Digitalization continues to permeate our lives with the rise of AI, IoT and big data. While this trend is sure to accelerate, how should new technologies be harnessed to put the needs of people first? To address this question, Makoto Kitano, CEO of Panasonic Corporation's Eco Solutions Company, spoke with experts in technology, architecture and publishing at the Cross-Value Innovation Forum 2018, a special week-long event held in Tokyo to commemorate Panasonic's 100th anniversary.

Panasonic's Inaugural Product Still Available

Before addressing the challenges of the future, Kitano took a moment to reflect on the past. Panasonic's first product a century ago was an attachment plug. This product continues to be offered by the Eco Solutions Company for about JPY 140 (US $1.25). "While the design has changed, there are still needs from fishing vessels and others who need to divert power," Kitano said.

Makoto Kitano, CEO of Panasonic Eco Solutions Company

Since this first iconic product, the Eco Solutions Company has expanded into product areas that include lighting and housing materials, air conditioners, solar panels, power-assisted bicycles, and even elderly care services. "Our vision has always been to make people's lives more comfortable," Kitano said. "And in this current age, that means updating people's lifestyles."

Shift to a Sharing Economy

Shingo Kosaka, Editor in Chief of Shogakukan's Serai, a monthly magazine that explores leisure and cultural pursuits, underlined the importance of understanding the consumer behavior of teenagers, who will be running the world thirty years from now. "They would rather share cars than own them," he said.

Jo Nagasaka, President of Schemata Architects, agreed that the trend toward a sharing economy is gaining traction. "In new building developments, you increasingly see the sharing of a common area," he said pointing to a Tokyo space that can be totally renovated overnight because all fixtures are easily moveable. "From a store interior, it can become a concert hall," he said.

Shingo Kosaka at the Panasonic Cross-Value Innovation Forum

Anticipating Customer Needs

Dr. Hiroyuki Morikawa, Professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, noted the impact that smartphones have had on people's lives. "Going forward, identifying hidden customer needs will be increasingly important," he said. "Panasonic's HD recorder is a great example of this. At first, I thought it was just a replacement technology, but being able to record and erase any program was a totally new experience."

Kosaka noted that anticipating the needs of customers is easier said than done. "If we completely understood the needs of our readers, our magazines would sell out every month!" he joked. He added that while it is difficult to imagine a life that is even more convenient, one key is identifying people's issues.

Kitano agreed, noting that customers always have needs and are dissatisfied with something. "We're always trying to think of something new," he said. Kitano added that Panasonic's "Voice of the Customer" (VOC) program helps the company reflect customer feedback into the development process.

Panasonic at All Customer Touchpoints

When asked about his predictions about future technology trends, Morikawa underlined the important role that sensors will play, especially for disaster preparedness. "Japan is prone to landslides in many areas, but if you embed sensors in hillsides, you'll be able to notify people of a potential landslide in advance. This will save many lives," he said. Morikawa expects increased sensor adoption over the next twenty years.

Kitano also shared the view that digitalization is gradually coming into people's lives, and that this represents a great opportunity for Panasonic. He cautioned, however, that the way in which some IT companies handle customer data makes him uncomfortable. "In our 'Lifestyle Update' business we'll have many more touchpoints with customers through our housing and lighting materials and home appliances--that's our unique strength," he said. Kitano added, "This will allow us to interact with customers to make our products and services more intelligent. This differs from the way smartphones collect customer data--we'll provide new value and services in a discreet way."

As an example, Kitano cited the HomeX project, 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.

Human-oriented for the Next 100 Years

When asked what he expected of Panasonic in its next century, Kosaka said that the company should heed founder Konosuke Matsushita's wish to make sure that customers prosper. He added, "I hope Panasonic will provide IoT services that better connect people to things." Morikawa, on the other hand, encouraged Panasonic to embrace diversity. "When you have a diverse workforce, you give birth to many new things," he said.

In closing, Kitano said that while Panasonic may vary its approach in the future, the company will continue to be people-centric. He added, "While it's important for us to be very close to customers as we try and find the right approach, we don't want to be too pushy. The spirit of co-existence and co-prosperity will continue to be rooted in all of our activities."

[Business Session] Shift people's "LIFE" in the next 100 years and Panasonic's role
Date and Time
November 2, 10:00 a.m. -10:50 a.m. JST
Mr. Makoto Kitano, Senior Managing Executive Officer, CEO of Eco Solutions Company, Panasonic Corporation
Mr. Shingo Kosaka, Editor in Chief of SERAI educational office, Shogakukan Inc.
Mr. Jo Nagasaka, Representative of Schemata Architects
Mr. Hiroyuki Morikawa, Professor of School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo
Ms. Hiroko Kiba, Freelance Newscaster / Visiting Professor at Chiba University

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