical for society, you need to know about much more than just digital technology, you need to know all the technical ins and outs of the business, how it’s run, where the valued add or beef of the business is, and all of the many technical restrictions that come with it.

In B4B we’re better together

As no single entity can overcome these complex challenges alone, effective networking is a core success factor in B4B. Just as you a consumer might consult a social media network to share or learn more from crowd knowledge, at industry level, companies big and small are also jumping into sharing partnerships to develop their competitive advantage. Partnerships can be with researchers, ICT providers, sometimes customers, and even with competitors, in the growing spirit of coopetition.

Take an example of Company A: a small business with a big idea. They’re in the healthcare industry where the fail-fast approach is not a viable option. In order to test and prove their idea they need a cutting edge 3D printer but the cost of purchasing one upfront would be a prohibitive especially with no guarantees that the idea will actually fly. In this case, an effective innovation path can be found through sharing partnerships with shared infrastructure and expertise networks.

VTT testing and piloting platform can help

VTT, together with Tampere University of Technology, has developed an open ecosystem platform that will help Company A take their idea and run with it. The platform, called SMACC (Smart Machines and Manufacturing Competence Centre) brings instant access to a 3D printer to test their idea. If glitches arise, help for small or large questions will come from a joint knowledge network. Finally, when the time is right, Company A will have its own collaboration team to help pilot the new solution cost effectively and at speed.

Using the power of partnership platforms, VTT is well-positioned to play a central role in helping business make the shift toward outcome-driven B4B products and services. We want to work like genetic engineers, drawing on our extensive knowledge networks and research, and applying rapid solutions not just to quick fix your business but to transform it over time.

The shift to B4B will be one of the big topics of the Manufacturing Performance Days in Tampere at the end of May. I look forward to taking it up with you there!

Kalle Kantola VTT

Kalle Kantola
Vice President, Research
Smart industry and energy systems

Does Food Economy 4.0 represent new or old thinking?

During my work career, I have been dealing with hundreds of companies as well as their leaders and owners. At times, it has felt a little silly to be lecturing this target group about the basics of doing business, because, actually, they are the ones who should be teaching me. That group of corporate representatives has naturally included plenty of such business genius that it has left me stunned with admiration and taught me a lot as well. On the other hand, there have also been people who are running their everyday operations with admirable perseverance, but who seem to lack a clear picture of what they should be doing and for whom in terms of business.

In other words, what are the customers’ needs and how they should be served? Companies often refer quite easily to how important customers are to them, but if their potential customers themselves do not feel that the company considers them or their needs important, business will not grow. In the changing world, the foresight regarding customer needs is increasingly important.

Let’s look ahead!

In the early years of the 2010s, I was involved in the running of the Future Shop Club. There we got together with the actors in the trade value chain and discussed the transition within the sector and envisioned what it was leading to in the speciality goods trade. There were actors involved who set out to renew their business activities right there and then. However, there was an even larger number of those who said: “We already have an online shop and, therefore, everything is OK.” Perhaps needless to say, but there are very few of the latter group left still running commercial operations today. The changes brought on by digitalisation and changed consumer behaviour in speciality goods trade have been immense.

Basically, the transition in the trade sector has had very little to do with online shopping. Only very few people understood or believed this at the beginning of the 2010s, even though it did not require much prophesying skills to see the change. All that was needed was to raise your gaze from your own feet and look ahead.

Now the food economy is going through a similar change as the speciality goods sector in the early 2010s

The customers used to the new-age speciality goods trade now expect a similar change from the grocery sector as well. On the other hand, the new smart production and smart logistics practices that are revolutionising the manufacturing industry offer the food industry and its value chain models on how to organise themselves in a new manner that would serve both the consumers and the environment.

VTT’s new Food Economy 4.0 vision of an era of smart consumer-centric food production provides three change paths, which we are actually already taking:

  1. from mass production to personalised solutions
  2. from centralised to agile manufacturing and distribution
  3. from horizontal to vertical food production.

