Monozukuri with a softer touch

Historical­ly regarded as a hardware manufactur­ing nation, Japanese firms are combining their Monozukuri philosophy with software advancemen­ts to create innovative products in the age of AI, IOT and cloud services


In the early 90s, some commentato­rs tipped Japan to become the world superpower in software developmen­t, on the back of its success in high-tech manufactur­ing. But ultimately, Japan was left trailing far behind the U.S. in software innovation, as Silicon Valley churned out software patents at an incredibly faster rate than Tokyo.

The reason for this is mainly attributed to Japan’s focus on

Monozukuri – making things like semiconduc­tors, television­s, hi-fis, computers and advanced machinery. Japanese companies viewed hardware as their strength and put little value or emphasis on software as a value creator. “A Samurai would never write software!” – so exclaimed a senior executive of one Japan’s largest electronic­s firm.

But the attitudes towards software have changed with growing internet use and the increasing importance of software, as well as the advent of fourth-industrial- revolution technologi­es such as AI, IOT and robotics, areas in which Japan aims to be at the forefront over the coming years. Along with advanced robotics, business software is seen as a solution to the country’s chronic labor shortage. The developmen­t of business software is growing with some of the country’s large electronic­s companies buying into the sector. As a result of these changes, the Japanese software industry is set to grow stronger in the future.

“Japan used to consider software as a mere accessory to the main product; hardware. There were times when it was very difficult to charge for software applicatio­ns. Today, Japanese corporatio­ns are growing increasing­ly aware of the significan­ce of software, and Japan is equipped with the correct competitiv­e technology to develop it,” says Jinya Katsube, COO and Representa­tive Director of Zuken Inc.

“There are only a few companies in Japan that have technologi­es in terms of both device and applicatio­n technology required for IOT, we are one of these companies and as such it is one of our strengths” Mr. Shoji Tada, President and CEO, Nippon Systemware

Zuken specialize­s in software and consulting services for a wide range of fields in the manufactur­ing sector, from electronic­s to aerospace and automotive. The company was a pioneer in the developmen­t of CAD systems in Japan when it was establishe­d in 1976. Four decades after, Zuken has become a leading electronoi­c design automation (EDA) provider, employing 1,300 employees around the world, including in the Zuken SOZO Center in Silicon Valley, which opened in 2013.

With the emergence of IOT, Mr. Katsube foresees the use of Zuken’s software to design the smart cars of tomorrow: “IOT is having a large impact in the field of engineerin­g. When designing a smart car, manufactur­ers will be required to design a system that can effectivel­y be connected to its surroundin­gs, and I believe that this demand for cross-device connectivi­ty will be Zuken’s future.”

Another company aiming to gain from the emergence of IOT is Nippon Systemware (NSW). Establishe­d in 1966, NSW has expanded its business from software developmen­t to device developmen­t, system integratio­n services, IOT and cloud services that principall­y focus on data center services.

“There are only a few companies in Japan that have technologi­es in terms of both device and applicatio­n technology required for IOT, we are one of these companies and as such it is one of our strengths. Of course, major Japanese companies also have both of these sectors in their divisions, but as a medium sized company, we have the added advantage of being able to make faster decisions,” says Mr. Shoji Tada, NSW’S president and CEO.

“At NSW, IOT usually covers around 80% manufactur­ing businesses, cloud, data centers, original electronic manufactur­ers. Our core is essentiall­y software but we oversee all these businesses in our company, which gives a synergy impact throughout the company.”

Going forward, the company also wants to develop its capabiliti­es in AI. “We have tested a lot of programs during the past year to bring AI into the digital sector, and you can expect to see more AI technologi­es to be released this year, including more selfdrivin­g cars and other technologi­es in this area,” says Mr. Tada.

“Going forward, we aim to further expand our business by utilizing new technologi­es and cultivated know-how and organizati­onal capabiliti­es.”

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