Crisis, Change and Opportunity within IT in Japan
The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and uncertainty on future waves of outbreaks have kept countries around the world scrambling to ensure they have their business continuity plans in place. In light of working towards a new normal, it has been crucial for organisations to strategise effective plans on tackling the crisis, adapting to change as well as reap the opportunities that are available.
As such, Computer Futures Japan hosted an exclusive by-invite only Chief Information Officer (CIO) virtual round-table, with key industry experts across Healthcare & Pharma, Retail and Manufacturing, and internal guest speakers – Tim Moran, APAC Regional Director of SThree and Koji Takei, Sales Team Manager of Computer Futures Japan – who moderated the event.
Digital Transformation & the changing role of CIOs
In an increasingly digital-driven world, there is no doubt that this impacts industries across Healthcare & Pharma, Retail as well as Manufacturing. For businesses, traditional means of working need to be relooked almost immediately with restrictions of social distancing in place, as well as travel bans all around the world.
Digital transformation has fortunately been accelerated and will likely continue. The transition from the old to new normal is seen to be going smoothly with early launches of tech infrastructure in place. Companies are now focusing on research and development (R&D) for new digital solutions. Nonetheless, challenges still remain in terms of upskilling employees on these new tools, and embracing this new way of working. Training will now be the main focus to keep everyone up to speed.
- Pharma, biotech, manufacturing and healthcare sector
Within pharma, biotech and healthcare, businesses in Japan have faced overnight shifts in sales organisation, moving from old traditional ways of face-to-face interaction, onto online engagement.
Digital communication platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom have never been more essential. The pandemic have inevitably forced businesses to adopt these platforms to ensure business continuity. Whilst the migration for pharma and biotech firms have been a big challenge for many, it has given them the opportunity to finally embrace the speed, efficiency and productivity that tech could bring.
Similarly in manufacturing where production have always been on-site, companies have been in a constant state of dilemma in automating this function so that the supply chain and logistics functions can continue to keep their business moving forward.
- Retail sector
On the flipside, the retail industry in Japan have faced tremendous challenges in embracing tech. Currently, at least 70 to 80 percent of retail staff working in brick-and-mortar stores are unable to work remotely in Japan. While 10 to 15 percent might be able to work from home by maintaining marketing and sales on their online stores, retail remains hugely a people-based and customer-facing as the core of the business in Japan.
- Recruitment sector
Recruitment, by and large remains as a people-based industry. Moran shared that the industry in general relies heavily on face-to-face contact to build trust and relationships.
Nonetheless, SThree have gone through a huge transformation in the last 3 months.
He added, “Prior to COVID-19, we were using Citrix and desktops. We’ve now prioritised and accelerated laptop deployment across our business of over 3000 laptops in last three months, instead of three years which was the initial plan.”
Moran also shared the benefits of embracing tech as it has allowed for greater collaboration across our teams globally.
“Whilst working from home can be lonely, there has been a lot more collaboration globally much more effectively. Form a cultural perspective, cross-country collaboration has improved. Technology is for everyone – regardless of function, expertise and seniority.”
Looking to the future: how might IT, as a discipline and department, look different by 2025 in Japan?
Below are some key predictions that were shared:
- Prominence of automation and robotics
In order to beef up productivity and efficiency, automation and robotics will be embraced with an aim to reduce headcount. Improving Robotics Processing automation (RPA) will be key and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be deployed to enhance focus on business tech. RPA solutions are also getting cheaper and thus more accessible. For people who are looking to break into the sector, proficiency in Structured Query Language (SQL) will also be important.
- Growing need for tech infrastructure
With more interest in automation and robotics, businesses will also need to be focussing on building a solid infrastructure to connect with customers and capture relevant data. It will be a priority to ensure that data is managed correctly and more support with capabilities to process them and produce meaningful analysis of these data will be in demand. Businesses will thus focus on the need to develop talent based on advanced technologies adopted or to be adapted.
- An emerging contracts market in Japan
Specifically to Japan, it has been a long-standing trend for candidates to pursue permanent roles rather than short-term stints and projects. Nonetheless, with the evolving tech market and new ways of working, Japan is expected to experience an emergence of a contracts market with greater demand for flexibility. Short-term tech projects will become commonplace, and contract workers will become a mediator of establishing partnerships between large organisations across pharma, healthcare, manufacturing and tech firms.
Takei added that these trends are already starting to show in Japan, and tech might just be the catalyst to see more of this in the coming years.
- Barriers between “IT” and “business” will disappear gradually
As an example, the traditional role of a finance business partner will be complemented by a tech business partner background to utilise data, make sense of it and subsequently make decisions on growth plans.
However, as tech evolves, CIOs will also need to adopt ‘business language’ and learn to be understood, rather than using jargons as building relationships with non-IT departments will be key. Businesses will also start to look for talent who are superior in their communication skills. If businesses are not able to seek the right talent, they can also focus on upskilling and training internal employees. In this aspect, retail might continue to be a laggard compared to some other industries, and they will need to start shifting mind-sets now in order to embrace, adopt more skills in tech and ensure they can still attract the best talent in the market.
Ultimately, tech will eventually become part of revenue generation processes across various industries including retail, and businesses will need to keep an open mind to adapt to change.
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