Does Food Economy 4.0 represent a totally new kind of thinking? The answer is no. The consumer-centrism of Food Economy 4.0 means genuine and active dialogue between consumers and trade or consumers and producers.

I myself have grown up on a farm. Therefore, as a child I saw close up how my parents were engaged in genuine social dialogue with the customers of the farm, taking their individual needs into account in production. Then society changed, and cost-efficiency pressures got the upper hand. The interaction between consumer-customers and the operators in the food chain waned away.

In Food Economy 4.0, the interaction is revived again – this time, assisted by digitalisation

The commercial way of thinking about the importance of genuinely catering for the customers and their individual needs dates back centuries. Digitalisation just offers a new way of implementing this better and in a larger scale than has ever been possible before.

The change towards smart and consumer-centric food production is already under way. To see that, all you need to do is raise your gaze from your own feet and look ahead.

The new era means significant changes in the food chain and its business models (see Food Economy 4.0 vision for examples). The basics of business operations – what?, for whom? and why? – will remain unchanged even though the methods – how? – changes. Maybe it is still necessary to remind people about the basics after all.

Jaakko Paasi VTT

Jaakko Paasi
Principal Scientist
Business, Innovations and Foresight

Industrial renewal is upon us – be bold and gain a foothold!

Digitalisation, automation, IoT, AI, blockchain, 3D printing – I could continue the list with quite a few juicy terms. How many times have you read or heard one of these words during the last week? I dare to wager that it was quite a few. Certain themes rise to the surface and remain a topic for discussion, until a new trendy word rises to everybody’s lips. Instead of using inordinate amounts of time and energy around an individual concept or technology, we should shift our focus to the change taking place in the big picture and to what kind of a future we could create with the help of various technological enablers.

New trends force changes upon the current operations

Automation and robotisation alone are not enough to answer the challenges placed on companies by the global market and the increasingly demanding customer needs. Companies have no choice but to draw parallels between their development and, for instance, the following trends:

  • Smart products, production systems, production and delivery chains;
  • Renovation of the design of products and production through digitalisation and automation;
  • Need-based production, real-time delivery chain, distributed production;
  • Robotisation and flexible automation combined with artificial intelligence;
  • Service business with (or without) the help of digitalisation; and
  • Industrial ecosystems and platform economy.

I believe in the claim that the smart products and services of the future will be created in new industrial ecosystems supported by a globally connected platform economy. The leap from today to this vision seems wild, and the ability of companies to see the steps they need to take can be limited, when there is no concrete action plan available. It is therefore gratifying that we can find examples around us where a company’s own desire for development launches a networking project full of growth potential.

Expand your operations with the help of industrial networks

When a Finnish medium-sized machine manufacturer wishes to broaden its offering in order to speed up its growth in the global marketplace, the traditional model is to start planning business acquisitions. It would be more agile to avoid the risks and slowness of acquisitions by establishing a network structure, where a number of companies linked to the sector in question commit to creating a shared offering.

For global customers, this network appears as a seamless entity, while inside it, different actors work according to their own core competencies and deliver their share of the total. In this model, the success comes from working together, challenging each other within the network and obtaining help from select key customers.

Automation streamlines and adapts production

The radical renovation of design, manufacturing and service business with the help of digitalisation builds competitiveness and business opportunities for the industry also in countries with traditionally high cost structures. Robotics offers various solutions for making production more efficient and increasing productivity in the manufacturing industry.

However, it is not a question of robotisation only; an industrial company must be able to increase its agility and flexibility in order to create solutions that maximise the customer benefit. New manufacturing processes and the delivery chains built around them will bring customer-specific solutions up to a level we have not yet seen.

Thus far, automation has mostly been linked to equipment and production processes. However, the real leap in productivity will take place at the systemic level, where the entire delivery chain is examined, boldly questioning the current operating models. Must a company producing products have its own manufacturing capacity, or could it connect to a network of manufacturing plants and commission the manufacturing of the products from the plant that is most optimal to the need? On a longer term, one could think that this kind of a system is self-learning and able to adapt to the production needs of the owner of each brand. Once again, these are major questions from the perspective from the Finnish manufacturing industry; after all, we wish to ensure that we have strong connections to the future network models.

