The Best April Fools Joke Is From Finland, A Couple of Days Late

I had to read this article on Tietoviikko (in Finnish) three times to realise that no, it's not an April fool's joke at all. It was published today and is apparently and very unfortunately true. The article is in Finnish, but it's about the government creating a strategy group to form a new strategy for the Finnish ICT-industry for the future. There are three really big problems in this approach. The first is that most of the people in the strategy group are the wrong people for so many reasons (hint: take a look at how their companies are doing). Secondly, just as no business plan is able to survive customer contact, no strategy is able to completely survive market contact. It's all assumptions against market forces. Thirdly, all the truly growing industries that work in the digital space have been left out, no matter how you cut the definition of ICT.

Let's dive in.

The Finnish Ministry of Economy and Employment released the list of people behind the strategy group that is lead by Pekka Ala-Pietilä. Pekka Ala-Pietilä is a former Nokia executive, but also one of the founders behind Blyk. Ala-Pietilä is by far among the best choices on this list.

Other people on the list include Esko Aho (Nokia), Elisa CEO Veli-Matti Mattila, Pekka Soini (Nokia Siemens Networks) as well as Sami Luukkonen from Accenture. In addition, the former TeliaSonera country director of Finland Anni Vepsäläinen is on the list as well as Pertti Korhonen (formerly Nokia, currently Outotec's CEO).

And just as in any proper government run strategy group - you need to bring in views from local communities. Tuula Antola (Espoo), Leila Helaakoski (Northern Ostrabothnia's ELY Center) and Antti Rantakokko (mayor of Salo).

Furthermore, union representatives Pia Björkbacka (SAK) and Sari Taukojärvi (Akava) are also in the strategy group as well as the managing director of The Federation of Finnish Technology Industries.

And just to make clear - the task of this group is to come up with a new growth strategy for Finland by the end of the year.

There are a few really interesting groups of people represented in the group. First of all, Antti Rantakokko is the mayor of a city that has suffered a lot from Nokia's layoffs. Furthermore the city where Nokia's headquarters are situated, Espoo, is represented in the group. Elisa, the company Veli-Matti Mattila runs - is a customer of Nokia Siemens Networks, which of course is by part owned by Nokia.

"The business relations between the people are so obvious that one really has to question, how neutral and innovative of a strategy are these people really able to create?"

The business relations between the people are so obvious that one really has to question, how neutral and innovative of a strategy are these people really able to create?

If you look at some of the big companies represented in the strategy group - they have all more or less suffered in the recent years, due to their own misfunctioning strategies.

Also - is it completely correct to look at the ICT industry by itself?

Wikipedia defines ICT as:

an extended synonym for information technology, but is usually a more general term that stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals), computers, middleware as well as necessary software, storage- and audio-visual systems, which enable users to create, access, store, transmit, and manipulate information.

Because if you're only focusing on the true definition of ICT, you are assuming the most jobs in the digital space will be created inside that industry. What about other industries that are currently putting Finland on the global map of growth companies, like games, mobile applications, etc.? Surely Rovio would have a word or two to say about such a strategy, not to mention the hundreds of companies that are in dire need of resources this year to keep up their growth.

Finally, if this is solely for the ICT industry as quite specifically defined by Wikipedia - why do the tax payers need to pay for the strategy work of a few larger companies?

Finnish government, seriously? Is this the best you can do?

Image by Paolo Camera

Update (4.4.2012): Since a few people have asked my opinions on who should be in the group, I'm listing a few possibilities here. First of all, the groups should be as diverse as possible and have representatives from different industries. Here are a few names I would preferably like to see on the list: Artturi Tarjanne (chairman of FVCA), Mårten Mickos (Eucalyptus founder,CEO), Sami Inkinen (Trulia founder), Tuomas Syrjänen (Futurice CEO, Co-Founder). Furthermore, it would be great to see more representatives from the software industry and from the companies that have truly driven growth in the last 5 or so years.

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deltorode April 03, 2012

Old boys club! Again they want to reinvent the "ICT-wheel" and themselves the hundredths time. They should be forced by your tax payer to go to school again and have lessons i.e marketing and start up building!

