AI for the shopping cart – a Data Scientist transforms data into everyday customer innovations

Matias Tiainen, 28, loves numbers and solving mathematical problems. In his work as a Data Scientist, he gets to apply artificial intelligence to business as one of K Group’s 500 IT and digital experts.

What makes a person add a specific product to their shopping cart? Matias is part of a team that processes data that offers answers to questions such as this. His work combines the use of artificial intelligence with business development and efforts to improve customer experience. As part of K Group's AI team, Matias processes customer data to develop innovative solutions that make everyday life easier for customers – for example, the K-Ruoka app.


Opportunities for a young specialist

Matias's career at K Group started a couple of years ago when he did his dissertation for the company. At the time, he was studying bioinformation technology at Aalto University with a minor in finance, aiming for an M.Sc. in engineering. His educational background, which combines engineering sciences, mathematics, and information technology, is well-suited for work where data is used, for example, to enable better choices for customer health.

"The field of bioinformation technology is somewhat similar to medical technology, as it involves gathering information on people to create various technological applications to improve wellbeing," explains Matias.

The opportunity to do his dissertation coincided with a position as a Data Scientist. The diverse tasks involving numbers, data management, and innovative problem-solving appealed to Matias. After graduating, he did not have to think twice about staying on at K Group. Matias was further convinced by the way the organisation valued the contribution of students.

"I noticed that K Group had utilised an earlier course project we had done as students. That immediately gave the impression that student work is valued here, both when it comes to smaller course projects and to more expansive dissertations," says Matias.

Daily brain stimuli and problem solving

What makes Matias's work meaningful is the unique opportunity to develop something new and useful for customers from a vast amount of diverse data. He points out that companies in the trading sector accrue exceptionally large amounts of data: a receipt from a simple visit to a shop contains a wealth of information about customer choices. When processing the data, Matias gets a comprehensive view of how Finns live, from what they choose to eat day-to-day, to making bigger decisions such as buying a car.

"I love solving mathematical problems and working with numbers. The data flows through, and I get to play with the numbers and create new applications for the data. I can’t think of anything better," says Matias.

Matias has been involved in projects such as developing the product search algorithm for the K-Ruoka online grocery app, and developing personalised OmaPlussa benefits for loyalty customers. A new algorithm enables customers using the K-Ruoka app to get product recommendations that are better tailored to their specific needs and wants. The latest project Matias has worked on has yet to be finished and is therefore a secret, but relates to developing K Group’s car trade business.

"This recent project has been really rewarding. We have been exploring how AI can be used to create business value, and the project has provided me with comprehensive insight into the collaboration between business and AI developers. It has also shown how my work can have an impact on big things," Matias says.

Matias derives meaning in his work from the variety of projects and tasks, which gives him constant new stimuli.

"Personally, I’m always seeking  new stimuli and don't enjoy doing the same thing over and over. Here, we get to solve problems from slightly different angles every day, with a steady inflow of new projects," says Matias.

The threshold for testing out new ideas is low when people respect different perspectives

For Matias, a key element in the workplace culture is respect for everyone's expertise. This means that experienced senior-level experts ask and listen to what newcomers think, and take their fresh perspectives into consideration.

"Actually, the most junior team members have the latest knowledge. New people can and dare to ask  'dumb' questions, and looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes can reveal things," explains Matias.

The diversity of the team members and their strengths are also valued. Matias has been able to utilise not only his technical expertise, but also his ability to come up with new ideas and find ways to improve the team's operations and ways of working.

"I consider myself a social introvert. I might not be the most technically skilled person, but my colleagues say I can make the people around me perform better. I'm also quite good at adapting, which contributes to the team performance," says Matias.

The culture in which everyone is valued is also reflected in a positive attitude towards new ideas.

"We are not afraid to test out new ideas, and if they work, they are implemented in the long term. For me, that's one of the best aspects of the company and our team," says Matias.

According to Matias, members of his team can proactively shape their job description and, if they wish, also take on more responsibility. Matias himself has gotten involved in a student project, as he wants to provide others with the same kinds of opportunities he has had.

"I’m now trying to give back. We are currently starting a new collaboration in which students will be involved in developing a machine learning model for K-Auto’s customer service, that will, for example, recommend car maintenance procedures for the customer," he explains.

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