This spring we officially opened our new Tokyo office with Makio Sasa as Japan’s regional leader for PARC’s Innovation Services business. He will grow and support both existing and new relationships with corporations based in the area.
We recently sat down with Makio to discuss PARC, our presence in Tokyo, and business plans within the region.
Q: Why did PARC decide to open a new office in Japan?
“Since 2004, PARC has built many client and partner relationships with Japanese companies including Hitachi, Panasonic Corporation, Fujitsu, Dai Nippon Printing, NEC , Honda, Sony, Dentsu, Nomura Research Institute, and many others. Traditionally we had managed this from our Palo Alto office. But as our business in both Japan and throughout Asia continues to grow, we needed to bridge the distance gap.”
Q: What type of business challenges face Japanese companies today?
“Japanese companies have existing products that are incredible and excel at technology. But they are often challenged with meeting the ‘human-centered’ aspect as well as identifying the new product or service to grow the market and meet customer needs.
“We can address this problem, especially through ethnography and our Innovation Services team located in Tokyo. PARC’s team of ethnographers and social scientists help discover what users truly desire through deep observation and analysis. We uncover the ‘hidden’ needs that companies can then take to innovate as a product or service.”
Q: What is Japan’s current approach to innovation?
“Much of Japan has not yet embraced ‘open innovation,’ which is becoming a standard for many global organizations. We believe we can help build a culture of innovation that is vital to competitiveness and economic growth. Open innovation will help Japanese companies reach a new level of commercialization and research opportunities – something they often can’t do alone.
“For example, PARC’s battery portfolio and extensive R&D directly aligns with core issues facing many Japanese battery manufacturers. By working together collaboratively through open innovation, we can accelerate and differentiate battery offerings for the market.”
Q: Can you discuss a little more about open innovation in Japan and how PARC plays a role?
“Japanese companies have traditionally done everything in house, from R&D to manufacturing. But they now see the limitation of that approach. They are just beginning to realize the importance of ‘open innovation,’ but they are not really sure what it is, how that applies to them, and how to do it.
“In my view, Japan’s market loss in various industries is attributed to ‘commoditization’ of products to some extent. The technologies are relatively easy to copy and hence the ones who can make them cheaper (i.e. China and Korea) win. Japan needs to innovate technologies that are harder to copy so the products can’t be pulled into a cost war. This is also a sentiment shared amongst Japanese companies. PARC can help with that.”
Q: What do you see in Japan’s business climate today that makes you most optimistic?
“I believe Japanese business is gradually recovering from the downturn, little by little. Speaking from the viewpoint of innovation, there are two points that relate to and accelerate this recovery. First of all, Japanese companies have been shifting from technology-centered innovation to human-centered innovation, and are working in a positive direction toward learning, absorbing, and implementing it. Secondly, I think that open innovation will become more and more common here in Japan because leading Japanese companies have recognized its significance and are building a collaborative relationship for it.”