VR (Finnish Railways) is a company everyone in Finland can relate to. In addition to VR, only a few other companies in Finland can say that they have more than 1 million people in their loyalty program.

Nearly the entire population of Finland has used VR´s services at one time or another. When things work well, no thanks are given, but when things go wrong it will hit the news very quickly, and on social media everyone seems to have an opinion on how to improve operations.


The CIO (Chief Information Officer) of VR Group Jukka-Pekka Suonikko has run VR IT for 7 years and has witnessed the industry transformation:

“IT can no longer operate with old rules, we have to drastically change the way we manage our operations and people. If you really want to create something new, the time for old rules is over” he says.


Jukka-Pekka Suonikko – CIO at VR-Group Ltd. 

Traditionally CIOs have been required to produce material on what IT is developing and operating on. Very often this brings only little value to the business, the flow of information is one-way and the business isn’t really involved in the delivery model of IT solutions. With digitalisation, we are moving towards a new model where we bring people together. In this model, Business, Marketing and IT along with hand-picked externals work together as one team with common goals, and all are invested equally.

Picture 1

Instead of having to wait for months for system releases or PowerPoint reports, all parties can now instantly see what is being developed. A good example being a weekly demo given by the team. Commitment grows naturally and valuable conversations are more likely, especially discussion about and consideration for the customers’ point of view. The traditional way of managing IT would not have enabled what now can be achieved with agile teams. For example, in the past some companies have used so called ‘mystery shoppers’ to evaluate the services offered to end customers. That is not needed anymore as it is easy to bring in real customers to support the work of the team.


We are on the brink of an IT industry transformation where IT skills alone are no longer sufficient to carry out the job at hand. What if IT cannot offer capable people to these new teams (pic 1) – where does development and operations for future services happen? Someone else will fill in the gap and IT is bypassed as a result. This might work for a while, but it will lead to chaos when new technology needs information from or integration between legacy systems. This is called the IT backbone. The IT backbone is essential for developing modern, digitalised services.

A new model of operating IT brings new stakeholders. For example, marketing is a natural partner to IT. New skills and capabilities are required from IT to carry out smooth cooperation with new kinds of stakeholders. Even if new skills and capabilities are needed,

“Roughly 2/3 is attitude and 1/3 is skills. Skills can be learned and are easier to develop than attitude “, J-P Suonikko boldly states.


A new entity has entered our IT realm, uncertainty. IT professionals typically do not tolerate uncertainty, and studies show that it is one of the biggest causes for work related stress. However, uncertainty is here to stay and we need to find ways to make people perform and enjoy their work in constant change where priorities can be changed at short notice.

We at VR IT have invested in programs to develop our IT management, development and operations to enable them to move to the centre of the picture (pic 1). This is no small task as IT people traditionally have a mindset for deep substance competence and lack the mindset of a change agent or an entrepreneur.

The role of IT professionals is no longer just about deep substance knowledge -it is widening outside its traditional scope.

“We are renewing our HR processes to help managers and IT employees to look at and challenge their roles in a new way. This helps us to constantly evaluate candidates for digitalisation roles and it also teaches man agers to learn new characteristics of their team members. In IT backbone roles, people may not have been able to demonstrate their full range of capabilities and those hidden capabilities can now be identified”, J-P Suonikko explains.


“Business understanding is on a good level within our IT. However, we need more people who can challenge our operating models and adopt new technologies quickly; people who dare to make decisions, take risks and have capabilities for radical innovation. If you assume or take things for granted, no radical innovations will ever be done”, J-P Suonikko claims.

One might feel that no suitable people for new teams exist in the current organisation, but maybe there are more than you know – because it is about capabilities that were not needed in this way before.

J-P Suonikko gives advice for those looking to start their digitalisation journey:

  1. Start somewhere, based on real business
    needs of your organisation.
  2. Find a partner from the business, someone
    who shares your vision and establish a team.
  3. Look for a person that both IT and business
    can rely on to lead the team.
  4. Together, pick the right people that have
    the right attitude and skillset. Bring them
    together and be ready to strengthen the
    team with people from outside your

“When starting a new way of working be prepared for the fact that everything will not work fine. Be ready to support the team and change things if needed. It is a journey you start, but it is absolutely worth starting.”
J-P Suonikko states and continues: “I have a strong belief that if you start with a commitment from both business and IT management, the new way of working proves itself valuable within a couple of months. As deeds are so much more powerful than words, the results you are going to get will then be the game changer.”

When you start to get deliverables faster than ever before, have natural co-operation of stakeholders, all have customer in focus, and a great team spirit, others will follow. Even one small team can gradually open the eyes of everyone else.

“I see a great possibility to drastically change the way IT has traditionally been working – and what has been believed to be the one right way for doing things. We can also finally tear down the Berlin walls that may still exist between IT, business and vendors. So, could we please drop the business cards and just start working together?”


  • Clear the way for innovation by encouraging employees to challenge their roles, working practices,
    the status quo etc., take risks and adapt quickly.
  • When starting new ventures, be prepared to support the team when everything doesn’t go to plan.
  • Work together in a smarter way together with your business and vendors by deploying the right
    attitude, commitment, environment and skills.

The author is Sanna Suomela.

Enjoyed the article? Here’s further reading for you:

Visions 2020 Part 3: Listen To Your Staff

Read the previous article in Visions 2020 series:

Visions 2020 Part 1: Anything Can Be Predicted

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