Duncan Sample April 03, 2012

It does seem strange to have so many closely-related companies together, although I don't think you could say they shouldn't necessarily be there. I think the issue is more that the lack of younger/growing companies like Rovio, Remedy Entertainment, and of course general IT companies like Reaktor and Tieto.

You only mention Rovio in your article, but what other companies would you have liked to see in a group like this?

Lauri Gröhn April 03, 2012

Embedded systems are the most important area where software is used in Finland. I am afraid those people don't even know what embedded systems are.

Sheila Riikonen April 03, 2012

wow, this must be the most shared article today... self-criticism is always healthy...and who isn't tired of the old boys' network? ;-)

deltorode April 03, 2012

May be you should send them (govermnent) this to built a growth strategy for any new technology invented in FINLAND :!

Sampo Raudaskoski April 03, 2012

They weren't called together because of the growth, but because the big ICT has crash-landed and no one knows why, what to do or where to place the blame. These are the people who had the front seats watching it happen and now they are asked for answers.

Heikki H Attila April 03, 2012

Is the tail moving the dog? Just another Suomi-brändi -group again and again. Why not new people with new ideas. We need FOOD, we cannot eat communication and chips. When do we wake up to the reality? Blessings!

Pekka Parnanen April 03, 2012

Where are all the startups? We are in the mission of building Helsinki (Metro-Helsinki) as the Startup Capital of the Europe. This ICT committee is far, far away from that thinking.

Tatinho April 03, 2012

Really nice critical article, which has created needed discussion on this strategy initiative! However where is the so much promoted failure tolerant culture? What I have learned from start-up community is that behind every success story are failures that speed the learning process. And strategy is rather endogenous knowledge sharing and vision creation process rather than exogenous guidelines. Named experts are the guys that need new ways of thinking and new ways of working as argued in this article. Just a one perspective for the discussion ;)

Teemu Polo April 03, 2012

The bias for good-old industries is seems clear, there is no entrepreneurship nor startup communities involved, which disregards the growth rates, focus on exports, and ability to attract foreign investments from abroad to Finland.

deltorode April 03, 2012

No single river turns back to her/his spring! Look forward and built new ways of start up summers!Take finally your national press people up on their promise. :-)

Jussi Nukari April 04, 2012

I think that in Finland most strategies are written to fill the shelves of the government officers. Most likely this strategy work does not do any other harm than some people believe that this work will make a difference - and nearly one year has passed without real progress. The members of this group belong mostly to "corporate category", and like for example Steve Blank says "startups are not smaller versions of bigger firms". - I am afraid that with this constellation the outcome of the work is most likely doomed to fail. Old industries are loosing jobs in such a fast pace, that actions to commercialize the vast R&D work done in Finland should be number 1 in trying to create new well-paid jobs!

Dwin April 06, 2012

Interesting article and thank you for bringing this to us non-Finnish speaking people!

Two problems I see, and they are endemic of Finland in general. First, as many have pointed out the good ol boys club. This is s society where if you screw up a company, you are just kicked on to the next company. And there are plenty of examples here where CEOs have been kicked from one company to the next with continual poor results. Th second is the lack of diversity. With out diverse backgrounds of the people in this group they will just come up with a list of recommendations that will be stop- gap measures that will have no impact.

Lastly, I am afraid the situations that many of the companies face here today are the normal market pains. There is nothing to do but learn from them. One of Nokia's biggest mistakes, and one they are unlikely to recover from, is a defensive strategy-we are the largest and we will stay that way! Wake up! Look at Kodak and you see when you stop innovating and ignore the market trends, you are doomed. But they have not fallen far enough as is evident in Mr. O.P.s comments that Nokia will remain in the top 3...sorry but if you believe that I have a bunch of Nokia shares to sell you at $60.

In the end, I don't agree with my tax money being waste by a bunch of people who's motivation is likely to save the status quo. Let the market decide on these or die by the market is the only way. Look at Apple, no government plan stepped in to save them when they were weeks from bankruptcy!