The work responsibility of Maija Nikula, KONE’s chief data officer, is to generate high-quality, easily accessible data. The international company KONE produces data on both equipment usage and operational business processes. Maija’s role is to ensure that the data are reliable and available for a variety of uses, but also secure. Maija graduated from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, with a degree in Information Systems in 1997.

Maija Nikula comes from the heart of the Savo region, from a place called Varkaus. Maija had various jobs while studying in upper secondary school: Gardening, construction and camp sites, as well as clothing stores, all became very familiar to her. And this diversity of experiences early on, Maija feels, is important because it helped her realise her own interests.

Her summer job in the deposits department at SYP Bank (now Nordea) was a turning point for her, in that it sparked her interest in technology. “In the mornings, my responsibility was to switch on various systems in the bank and there was something very intriguing about the equipment,” Maija explains.

“My boyfriend at the time was studying automation technology, so I got excited about computers. I decided to go to Jyväskylä to study information and communications technology.”

Maija graduated with an Information Systems degree in the 1990s amid a severe recession, when it was very challenging to find work. Therefore, rather than remaining unemployed, she decided to continue studying and applied to the University of Jyväskylä. “In retrospect, it was one of the best things that happened back then,” Maija says.

“The University of Jyväskylä was a natural progression, as it was the only place where it was possible to study information system sciences in a way that considers IT and technology from an administrative, business perspective.”

During her university studies, Maija worked at Setec (Bank of Finland printing works), which specialised in producing information security products. After working there for a few summers, she was hired into a permanent job as an IT support person. Her work involved IT support roles, leading various projects, and training staff in Microsoft Office tools.

By the time she graduated from JYU, the Finnish labor market was already performing well. Maija left Setec and joined Sonera, where her responsibilities included running IT projects at the customer interface and developing various ordering systems and customer master data management systems. During this working period, she experienced overall architecture and data management for the first time: “I got to see which IT systems are used from an international perspective when Sonera merged with Telia.”

Next, Maija wished to work at Nokia. She had applied for a job, but realized during the interview stage that it wasn’t the right position for her, so she withdrew from the recruitment process. However, Nokia’s internal recruitment process worked well, and Maija was offered another job that better fit her interests. It involved designing the overall architecture on the business-to-business (B2B) side that operated at the customer interface. She explains, “Nokia started a new project that focused on learning how to collect data about people at different contact points. We also investigated what type of data are obtained, from where, and how this information is used.”

This was still Nokia’s heyday, but the first signs of business transformation were in the air. Meanwhile, Maija’s manager at Nokia had moved to Konecranes, and that company had been seeking a suitable person for a particular position for over a year. Maija’s profesional knowledge became known to them and they gave her a call.

“At Konecranes, I was responsible at first for sales and the overall architecture of the services business,” she says, “and later I became the head of enterprise architecture. I coordinated the functions of the overall architecture at Konecranes and was involved in developing their IT strategy and operating models.”

Maija felt comfortable at her new job, as Konecranes was a good employer. When a similar position opened at KONE, Maija applied for it and was selected. She found it interesting that the role was was hired for was new to the organization. It made it possible for her to build an operating model with both the business and the internal units of IT in mind. She noted that the situation could have been considerably more challenging without encouragement from her enthusiastic manager who helped make room for this type of architecture. Now, more than 6 years on, KONE has over 10 enterprise architects and their networks working on development projects.

Data and business development with the help of technology had been Maija’s interest even in her early work on overall architecture. Over time as she worked with technology, it became clear to her that technology alone does not solve all data content problems. As a result, gradually the architectural tasks at Kone expanded into the tasks of the chief data officer.

“KONE has incorporated data management into their company strategy. And this is not a small thing,” Maija explains. “The company has offices in 60 countries and 60,000 employees. That means 60,000 pairs of hands are typing in data in different places. How can we make such a large organization operate in a unified manner and produce data in a way that are as exploitable as possible?”

High-quality and easily accessible data isn’t the only focus Maija has as KONE’s chief data officer. She concentrates as well on moving away from data silos and employing data management models as widely and accurately as possible. At the same time, the criticality of data and the principles of sharing need to be considered, both internally and externally. Maija believes her background in IT enhances her ability to understand better both business and technology. Change management and communication skills also are very important because certain aspects of her processes and outputs are still new to many people.

“My current job largely involves working with people and managing change. Effective cooperation among the various units of the company is key.” Thus, she says with a chuckle, the three essential skills she needs regularly are “good communication, good communication, and good communication.”

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