We help companies realise bold and ambitious visions

VTT possesses strong competence in the above-mentioned themes of industrial renewal, and even now, we are involved in enabling the birth of several industrial networks. In addition to technological research and development, we are a natural and competent partner also for the creation and organisation of new ecosystems.

Mika Toikka VTT

Mika Toikka
Vice President, Sales and Business Development
(Smart Industry and Energy Systems)

Together but individually at the same dining table – how is this possible?

At the end of the working day, many of us browse the shop shelves, hungrily wondering what to make for dinner. Despite the huge choice, everyday food tends to vary little in many families.

We would find shopping easier if our mobile phones could tell us what we had in the fridge. It would be even better if our phones displayed recipe suggestions and a shopping list of missing ingredients. And what if an application remembered what flavours you like, or which ingredients are unsuitable for you or family members?

In VTT’s Food Economy 4.0 Vision this is an everyday reality. In the future, food production will become service-based and personalised. Digitalisation – which enables the collection and combination of information on issues such as individual consumer habits, the nutritional content of food and the environmental impacts of food production – is a driver of this development. New kinds of digital services for consumers can be created by combining information from various sources, and connecting it up to devices and products.

Information is a key raw material

Due to the digital transformation, the consumer has an ever greater choice of foods in line with his or her needs, values and expectations. In addition to safety, localism and responsibility, consumers are interested in the health-promoting properties of food. This is reflected in the popularity of blogs, online services and television programmes on the subject. Sensor technologies are also becoming cheaper and the development of smart packaging is helping consumers to reduce food waste due to spoilage.

Food producers must change their product portfolios to respond to the needs of individual consumers. To build comprehensive well-being services, we will need open-minded collaboration between sectors and must combine information from a range of sources.

By combining information, we can create, say, food services that support the well-being of the elderly or people with special dietary needs. In addition, nutrition could be connected to applications, such as activity bracelets, which monitor well-being. At VTT, we are developing the Snacktracker, which guides the user towards a more balanced eating rhythm.

Individualised food does not mean dining alone

The idea of individualised, customised food can conjure up alarming images of algorithm-controlled eating and the loss of human interaction. However, individualised food does not mean dining alone.

Food will still bring people together – individual choices do not mean living in a bubble. Choices are shaped by a community’s values and opinions; customised food can be eaten around the same table. Digitalisation offers new channels for community and sharing, in addition to face-to-face interaction.

Digital services such as HejaHeja and Facebook are among the big names in the creation of social networks. Through online communities, people seek to share their experiences with friends, acquaintances or other people with the same interests. Feedback and encouragement from a social network or experts are a key factor in motivating people to use digital food services.

Appreciation of home cooking and spending time with friends and family is growing. There are food services which promote these by providing personalised meal planning, varied recipes and online home delivery. Finnish services that make everyday life easier include for example Miils, Hellapoliisi and Sannan ruokakassi. Time saved on food shopping can be used for, say, cooking together.

Digitalisation brings us around the same table

Digitalisation brings people together around food, both locally and globally.

Airbnb has revolutionised accommodation services. It is a good example of digitalisation enabling a new breed of service. Similar services are also emerging in the food industry. Last year, Helsingin Sanomat reported on a new startup called Eataway, through which ‘Restaurant Day meets Airbnb’. This is a platform which brings together cooking enthusiasts with tourists and locals in search of good home cooking.

In Finland, Yhteismaa ry, which started out with a communal Cleaning Day event, has come up with an open-air dinner concept. The idea is to tempt people to eat around the same tables. This year’s aspiration is to have people participate all over Finland and make the open-air dinner an annual event.

Customer a participant in the development of future food services

Consumers can directly converse with manufacturers and personalise products and services online. Correspondingly, food producers can use tailoring to create added value for customers. Digitalisation also enables consumers to find information on product origin, production methods and transport conditions.

