CIO Spotlight: Jukka Virkunnen, Digital Workforce

Are you leading a digital transformation? "We set up as a digital first organisation. We don't have a single server in the whole company."

Name: Jukka Virkunnen

Company: Digital Workforce

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: September 2015

Location: Helsinki, Finland

Jukka Virkunnen is an experienced business leader who has worked in the technology industry for 30 years. He started Digital Workforce to help free up workers from the monotony of process driven work so that they can do more meaningful work.

What was your first job? In IT, I was an Account Manager at Digital Equipment Corporation.

Did you always want to work in IT? I didn't study IT but when I got my first role in technology and I haven't looked back. My career has been all technology and now I've started my own tech company.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied  International Trade a long time ago, but not IT. I went back to college a few years ago and got an MBA at Henley Business School on strategy execution. It was focused on strategy and business management and so is much more relevant to what I'm doing today.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have worked for global technology brands like Dec, ICL /Fujitsu and Capgemini. I have helped organisations with their strategy execution and improving business processes. I became more interested in this side of the business which is when I went back to studying. After studying I started talking to my co-founders about our next steps, we found we were too old or too experienced for some of the roles in Finland so wanted to do our own thing. The idea for Digital Workforce came up and we haven't looked back!

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? For us as a company we're accelerating the growth across borders. But we're still in the start-up phase so any investment we make in IT has to be linked very heavily with RoI. Luckily between me and my co-founders, we have a lot of experience of technology so we know what to look for!

For our customers on the other hand - helping them understand how Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will impact their business. If you aren't using new technology to create a competitive advantage, you can be sure other companies are and you'll lose market share.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? As one of three founders I'm in a unique position. I have an overall responsibility for the business as well as my responsibility to improve our own IT. We're expanding very fast so priorities are all about supporting this growth while maintaining customer support and product innovation, especially around high growth areas like AI. 

One of my responsibilities it to build up our competitive advantage through our technology and our approach. I find that as I get more senior I have more of a consulting role. Both in terms of advising clients but also developing the talented people within the business. 

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The challenge in the traditional CIO role is that organisations have a lot of legacy systems and they're constrained by them. CIOs spend their time running the IT, rather than being strategic: they have no time to innovate. We set up our company with no legacy IT so it's enabled us to use our time in a better way. The CIO needs insight into the business and this enables them to fully understand how to respond to each departments' needs. They will all need to be resourced differently and this insight is vital: the CIO cannot operate in silo.  

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We're a new company so we set up as a digital first organisation. We don't have a single server in the whole company. It's so important to have that - it allows us to be more agile and it shows customers that we practice what we preach

All these elements are strategically important: improving customer experience, as where would we be without them, boosting revenue growth, especially for a high growth start-up and improving operational efficiency. We're a growing company but still have that small business mentality.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As an IT company we definitely do have metrics in place! We are a mature digital business as that's how we structured the company from the start. Myself and the two other co-founders have decades of experience working in the technology industry so we know what works: what helps customers, streamlines our process and what helps investors see value.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? It's very important to me to work with good, friendly people and have a good organisational culture. At Digital Workforce we have outlined our four core values together as a team, and these values are reflected in everything we do and in all recruitments:  1) A learning mindset , 2) Passion for customer success and 3) Integrity in all relationship and 4) Caring for each other.

I have good communication skills and have been ranked as one of the best managers and people leaders in organisations where I have worked and I'm very proud of this. I cultivate this good culture by listening to my employees - everyone has a valid opinion and we act on feedback as and where we can.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? We started building our AI team a little over a year ago. It has been a little challenging to find Data scientists, NLP professionals and AI experts. Also people with a deep business understanding  and a high level technical AI competence is a skill combination, where there is scarcity in the markets currently. We have been very fortunate to find excellent, highly competent and international people in our AI team in a labour market situation, where these skills are hjgh in demand.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Start working in the sales department and become professional in this. Then you have the opportunity to move into different roles across companies as you'll always understand how sales drives an organisation forward.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Not yet - we set up the company only 3.5 years ago so we're still in a start-up, high growth phase. Training has got to be individual for each staff member, what works for some isn't going to work for everyone. We have a very talented workforce who are excellent problem solvers. My experience and my role is there to help them choose the right solution for that client or product from the available options. This informal mentoring approach to training works well in my experience.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Be curious - be active and look for new challenges, new ideas. I don't like routines so I'm keen on creating new things. Consider where you are and how you can be disruptive to the market. We've come from a relatively small IT market in Finland but ever country we launch in has been very receptive to our technology.

My advice to young people is to take a chance and do something new. Technology as an industry has so many different avenues. Within RPA, it will be huge in 5 years time, but there will still be a place to grow. No-one has a job for life any more so try something new - even if you don't stay in that role, you will learn something useful.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Definitely setting up Digital Workforce. We started out as three people and in less than four years have grown to a team of 270 across Europe. We keep expanding as we grow into new markets, helping more customers and solving problems for clients.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have started being an entrepreneur earlier. I tolerated corporate bureaucracy for far too long. Entrepreneurship returned the joy of working to me.

What are you reading now? I'm a great fan of so called Nordic Noir criminal novels. Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen's book Selfies is one of the latest. Now, I'm reading a book called Three Red Rubies, from new Finnish novelists Pauliina Littorin and Antti Marttinen. I'm actually the co-owner of a small publishing company and we have published this book.

Most people don't know that I… Am a qualified carpenter. For example, I built a sauna, with all paneling, benches etc.

In my spare time, I like to…go boating to one of the Archipelago in Southern Finland.

Ask me to do anything but… singing, since I don't sing. The singing test in Middle school was the last time when I sang.