Cutting-edge technology can revive the era of neighborhood economies characterized by local shops with a human-centric approach to customer service, says Panasonic CTO Yoshiyuki Miyabe.
Companies will be able to deliver value to consumers by forming relationships with them based on anticipating their needs using cutting-edge technology such as smart homes, Panasonic executives said during a presentation and panel discussion at Panasonic's Cross-Value Innovation Forum 2018, which celebrates 100 years since the company's founding.
How can a business like Panasonic stay innovative for another 100 years, given the massive technological change and a shift to Society 5.0? The Japanese government's vision of the future includes ubiquitous services and technology powered by artificial intelligence, cloud computing and new forms of transport and logistics.
"Society 5.0 is a world where the real and the virtual will merge," Yoshiyuki Miyabe, Panasonic Chief Technology Officer, told attendees at the forum in Tokyo on November 1. "All things will be connected and generate value that is more than the sum of their individual functions. This will make people's lives more convenient."
Miyabe described the new era as one in which Panasonic can deliver value based on its long expertise in manufacturing physical products, in contrast with the virtual platforms developed by Society 4.0 tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
That value will come in the form of what Miyabe terms a "return to human-centric business." He explained that in the past in Japan, family-run neighborhood shops would deliver daily necessities such as rice, tofu and soy sauce to households; local suppliers would always know when goods were needed based on close relationships with customers.
"This one-mile economic sphere has been replaced by mass production and mass sales," Miyabe said. "We need to return to a human-centric society. Things you want can arrive at your door at just the right moment. In the background, there's the latest technology like artificial intelligence but the service will feel quite warm if it's based on human interaction. That's what we need to aim for."
HomeX is a platform that can realize this society, Miyabe added, because it can create an empathetic environment while putting customer value at the forefront. Introduced by Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga in a keynote address at the Cross-Value Innovation Forum, HomeX is an ever-evolving AI-based smart home platform in which the home acts as a member of the family. The HomeX platform can anticipate user needs at all times and provide detailed services through the cloud, for instance suggesting musical selections based on user moods.
Miyabe noted that as society evolves, Panasonic will have to evolve as well, transforming from a company with a traditional engineering and mass-production and background into a business that's compact, without silos and free of constraints from the past.
An example of this new approach is Panasonic β, a Silicon Valley research lab that originated the HomeX Project. The lab is made up of multidisciplinary experts such as software engineers and data scientists. Members come from different backgrounds and have different values, but they share the goal of changing the world by creating new ideas through free-flowing exchanges.
Miyabe's view was echoed by Panasonic β CEO Wataru Baba, who joined him in a panel discussion along with Naoki Oota, founder and CEO of Tokyo-based consulting firm NEW STORIES, and moderator Naoki Asami, director at Nikkei Business Publications.
"I have many good memories of local suppliers, like bicycle shops that would teach you how to ride a bicycle or butchers that would tell you how to cook meat," said Baba, a director in Panasonic's Business Innovation Division. "Using the latest technology, if you take the HomeX approach, we can go back to those old days of customized service."
Both Miyabe and Oota pointed to how the need for standardization in the mass-manufacturing age of Society 3.0, which resulted from the first Industrial Revolution, is being replaced by a need for customization and flexibility in Society 5.0.
"There will be no right answer as to what constitutes wellbeing when it comes to making products and services in this subjective era," Oota predicted. "There are no guidelines, so you have to listen to an inner voice. That's the crux of wellbeing and if you can develop around that, it will be quite fun."
Miyabe said that the key for innovation is not selling to the "invisible many," as in the past, but providing valuable services to individual customers.
"Several decades ago, businesses existed to provide services to individuals, but they could not compete with mass producers and they disappeared," Miyabe said. "But now, in this era of cyber-physical, those kinds of services can flourish."
[Business Session] Innovation of the 100-year-old Company - For the next 100 years
Date and Time
November 1, 4:45 p.m. -5:45 p.m. JST
Mr. Yoshiyuki Miyabe, Senior Managing Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer of Panasonic Corporation
Mr. Wataru Baba, Director of Business Innovation Division, Panasonic Corporation
Mr. Naoki Oota, Founder and CEO of NEW STORIES Corporation
Mr. Naoki Asami, Director of Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.
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