The Cream of Research and Business Crops:
Mobilizing a Team of Up-and-Coming Talents
Introducing the Technology Value Creation Division
December 21, 2021
Practical application of research results and know-how. Big business challenges for the good of society and that make an impact on the world—Launched in 2020, the Technology Value Creation Division is the field where one can enjoy those best parts of corporate applied research. The team works in the interstices between researchers and business divisions, assembles solutions leveraging core technologies, and shapes business toward the launch of service.
Their tasks require familiarity with engineering and business, not to mention a profound knowledge of a variety of technologies. While there are great challenges, the demanding role earns them a unique standing in the industry. Working in this team will equip you for a steadfast career unyielding to any changes in technology trends. So what exactly is it like in the Technology Value Creation Division, where you can get the best parts in both research and business? The General Manager answers the question!
Growing seeds of research technologies into greater value with high impact
― What kind of organization is the Technology Value Creation Division?
It is an organization that materializes and shapes the laboratories’ technologies into solutions for our society and customers’ problems. In the early 20th century, Henry Ford succeeded in the commercial production of cars, bringing a game-changing innovation to society. This is in the age of horse-drawn carriages. Ford successfully marketed cars—products that people at the time had never been awakened to before. If we were to sound slightly fancy, we at the Technology Value Creation Division are also trying to do what Henry Ford did. Our goal is to create new values that solve social problems using cutting-edge technologies.
For example, NEC studies many world-class technologies, but no matter how many excellent AI algorithms that our researchers may develop, research technologies on their own cannot “act” in the actual environment of our society. Even if they were able to operate, it would provide no advantage to the customer. What apps to build using such technologies and what value to create for the society and customers. How to expand value by combining one technology with other technologies. That’s what we need to think about and do to create a huge impact on the society, not to mention scale business.
So first we need to fully understand the technologies. Then through communicating with many forward-looking customers, we probe for problems that customers want to solve even for pay. Furthermore, we verify value for customers by having the customers try out our prototypes for improvements in diverse aspects, including performance, cost, and operation, as well as how they work in combination with other technologies. These results are transferred to the business divisions along with the technologies for moving on to the productization phase. What is the role that we take on.
― The Technology Value Creation Division was launched in 2020. What made such an organization necessary?
In this time of rapid change, we needed to increase the speed at which we delivered new products and services to the world upon accurately capturing the true issues in the individual industries that comprise society. The modern world is called the age of VUCA. In such a complex and volatile world, it is difficult to accurately foresee the future. In many cases, the customers themselves cannot put their finger on the problem. No one said in the age of horse carriages that they wanted a car. In a time where there is no clear direction, we need to explore and create new social value with customers using technologies.
The conventional way of making a product by spending much time and effort has a greater risk of not working out at all. Looking at the world, the mainstream approach is to create a minimum viable product (MVP) and repeatedly improve on it. Therefore, we need to speed up the process from applied research to development, exploring and shaping what users need and want. To that end, we plan to shift to agile development and after building up experience and making achievements, extend that activity framework to laboratories.
- *VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
The three pillars: Engineering, technology design, and business development
― Specifically, what do the members of the Division do?
The members are broadly divided into two groups. One group consists of members called research engineers, who are well versed with research technologies. Research engineers enhance the algorithms of technologies developed by researchers and improve on functionality and quality in order to materialize technologies into products that customers need or want. Most of these members have experience in both research and business, characterized by their deep understanding of component technologies as well as non-functional requirements and quality in demand for productization.
Let me give you an example of a specific case to help create an image of what their activities are like. For example, AI analysis technology in the research phase are largely verified to produce high accuracy when using with super-high performance hardware and standard data sets in the research field. However, to make a product out of this technology, naturally it needs to operate on universal hardware so that it can be introduced into the customers’ environments. In addition, the product may need to operate with practical volumes of data used in actual business—perhaps a million records—continuously over long periods of time.
