Consumer Products

Transformations: CeBIT, Japan and society 5.0

By Antonno Versteeg - Last updated: Friday, March 17, 2017

LeadershipNext week on Monday and Tuesday, together with a number of my colleagues, I will visit the large information technology event CeBIT in Hannover, Germany.

Japan is the focus this year and we will meet a number of existing clients and hopefully make many new contacts with Japanese companies. As part of the theme there are a number of events about the EU-Japan connection and how this could be stimulated. As we have experienced at Cambridge Consultants over the last years, there is clear synergy and mutual respect between the Japanese and English (dare I say ‘European’?) approaches to innovation management and product development.

Technology aware, but focused on commercial viability

In many of our engagements with Japanese clients we have been impressed by the technical capabilities and the sometimes highly academic research that is being conducted at the R&D departments of the large conglomerates. Where we can often help is in providing a structure and process to move from a technology play to a proposition play. From focusing on what is possible to focusing on what is a commercially attractive opportunity. This is of course not geographically constrained and only applicable to Japan – many companies struggle with finding the right markets for their technologies, creating fitting offerings and ‘packaging’ these in compelling value propositions.

And you might argue, rightly so, that this is still the wrong way around. It would be better to start with the market, stakeholder and customer/consumer needs. Understand these properly first and then work creatively to come up with solutions that address these needs using the company’s capabilities and technologies.

Of course this implies that there is a clear understanding which market to target – but what if that is not clear yet? What if, like for example the oil and gas sector, it would make very good sense to look beyond the familiar and reposition your technical know-how?

Technology transfer as a means to stay relevant

Using Japan as an example, we’ve seen that there is an amazing range of technologies available in the labs that have been developed and can be applied fairly quickly, but has not yet been matched to a relevant enough problem. In this case it makes sense to see where this technology can deliver benefits – this might be outside the familiar markets that you are already operating in and be aimed at a whole new customer types. Successfully identifying these opportunities requires a combination of up-to-date awareness of key developments in a wide range of markets and the ability to imagine how technologies might deliver benefits in these markets. Often this is hard to do internally, and this is where consultancies can play a role, providing insight into unfamiliar markets and sometimes even stirring up the internal consensus and status-quo. Our cross-industry perspective can sometimes uniquely position us to spot opportunities for technology re-use and we also enjoy seeing where others have thought creatively too!

Transform or wither away

What do I hope to see and experience at CeBIT around these themes? Buzz words abound, from IoT to Digital Transformation. The fact that these are still in the headlines means that this development is serious. Large corporations understand that they need to transform themselves – become more customer focused, explore how AI could be adopted, use data more intelligently, become more flexible and adaptive to the quickly changing business context, etcetera.

If companies are moving into new markets, as discussed above, this often means that the business needs to transform itself to be able to deliver benefits in this new context. When applied correctly, digital transformation can play a big role in enabling this. It can help opening up new ways of value creation that might initially seem strange to the experienced and established corporations.

Everything-as-a-service, cloud based big data, sharing economy, circular economy, new payment models, etc. Daunting in a way, but I hope to find at CeBIT many examples of companies who have been able to transform themselves or are open to do this in the coming years.

Society 5.0 – transformation beyond the corporation

In the past, Japanese companies have often been pushing the west, e.g. efficient manufacturing. One of the key discussion topics at CeBIT is Industry 4.0, and, driven by government initiatives, Japanese companies are stretching this further and are focusing on society 5.0. What I like about this is that this is going beyond technology, beyond robotics, beyond AI etcetera; it is, like the examples above about tech transfer, focusing on the outcomes, the benefits, and the impact of it all on actual people. It is about crafting a vision for the future to rally behind, and keep this in mind in all business and new product development activities.

We have been lucky to been involved in some of these visionary projects as well, and this is definitely expanding the scope of what companies can achieve through digital transformation. I’m really interested to see how this society might turn out to be, and will do my bit to shape this into a better place for all.

More info on Society 5.0 can be found here: http://www.cebit.de/en/news/article/news-details_39442-503365.xhtml

More on my CeBIT experiences next week!


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AuthorAntonno Versteeg


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