Online retail and improving logistics solutions are revolutionising the centralised food trade. To benefit from this change and develop consumer-based food services, the food production sector must acquaint itself with new business models.

Kaisa Vehmas VTT

Kaisa Vehmas, Senior Scientist 

Maria Åkerman VTT

Maria Åkerman, Principal Scientist 

Is security achievable in a digitalised and networked platform society?


The digital transformation and platform economy are expected to herald an era of new growth and a break with existing industries. By platform economy, we mean a new, multi-directional way of creating value, in which producers and users of services are connected by social and technological structures and the distinction between them is blurred. Driven by the digital transformation, the rapid and extensive collection and analysis of information will enable networked activity within the platform economy.

Companies based on the logic of the platform economy have already gained market share from actors sticking with traditional practices. However, the impact of the platform economy is not restricted to new companies breaking into the market, but challenges the current economic logic in general. For example, the concept of the cooperative is enjoying a renaissance, while the sharing economy is creating a new kind of communality. All of this is giving the tax man grey hairs.

What do you mean, security?

Discussions of the platform economy have gradually shifted their focus from technology-orientation and the contemplation of new business models to social impacts. The debate has centred on the transformations in various industries and the workplace. Less attention, on the other hand, has been paid to security – now is the time to consider preparing for the changes being ushered in by the platform economy. Security is about more than information security and privacy issues; it also concerns other challenges and opportunities – related to trust, risks, the distribution of power and the management of complex wholes – that will accompany the new networked practices.

Networks and increasing mutual dependence have led to an entirely new approach to the concept of security. The risks are now much more complex and difficult to identify. In place of hierarchies, organisations are now network-based and temporary venues where traditional top-down control no longer works. This means that we are operating in a complex world of adaptive systems in which chaos theory would be a more appropriate starting point than process models. In this context, concepts such as power, control and trust gain new meanings and dimensions. What does power mean within an interdependent system? Can trust be outsourced to algorithms?

Rather than individual and single players, in the platform economy the focus is shifting towards communities and collaboration. The platform economy is a particular headache for legislators because its business models and the blurring of roles between customer and company do not fit into existing ‘pigeonholes’. Traditional supervision and regulation are difficult to apply when, for example, an accommodation service frames itself as merely a link between supply and demand – and owns no accommodation. Although regulations and restrictions will remain important for networked operations, the related culture will become an even more important source of security.

Will the platform economy take security to a new level?

On the other hand, security could be boosted by the platform economy, digital transformation and networking. Platforms connect people, while communities built on platforms take care of their members, particularly if the platform incentivises them to do so. The design of platforms and networks involves a social as well as technical and business challenges: how can we create platforms that promote security and build a sense of community? In a situation where all interactions leave a digital trace, will the resulting, reputation-based economy build trust or inequality? What role will companies, the state and individuals play in shaping platforms?

The digital transformation, platform economy and many other, corresponding terms refer to the transition from a production-based society to a collaborative one. Instead of focusing on which sector will be the next to be disrupted by a platform economy player, perhaps we should take a proactive attitude and talk about how to create the kind of future we all want. How can the digital transformation and platforms serve common goals and forge security? How can we ensure fairness, the minimisation of risks, and common ground rules?

These questions, among many others, are explored by the foresight, organisational dynamics and systemic change team at VTT in projects such as Platform Value Now.

Mikko Dufva, Research Scientist

mikko.dufva (a) vtt.fi

Twitter: @mdufva

Will sports technology replace the coach?


New digital products and services that analyse athletic performance are launched every week. They claim to help athletes improve their performance, encourage them to train, and give advice on when and for how long they should recover. These issues have traditionally been the coaches’ responsibility. Will digital sports technology make coaches a thing of the past?

