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Agile digital leaps towards more efficient data use in a global company

Tero Miikki from UPM dives into scaling efficient data use across a large organisation.

Thomas Kirk / May 31, 2022
Listen to the podcast in Spotify (in Finnish)

During the past few years, UPM’s Global Head of Data and Digital Capability Development Tero Miikki has embarked the global company on a rapid transition journey towards more efficient data use. What have been the keys to success?

UPM offers a uniquely broad view to the modern bio and forest industry even for a seasoned leader like Tero Miikki, who has over 15 years of solid experience with numerous data ventures in different companies. UPM’s data ecosystem includes hundreds if not thousands of systems. UPM’s factories alone produce vast masses of data. The company has 55 factories around the world, and each factory has over 500,000 sensors, continuously providing information on how process flows.

When Miikki joined UPM, he knew that there was a clear need for data clarification. In a relatively short time, the Data Management Office led by Miikki has implemented dozens upon dozens of agile projects for UPM’s different business areas and functions, helping thousands of UPM employees who use data to support decision making and to guide daily work.

Mandate to ”unleash the data” came straight from the top management

“Data warehousing and analytics have been employed for ages at UPM,” Miikki says. ”So UPM has capability, there is no question about it.”

“However, the role of data and digitalization will continuously strengthen in years to come. All companies that wish to remain competitive are now strongly focused on developing their data capabilities,” he adds.

”At UPM, our focus is on ensuring that we have reliable, high-quality data at our disposal at the right time. To achieve this, we have had to answer many questions: How should we accelerate data processing? How could we ensure that we manage and use data even better? What steps do we take when launching new factories or new business areas?” Tero Miikki lists.

Few years ago, UPM’s top management decided to shift to a higher gear. They recruited Miikki to build UPM’s new Data Management Office and gave him one key piece of advice: “Unleash the data”.

”At that time, rich masses of data were still stuck in our organization. Our priority was unleashing this data so it could be utilized to aid decision making and create new business opportunities,” Miikki reminisces.

Making better use of the vast masses of data presented a big challenge, but the journey got off to an excellent start. Tero Miikki and his team have made swift progress.

Miikki was able to start his work with practically a clean slate. His gradually growing team focused on the architecture at first, but soon moved to implementing projects, one at a time: the demand for data applications was so great. In addition to offering technical solutions, Miikki and his team have also made great progress in simplifying the overall architecture. This has enabled them to offer high quality, real-time information to support decision making while simultaneously accelerating the pace of development.

The Heads of Data share information in two directions

UPM has six separate business areas and the same number of functions – and the Data Management Office has carried out agile projects for all of these 12 areas. The scope of the completed projects is considerable, ranging all the way from compiling financial data to help in pulp pricing to putting machine learning to use to predict possible problems in production.

UPM’s cloud-based data platform has also been built one project at a time. Preparedness for growth and scalability have been driving principles from day one and the numbers speak for themselves: between 30 and 40 different projects were carried out in last year alone.

Quite soon after starting the development work, Tero Miikki and his team recognised that organizing data governance was paramount.

“We had to create a way to manage needs: requests for data projects simply could not come individually from almost 20,000 different people. Appointed Heads of Data for each of our 12 areas became one of the main drivers of success from the early stages of our development work,” Miikki explains.

The Heads of Data choose which data projects will be carried out in their area based on the area’s vision, roadmap, and strategy – Miikki’s team never starts developing anything without approval from the Head of Data. UPM also has 12 information architects and numerous data owners who collaborate with the Heads of Data.

“Success is such a strong word; I would not use it yet. But we are pleased to say that our data governance has got off to an excellent start during the past 1,5 years and we are taking decisive steps in the right direction. We have established a good rhythm for meetings on strategic, tactical, and operational levels and our top management and Heads of Data have enthusiastically engaged in fostering our journey,” Miikki describes.

Tero Miikki affirms that the data culture has gradually changed at UPM as data responsibilities and capabilities have been purposefully decentralized throughout the organisation. Now, it is not only the Data Management Office's own architects who talk about data every day, numerous others do so as well.

Miikki emphasises that compelling communication is a crucial enabler for all the development work.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody involved always knew what is going on. When I started this job, I sent weekly emails to guarantee that everyone was in the loop. Now, we have a dedicated team focusing solely on our communication. They ensure that each area of UPM gets a regular flow of tailored and relevant information about how their data projects are advancing. You need to establish a set rhythm in communication, just like you do with data governance meetings on different levels,” he emphasises.

The digital and data strategy is built on a strong foundation of trust

Over the past years, UPM has focused on roles and capabilities. Technologies have also been honed and the organization has gained experience in scaling projects. Case by case, the company has learned what kind of data needs exist right now. The next question to tackle is identifying how data and digitalization can serve UPM in the future.

“Once we established a foundation of trust, we started creating UPM’s digital and data strategy for upcoming years. We identified nine lighthouse projects, which were approved by our top management, and which all have top executives as their sponsors,” Miikki says.

The contents for the nine lighthouse initiatives are currently being developed as a crowdsourcing venture by nearly 100 UPM employees from different countries.

“We have tried to involve UPM employees from very different backgrounds and with diverse responsibilities to ensure that we get broadscale input for our strategy work. We are also getting valuable input from outside our organisation,” Miikki says.

“One of the lighthouse initiatives is ”Intelligent Operations”, which focuses on the digitalization of UPM’s factory ecosystems. Other lighthouse initiatives have to do with, for example, further enhancing customer service, honing our supply chain, and digital sourcing. We also have internal focus areas such as employee experience and people competence,” Miikki remarks.

You can expect quick results from this team: Tero Miikki estimates that very soon, within months, good visibility will have been achieved in all nine lighthouse initiatives. At this point Miikki and his team will roll up their sleeves and start implementing the strategy. We look forward to seeing the next results from UPM's agile data and digital capability development!

The article is written based on the podcast in Finnish.

Listen to the podcast (in Finnish)



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Thomas Kirk
Head of Data & AI Advisory, Tietoevry Tech Services

The Data Insiders podcast host, Thomas Kirk, works as Head of Solution and Business Development, Data Management at Tietoevry. He is experienced in building data value from code to strategy. Contact Thomas if you have any questions on the topic!

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