Brian Barry writes in The Economist about how little Japan has leveraged IT and how this is still the source of inefficiency. He also gives some examples of companies that are using IT to change Japan. I agree with him totally and think that in addition to unwiding some of the big companies that don't make sense anymore, improving the cost performance of the exisiting companies can greatly increase the profitability of Japanese companies which is key.

I feel self-conscious about quoting my one quotes after that parody of this site but:

A tour of the
business-class lounges at Narita airport, says Joichi Ito, an internet entrepreneur, reveals how senior managers feel about information technology: "In United's lounge everyone has their laptop out; in the Japan Airlines lounge they are all drinking beer."
Actually, someone else pointed this out to me a long time ago and I have since observed it myself and have used it as one of my favorite examples.

PS Having a meal with TWO Brian B's in Tokyo this week was very confusing for my calendar...

PPS The Economist site link is "premium content". blah.

2 Comments

I liked the Economist article. I wonder, though, if there aren't more mundane reasons for why Japan is behind the curve on adoption of new technology. Most of the "enterprise software" companies I've seen out there lag the localized versions of their releases by months behind the "official" English ones; sometimes the tools only barely support Unicode or UTF-8 data within the app and don't localize the error messages or most of the UI. And even then, there are bugs - I met some guys from the Japan Linux Association this morning who were telling me that IE is still hopelessly broken when it comes to a particular set of HTML encoding issues around Shift-JIS and EUC-JP.

If most corporate IT is still (too) dependent on commercial software from companies who don't take i18n seriously, that could be a deterrant. I think the cultural arguments are probably bigger factors though.

Just read that article this weekend. Aside from the fact that The Economist enjoys reporting on the foibles of Japan, they were dead on with this article. The article also touched on what I think is the real reason for this. They mention that Japanese companies prefer joint ventures for IT to "spare their employees from redundancy". This is in fact a major goal of most companies here in general. Japanese companies operate in more of a socialist model where the goal is job creation rather than a capitalist model where the goal is profit/shareholder value.

Improving IT for workflow would create a situation where many of the employees who only function as go-betweens or form stampers would have no tasks to occupy themselves. Perhaps some of these people are now "engineers" employed by those IT JV companies. At least it certainly seems that way when I have to deal with them.

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