Looking back at the amazing SSE Riga Alumni Forum 2017

Looking back at the amazing SSE Riga Alumni Forum 2017

In this 23rd year of the School’s existence, the SSE Riga Alumni Association once again invited guest speakers to contribute, through their talks, to the economic and social development of the Baltic countries. The SSE Riga Alumni Forum took place on November 3rd at the Citadele Conference Centre.

Written by Uldis Brūns

This year’s forum was introduced and facilitated by the energetic and eloquent Yuri Romanenkov, SSE Riga Executive Vice President - Development, a man who I am sure could speak under water if required. He kept the sessions moving, providing the information breaks about the Alumni Association and the School, and ably ran the Q&A sessions after each speaker. A hard act to follow!    

The forum was split into two sessions, The Future of Labour and The Innovative Environment Company, with three speakers speaking in each session.

The first (and only female) speaker at this year’s forum, Ms Siiri Sutt from Estonia, opened the first session on The Future of Labour with the topic Global Perspectives on the Future of Labour, which revealed results from the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trend Survey 2017.

Designing the organization of the future is the top challenge this year. Work is taking place in teams connected by culture, values and information, which are based on a product, customer or service. These teams are built and abandoned quickly. Leadership requires agile, digital-ready leaders who are able to put teams together and develop them. Collaboration and knowledge sharing is important and risk-taking needs to be allowed for innovation to take place.

The main characteristic of the new era is that change is taking place at an accelerating rate, which means new rules for business and for HR, including the use of technology and social media in recruiting. A cultural change is required in HR, with more than half of companies undergoing transformation to more digital solutions in this area. Diversity and inclusion is now an issue at the CEO level, as companies wanting to develop and enter new markets must have diverse teams, which are more innovative and tend to come up with more new ideas. The majority of companies are moving to open, flexible career models with interesting assignments, not static career progression. Employees are deciding what to learn based on team needs and individual career goals     

The survey revealed that millennials are staying longer with employers who engage in social issues that contribute to society and that the success of a business is more than just financial performance. Climbing the ladder is not the most important thing for them and almost half will leave a company if they are not learning fast enough.

One of the main findings, which was touched on by other speakers as well, was that growth in technology has been very fast, but that business productivity has not grown as fast as expected.

The importance of the employer brand for modern companies was emphasized with the way ahead being to have a fascinating work culture and atmosphere in a workplace. If this is the case, one’s own employees operate as ambassadors for a company and a pool of people are attracted to it, ready to work there.    

Teemu Arina from Finland or “the man with the ring”, was the second speaker and presented The Platform Economy in an Algorithmic Society as a Driver for Future Labour, which looked at the intersection between man and machine. At the start of the session he pointed out a big black ring on his finger, a new technological gadget which measured his blood pressure, his heart rate and other things and could probably tell whether he’d digested his breakfast or not, but I digress.

This highly pitched but very informative talk was about the move to the 5th Industrial Revolution. The next stage seems to be finding a more direct way of fusing our thoughts and intentions with technology, a neural lace of some sort. Computerization of automobiles, with cars now being like smartphones on wheels, means that the automotive industry may face its own Nokia moment, if it is unable to adapt quickly. Technology companies are getting into cars more and more, and on a wider scale, which shows that if you don’t disrupt your own business and adapt, then someone else will! 

The speaker talked about digital disruption and dislocation of the value chain and earning models. More satellites in orbit providing free Wi-Fi will mean that companies will have to get value from different parts of the value chain. 

Automation to augmentation will be the most significant event since the Industrial Revolution, with machines looking at our sensory input and output and augmenting it with technology. The move has been from linear assembly to platforms working between interdependent people as the key. Uber, Amazon, Facebook and others are facilitators which are creating exponential growth with exponential growth.  

We are in a position where we can’t predict what new products will be developed and organizations need to be more adaptable. Multinational companies, not governments, are the superstructures which decide what we think and see, and nation states will try to break down these structures. There may even need to be a tax on machines.   

Humans will be the next platform and computers are becoming part of us, whether it be the mobile phone or self-driving cars or the previously mentioned black ring. Machines are coordinating what problems to solve and how to solve them. 

After a coffee and networking break, the second session, on The Innovative Environment Companycommenced with Pekka Parnanen, speaking on the topic of Corporate and Startup Synergies. This interesting and amusing speaker took us on a fascinating walk through Silicon Valley, emphasizing that it is a mindset, not a location, a place that keeps reinventing itself. The mindset is about going from good to great, changing the rules, with a can-do attitude involving collaboration and sharing. His advice was not to try to copy SV but to build bridges, access points and awareness. Diversity raised its head here again with 50% of founders not being US-born, with the emphasis being not on where you are from, but where you are going and the remarkable cross-pollination of ideas.  

The backbone of innovation is built on the ecosystem, the mindset and entrepreneurship, which is not happening in Europe. It is a case of encouraging university students to be entrepreneurs rather than good labour for big companies. 

If you don’t push yourself to the limit, you will fail, but be smart about it. His advice on what we can do to boost Baltic start-up systems was to get the Nordics and Baltics together. It’s a case of working out how we can come together and help each other, but we also need smart money from government to match private funding. An attitude change needs to occur so that it is OK to fail; we should kill bureaucracy and let go of the rules, start small and pick the right projects. Companies need dedicated teams to engage with start-ups. Government needs to enable start-ups, fund them, but not control or interfere in them. Get traditional industry involved with them and buy stuff from start-ups. Get to know start-ups, talk to them.  

The second speaker, Mikko Eerola, spoke on the topic of Big Data.

Big data and design thinking are combining to drive innovation. Trends and futures, customer behaviour, and the ecosystem and value chain are innovation drivers. The market and comparative data, data acquired on customer behaviour, and data shared by the ecosystem are the sources of big data. Backcasting (as opposed to forecasting), field studies and co-creation are the design tools for innovation.

Data and analytics are transformational, yet many companies are getting only a fraction of the value. The tools are there but not being used. Technology will become more human-centric and companies that build products may become disrupted, but they will then stay relevant. In innovation, perfection is impossible, and failure is inevitable. If the idea is not good, it either pivots or fails. Companies are moving from hierarchical to network structures and we must learn to live with conflicting cultures.

His key take-away from the session was that support functions such as sourcing and risk management need to adapt a culture of agility to empower a start-up culture within an organization. If a company does not accept failure, then innovation is not an option.  

The final speaker was Andrius Biceika, on the topic The Future of Banking and the latest concerning challenger banks. The problem with traditional banks, which are still reluctant to change, are that they are expensive, inconvenient and sneaky. Today the trend with challenger banks is that core functions are free and instant. They tend to offer consumers what they might need at a particular moment in the most convenient way. People can travel to different countries, get an account number in a very brief period, or freeze and unfreeze a credit card themselves. Credit can be organized with a minimum of fuss and banks can get information about your start-up electronically in seconds. Insurance on demand can be organized – and 3 times more cheaply.


Watch all the videos here:

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The SSE Riga Alumni Forum has become tradition of the annual Homecoming.