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Aligning R&D with the customer’s digital agenda

Kenny MacIver – July 2016

IT leaders expect their strategic suppliers to be engines of innovation. But they also want to see technology programs that reflect their organization’s core values. We talk to Dr Adel Rouz, executive vice president of Fujitsu Laboratories in EMEIA, about how Fujitsu’s R&D agenda has become both more customer-oriented and human-centric. 

In recent years, a major goal for many CIOs has been to reduce the number of suppliers that their organization deals with. So rather than hundreds of companies, they seek to work with just a handful of carefully selected strategic partners.

For any partner to make that list, they need to show some strong fundamentals. One key element is a broad and deep commitment to leading-edge research and development that can deliver a flow of innovations and, ultimately, competitive advantage to their customers. That means CIOs look closely at strategic partners’ R&D agendas, their pipeline of potential products, as well as some of their blue-sky thinking.

That’s an imperative that Dr Adel Rouz, executive vice president of Fujitsu Laboratories’ operations in Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, understands well. “IT leaders expect partners’ R&D to be well-resourced, well-connected [in terms of collaborative innovation], global in nature and yet local in execution. It’s essential that technology leaders appreciate their partners’ commitment to R&D.”

This leads to a relationship that is open and collaborative and one that is characterized by the co-creation of innovation rather than simply product adoption and implementation, he adds.Hyper-connected world

The importance of such a collaborative process is underscored by the major opportunities and disruptive threats presented by digitalization, Dr Rouz observes. “We live in a world where hyper-connectivity will dominate, changing how we live, work and play. It has the potential to hugely impact individual well-being, society and the global economy. For Fujitsu Laboratories, this is the reality [we seek to address]: a world where innovation is driven by the need to empower people and enhance society, as well as generate new business opportunities.”

As a core part of the R&D activities of the Fujitsu Group, the ¥4.7 trillion ($41bn) technology company, Fujitsu Laboratories comprises a network of research teams across the globe, from its home country of Japan to European centers in London and Madrid, US hubs in Silicon Valley and Texas, and China research centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou.

Its R&D agenda spans a vast array of projects — from data center management and photonic networks to human interfaces and cloud optimization. But in Europe, Fujitsu Laboratories has four key programs as Dr Rouz highlights:
• Big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence
• Future networking and communications for IoT devices
• Social innovation, involving the application of advanced technologies to the solution of social challenges in areas such as healthcare, disaster mitigation, aging societies, energy and transportation
• High-performance computing applications.

Such programs are by no means ivory tower initiatives. Indeed, over the past two years, Fujitsu Laboratories has moved progressively beyond technology-oriented research programs to focus more closely on solutions-oriented research. “This a major shift in our vision and strategy [that signalled] we want to work more with customers, with their CIOs and CTOs, and with partners to understand their problems, their requirements and how we can transform those into innovation challenges. And that has put Fujitsu Laboratories at the heart of the overall Fujitsu businesses strategy and vision,” says Dr Rouz.

The Fujitsu Laboratories’ research direction is now fed by and aligned to customers’ business strategies, which informs the co-innovation and the co-creation philosophy the company adopted three years ago, Dr Rouz says. That has also seen the company work jointly with customers in vertical sectors such as healthcare, finance, tourism, transport and energy management.Delivering the benefits of a global research strategy

Critical to Fujitsu Laboratories’ success with customers is an appreciation that different regions around the world need subtly different application of its innovations.

“Our customers are global, so our Think Global, Act Local strategy is key,” says Dr Rouz. To bring customers the most advanced innovations and research results, the company needs to exploit its global resource base. “For example, by leveraging global innovation programs and partnerships we can bring the expertise created by our colleagues in the US, Japan or China to Europe and vice versa.  

Dr Rouz cites the example of the company’s palm vein biometric authentication technology, PalmSecure. The technology was originally developed in Japan for healthcare applications, so medical staff could sign in to systems without having to make physical contact with screens or keyboards and patients could be identified more efficiently. But the technology is now a standard security interface in the banking sector in countries such as Brazil, Japan and Turkey, where it is also been applied in social services applications. In other countries PalmSecure is being using to check the authenticity of candidates taking university entrance examinations.Compelling focus areas for digital R&D

But what are the most exciting solutions areas for Dr Rouz going forward? The Internet of Things, with sensors connecting and enriching the physical world, is certainly one area. “It will allow us to open new horizons such as the improved management of water supplies, our energy [consumption], how we can control pollution, our transport systems and their safety and more,” he says.

Related to that will be the rise of smart cities. “One of the game-changers for citizens, local and regional governments is how we can provide intelligent transport systems, how we can minimize traffic accidents, how we can manage building infrastructures.”

A good example of that kind of Human Centric Innovation can be seen in Japan, he says, where Fujitsu Laboratories has helped develop systems that simulate tsunamis. “We can now predict, almost in real-time, the impact that a tsunami will have,” he says. Big data analytics can now process information from thousands of sensors scattered in the seas off Japan in near real-time. “But the key thing is how we can respond and provide the required information to citizens, to bridge builders, to building managers. This is where the Internet of Things, the collected data, the analytics, the machine learning can contribute to a more secure society.”

Underpinning such solution-oriented thinking is the aspiration to create what Fujitsu foresees as a Human Centric Intelligent Society, where technologies are designed around and to be in the service of people.  But the focus is all on solutions rather than producing technology for its own sake: “Without solutions the technology will stay in our cupboards,” says Dr Rouz.

• Dr Rouz will be presenting on how AI and big data analytics can deliver social innovation at Fujitsu Forum 2016 in Munich, 16 and 17 November.

Photography: Jonathan Birch 

First published July 2016
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