Accelerating Evolution to the Social Optimum in a World of Drastic Environmental, Information Technology and Economic Changes: The Challenge of Technology First|Shoichiro Iwata President & CEO ASKUL Corporation|Interviewed June 2016
  • Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability in a Drastically Changing Society
  • Collaboration x Technology x A Strong Will = Infinite Innovation
  • Doing the Right Thing / The Spirit of Three-sided Mirror Management and a New Social Optimum

Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability in a Drastically Changing Society

I have always said that “the whole world is moving at the same time.” Amidst the turbulence of the 21st industrial revolution of information technology, every day, I feel the change that is occurring at the same time all over the world and the way that that change is accelerating.

The year of 2015 was jam-packed with major topics to do with corporate sustainability: the Paris Agreement adopted at the COP21 (2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference); the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations; and the Corporate Governance Code put into force in Japan, to name just a few. At the same time, rarely a day goes by without news about technological advances, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and robots.
Even as these global changes pick up pace, unless society and the environment are sustainable, companies will find it difficult to survive. Precisely because the world is fast approaching a major turning point in this day and age, there is a growing expectation on companies that they must play an active role in finding solutions to social issues.
While taking advantage of new technology, ASKUL is committed to responding to these major global changes and finding solutions to the many and variety environmental and societal issues that we all face.

ASKUL has made it its business to build environmentally-friendly logistics centers. In December 2017, our eighth and largest logistics facility, an environmentally-conscious, urban logistics center called ASKUL Logi PARK Kansai, will be launched. This new center is designed environmentally friendly and able to contribute to increasing local job opportunities as well as enhancing business continuity planning (BCP), such as expanding power back-up and water storage capacity. Thus, we intend for Logi PARK Kansai to function side-by-side with the local community and serve as regional infrastructure at times of disaster so as to fulfill our corporate role and responsibilities in society.
Into the future, to progress towards the next social optimum, we will move forward one step at a time in the development of our firm foundations as a sustainable company. This will include the introduction of electric vehicles, the use of renewable energy such as solar power generation, and the adoption of AI and robots.

Collaboration x Technology x A Strong Will = Infinite Innovation

Collaboration / LOHACO EC Marketing Lab

One of ASKUL’s missions is to serve as the “new middle man” that brings customers and makers together.
LOHACO EC Marketing Lab is positioned as an important growth engine for ASKUL. Now in its third phase starting in April 2016, it has been participated by close to 100 manufacturers from a wide range of industries. We are cooperating and collaborating with these companies to co-create value not only in product planning and development but also in the areas of marketing, logistics and shipping.
As the manufacturers participating in the Lab are sharing big data that has been stripped of personal information, as well as customer opinions, and examining the findings and data from the initiative to date, all stakeholders have been made newly aware of the need to do away with a go-it-alone complacency and to come up with plans and policies together. In fact, the Lab participants have been independently learning from each other in areas such as the planning and development of lifestyle-friendly design products and are starting to create new value for consumers in the age of e-commerce. Through this initiative, proposals, development and collaborations that transcend business categories are starting to pick up pace in an organic way.
While our goal for the EC Marketing Lab is to create an environment in which people can realize things and make changes for themselves, an environment for creating open innovation, some of the companies participating in the Lab seem to take advantage of this initiative to take down their own walls and to seek out new frontiers.
This kind of co-creation will surely become a major driving force that moves the world forward in the next age.

Transformation into a Technology-First Company to Underpin Further Evolution

At the same time, technology, especially cutting-edge e-commerce technology, will be another essential factor in the evolution into that next age.
The acceleration of advances in technological development offers an increasing wealth of opportunities for evolution. It also brings the threat that companies that cease to evolve may cease to exist.
We have come very close to realizing our goal of “Happy on Time” optimal delivery by leveraging Big Data and AI. We expect that, with the introduction of robots to our logistics centers, the constraints of time and location will be eliminated, and we will be able to achieve better efficiency and productivity, as well as the improvement of customer satisfaction and evolution of service. Our AI chatbot, Manami-san, has also become a new tool for communicating with our customers by responding to customers with text-based chat functions. In fact, it handles a third of all LOHACO inquiries.
A world in which technology dramatically changes what we experience is drawing closer to realization day-by-day. Soon, we will be able to do what we want as soon as we want to through the use of even more evolved AI and other technologies as such technologies will detect our feelings and offer us fun proposals and surprising discoveries that go beyond our knowledge and experience.
Just as GPS navigation systems in cars have, almost without our noticing it, become completely commonplace, that kind of world is just around the corner.
ASKUL is committed to making the most of those many opportunities for evolution and to transforming into a technology company.

Doing the Right Thing / The Spirit of Three-sided Mirror Management and a New Social Optimum

Of course, technology—AI, IoT, Big Data—is no more than a means to realize people’s happiness.
The essence of business is making people happy, and at the heart of that is the desire to make society better.
It is my firm belief that, when we focus on the future, business management will need to possess even greater integrity of ethics, more insight into human nature, and deeper empathy with people.
In Japan, we have the expression Sanpo-yoshi or “good in three directions,” meaning that business should be good for the seller, good for the buyer, and good for society as a whole. For many years, I have also talked about the term Sanmenkyo Keiei or “three-sided mirror management” both within and outside the company. This approach highlights the importance of management that is reflected in the three values (mirrors), that is, not only capital markets, but also employees, and society.
“Doing the right thing” is a matter of course, but when society becomes destabilized, companies also find it difficult to stand firm. Businesses are being called on more and more to take action in response to social issues.
As society’s expectations of ASKUL and our role in society grow larger and larger, we will remain conscious of the gravity of our responsibility towards society and continue to aspire to a new social optimum, picking up the pace of our evolution and continuing to grow and transform.

June 2016

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