From measuring the pulse to analysing athletic performance

Wearable products connected to wellbeing and sports have been actively developed in recent years. Heart rate monitors have moved from being specialist equipment for top athletes to being supermarket products available to ordinary people; at the same time, heart rate analysis is used to gather an increasingly large variety of information to help understand athletes’ training and recovery. Activity bracelets assessing people’s movement, sleep and energy consumption have rapidly developed into popular products for the general public, similarly to heart rate monitors.

At the moment, wearable sports technology is focused on products that can be used to measure the technique of a specific athletic performance and its flawlessness. In Finland, solutions are being developed for analysing the technique of running, swimming and cross-country skiing, for example. With such products, the performance analysis is based on data on the athlete collected using a small, wireless sensor. As for the business aspects, these are based on analysing the data and offering services based on the analysis.

Sports technology provides information to support coaching

The goal of sports technology is to provide information based on which the athlete and the coach can analyse the performance from a neutral point of view, without personal preconceptions. In world-class sports, the decisive moment of victory or defeat often lasts only a fraction of a second. Technology can be a great help when studying what happens in the high jump at the moment of take-off or in archery right before releasing the arrow, for example.

In addition to the trained eye, video cameras have been traditionally used to analyse performance, and measurements have also been made in test laboratories at training centres. These remain important tools, but they are starting to feel inadequate compared to the possibilities offered by wearable technology. Laboratory measurements can provide accurate data on a performance, but they nevertheless do not correspond to the performance at a competition. Video analysis of a performance that lasts for less than a second can likewise take several hours  to carry out.

Feedback immediately after the performance

With wearable technology, the performance can be analysed in the field instead of a measurement laboratory. We are approaching a situation in which the athlete’s total performance during training and competition is digitised through wearable technology. This gives the athletes detailed feedback about their performance immediately. The key performance indicators are an essential part of the feedback, but the performance can also be compared to previous performances during training or competitions, or they can be visualised for the athlete with the help of augmented reality.

Data-based coaching offers better tools for the coach and the athlete, who can focus on fine-tuning the performance. Director of Technology & Innovation for the U.S. Olympic Committee Mounir Zok agrees. At a sports technology seminar in early July he proposed that the use of technology in world-class sports is a key method in improving results: “Technology is the new secret sauce that will make or break any athlete, anywhere in the world.”

Smart networked products, the Internet of things, and real time data analytics revolutionise sports

The development of wearable sports technology is also promoted by the arrival of smart products on the wellbeing and sports market. It is based on the Internet of Things (IoT): the rapid development of sensor technology, wireless communication, data processing and digital services makes it possible to measure different kinds of events and phenomena with inexpensive, easy-to-use technology.

In the end, competitive sports share something fundamental with industry: improving competitiveness. If IoT looks like a solution for improving the competitiveness of the industry, the same logic can certainly work for competitive sports.

Will technology make coaching and coaches obsolete? No. Technology visualises what has happened during the performance. The new technology offers a more comprehensive picture than before, and it helps with understanding the performance and how it went. However, the athlete and the coach must decide together what to do next. Better information helps with making better decisions.

Petteri Alahuhta, Business Development Manager

Twitter: @PetteriA

The author has been a member of the Finnish national archery team and is currently acting as the Chair of the Finnish Archery Association.

Sports technology grows rapidly – Finland is at the top of the field

The goal of sports technology is to offer athletes and coaches better tools for improving performances. The investments in sports technology by capital investors have increased strongly in recent years. For example, during 2015 capital investors invested more than a billion US dollars in startup companies in the field. This shows faith in the demand for products and services in the field.

Finland has been a pioneer of sports technology for years. Established operators in the market such as Polar and Suunto have been developing their products for decades. In recent years, several startup companies have also started to develop their solutions for the sports technology market. Finland has high-level competence in data analytics, embedded devices, and software and service development.

As technology developers are combined with world-class sports research, Finnish companies will continue to create interesting wearable technology solutions for sports in future.

See also:

Wearable technology – VTT’s services

Presentations of the Sports Analytics Seminar in June 2016

Information about HILLA Sports Technology Growth Mill seminar