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Data is a great acid test for leaders' digital skills

Explore the success story of OP Financial Group and gain insights into building a data-driven culture.

Sirpa Korhonen / February 20, 2024

A company’s ability to leverage data, artificial intelligence, and cloudification is not solely dependent on IT infrastructure. Modern business leaders need to understand what technology and its development mean for their own organization – and what kind of culture it requires.

At its best, a visionary-led transformation manifests as increased business growth and enhanced employee satisfaction, as seen with Tietoevry’s client, OP Financial Group.

Finland’s largest financial services group, OP Financial Group, has succeeded in what many have tried. It has made its IT investments yield while simultaneously achieving a cultural transformation across the entire organization.

President and Group CEO Timo Ritakallio says that the transformation called for commitment from management, continuous learning, and pure hard work. He also emphasizes that the journey is not over yet. Cultural change takes time, and in a constantly evolving business environment, the adoption of new practices never ceases.


Along the way, one of Ritakallio’s significant realizations has been how important data is for services and their development. He has become known in public as a business leader with well-founded views on utilizing data and digitalization to the fullest extent possible.

“OP’s services generate a vast amount of data. In our weekly executive team meetings, we always spend time on data-related matters. Our data must be high quality, readily available, and manageable. Data is linked to everything we do at OP Financial Group. Therefore, understanding the importance of data in a broad sense is crucial.”

Sirpa Korhonen works as Head of Data Management Finland at OP Financial Group’s partner Tietoevry. Korhonen affirms that she fully agrees with Ritakallio – and says that she is always delighted to meet business leaders who understand the business value of data-driven management.


“The digital proficiency of top management is by no means a given. OP Financial Group’s successful transformation showcases just how important management’s understanding is for the development of the entire organization.”

Data: the acid test of a company

Data-driven management, artificial intelligence, and cloudification can help enhance a company’s operational efficiency. However, they also play a role that is at least as significant from a strategic viewpoint.

“Data is related to both leveraging a company’s assets and the company’s ability to generate results. Therefore, top management should also understand, for example, managing the data lifecycle, data catalogues, and metadata,” emphasizes Korhonen.

In addition to leaders' digital skills and organizational culture, these areas must be addressed to fully realize the business potential of data. Successful data management also lays the foundation for the organization's transition to the cloud.

A working data environment brings cost savings, facilitates regulatory compliance, and aids in reporting and data analysis. It also enables better security.

“In addition, investments lead to indirect benefits, such as improved employee satisfaction and realistic assessments of organizational capability. Data doesn’t lie; it serves as a kind of acid test for what a company can truly achieve,” says Korhonen.

Further reading: How to become a successful data-driven leader? Data management essentials for business leaders


Top management as heralds of change

Using data in everyday operations requires not just technology, but also learning and upskilling, and often a shift in the entire organizational culture. This, in turn, means that leaders must know how to set an example.

“Large IT and transformation projects cut across organizations. Support and expertise from top management, as well as strong change leadership, are essential when transitioning an organization to be data-driven,” says Korhonen.

At OP Financial Group, top management has consciously taken the lead in the transformation. Ritakallio mentions that this has also entailed appointing the Director of Development and Technology to the executive team.

In six years, a hierarchical and bureaucratic financial sector player has transformed into an agile organization, where services are developed in self-managed, cross-functional teams based on data. The IT department and business now work together at the same table.

Ritakallio’s partner in cultural change has been HR Director Hannakaisa Länsisalmi.


“Hannakaisa and I have acted as heralds of change. We’ve addressed related matters weekly and ventured across the organization to assess progress,” explains Ritakallio.

Better results, happier employees

Hannakaisa Länsisalmi believes that a culture of collaboration, stemming from the early days of the Cooperative Bank, has also contributed to success. OP has always been owned by its customers, which is a source of pride within the organization.

“It has been important to create a psychologically safe atmosphere where people dare to explore new things, make mistakes, and learn from them.”

Something has clearly been done right at OP Financial Group. In addition to the group’s financial performance, employee satisfaction has increased year by year. OP’s eNPS index has been steadily rising for several years, reaching an all-time high in 2023.

The article is originally published in Tivi magazine 31.1.2024 in Finnish


Sirpa Korhonen
Head of Data Management Finland, Tietoevry Tech Services

Sirpa is dedicated to creating business value for customers and enabling growth through data from a strategic perspective. She has more than twenty years of experience in banking and finance in various roles within investment banking (M&A), corporate and industry analysis, rating and large data sourcing and platform integration projects.

In her current role as Head of Data Management Finland at Tietoevry Tech Services, she advises customers on data and data management related brainstorming, especially in connection with cloudification. Her focus is on helping customers do better business through a strategic approach to digitization and the use of data.

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