What happens then is that technology in the research phase may not work within the time frame needed by the customer or end up with a range of flaws and failures. Here is where we come in, to mediate this problem. While keeping the unique algorithm of the research product as is, we may use the parallel distributed processing model for internal processing and make databases usable by enabling data access where everything was processed on the memory, or being creative in writing a program such as by changing part of the processing to approximate processing in order to improve execution speed without significantly compromising accuracy, among other things. Through all sorts of experimentation and ideas, we build the implementation as the base of the final product.
Some research engineers take on tasks that we call “technology design.” These members appropriately single out the technologies that need to be combined with core technologies in order to create a greater value. When a customer has a problem, even if a research technology can be used to solve one element of that problem, the customer would not replace its system just to straighten out that one part. A customer needs a solution to the problem that is cost-effective and covers the entire scope of operations. For that reason, we need to scale the value by combining suitable technologies in addition to core technologies.
For example, in AI analysis, the input part should convert customer data into a form processable by the AI, the output part where the data needs to be organized and displayed in a way that clearly communicates the results to users, and an addition for a smooth handover to any business process following analysis—all of such require the knowledge and ideas for combining existing technologies and NEC’s other research results. The skills for formulating system requirements that take into account the operation phase and customer needs, as well as architecture design of the entire system, are also in demand for the technology design staff. They are valuable assets to our team.
― What members are there, aside from research engineers?
Let’s see. The role of the other group of members is a business developer. Likewise other business developers in the world, our business developers design business models and ecosystem formations, propelling business development. What differentiates the Technology Value Creation Division’s business developers from the rest is their in-depth understanding of technologies. While keeping close contact with researchers, the research engineers and business developers are working in collaboration on efforts to accelerate value creation that originates from the laboratories’ core technologies.
Aiming to become the leading face of the industry
― What career can you build in the Technology Value Creation Division?
First, you can learn from broadly three aspects at our division. The first point is that you can access NEC’s state-of-the-art technologies such as AI, security, and network for deeper understanding. Secondly, you can learn and understand the structure and domain knowledge of various industries, including the public sector. This is an advantage unique to NEC, which has business relationships with a wide range of customers. The third point is that you can learn through experiencing both cases of expanding existing business and cases of creating new business, as well as understanding the process of creating business.
Being able to learn both at the same time is extremely valuable. Building your own career on these learning opportunities is open to a wide range of options depending on the individual’s plan. Here are some examples.
One way is to have an active career as an engineering specialist with expertise in a certain technical domain. By learning the latest technologies and development methods at all times, you may engage in swift implementation of large-scale program technologies or recondite algorithms, and maybe even take part in publishing research papers through such activities, playing a part in research.
Alternatively, you may find an active career as a product manager. It is a role that keeps a product growing by constantly updating the technology after the commercialization of the technology as a product. While capturing technological trends in depth, a product manager also needs a solid understanding of the requirements of the business or product. On that basis, a product manager explores needs with customers and makes decisions as appropriate on what to research and develop while taking costs into consideration. As a product manager, you can aim to be a key figure with great influence over product growth even after transfer to a business division.
Another career closer to the business side is also selectable. As a bridge engineer, you can take on the role of a business developer upon increasing your business knowledge and experience and eventually be the person in charge of business in which that product is at the core. Such a business manager career path may even spin out of NEC, such as seen in the actual case of dotDATA.
Either way, you would grow into a key person that other people will seek advice from on both the technological and business aspects.
― What kind of people would the Technology Value Creation Division want to work with?
First ones that come to mind are people who identify with what our division is aiming for as I have talked about here. Next, from the perspective of awareness and behavior, it is important to have the willingness to try. Creating new value using new technology is where you will inevitably hit many, many walls. You cannot surmount them if you are stopped dead before them. Thomas Edison said, “I’m challenging the one as the person who can succeed with the premise to which I say, ‘It’s natural for not going to a concerned street to occur’,” and I believe such people who can grow on adversity with that mindset are desirable.
Having said that, the Technology Value Creation Division is such a young organization. We hope to work with people who we can discuss what awareness (thinking) and behavior are important as an organization and create our organizational culture together.