WBJ talks to Juan Maria Porcar, the VP and Head of Eastern Europe, Russia & CIS and Africa at Fujitsu, about the digital age
Interview by Alex Webber
WBJ: The theme of this year’s Fujitsu World Tour is “Human Centric Innovation: Digital Co-Creation.” Could you explain what’s meant by that?
Juan Maria Porcar: Human Centric Innovation is based on three pillars. First, we want to empower people to use their time more efficiently. To do this we need the second pillar, data, which is needed to drive innovation. The third pillar, infrastructure, connects the other two and brings them both together. Co-creation, meanwhile, is the process and methodology that joins the expertise of people with digital technology. Co-creation occurs when these two factors work together.
Talk us through the process.
It all begins with an idea from a so-called “visionary.” That’s followed by the proof of concept phase, then implementation and finally the roll-out of a product. The proof of concept stage is crucial because even visionaries need to perfect their idea. We still encounter a lot of resistance to digital: for instance, a company might have two visionaries with a great idea, but another 998 who are against it. Proof of concept is essential to show these people the benefits that an idea might bring, so if it’s done successfully then you might see a shift of balance: all of a sudden 500 people will be keen on the idea which would give a company enough power to then advance to the implementation stage.
What are the challenges that your industry faces?
The biggest challenge would be if we didn’t have any visionaries! The state of technology means that not all the ideas that a visionary comes up with can be implemented. However, the biggest overall problem I’d say is security. The digital transformation has left a lot of data potentially exposed: both business data and, even worse, personal data. We’ve all seen what happens when data is leaked, and such breaches have shown that they have the potential to ground a whole airline. It doesn’t make sense to open a company up to such a disaster as it destroys any potential benefit to be gained, so making sure data is correctly secured is the largest general problem we face. As it stands, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will enter into force in May, 2018 and apply to all EU firms. Companies will have no choice but to conform and in this case I think the authorities have done the right thing.
How fast has the transition towards Human Centric Innovation been?
During the Fujitsu World Tour we asked our Polish audience what stage they’re at: whether they’re fully digital, at the proof of concept stage, thinking about it, etc. Exactly half said they were fully digital while another 12 or 15 percent said they were at the proof of concept stage. We don’t have a timeline to measure these things, but even so we were positively surprised by this response. It’s been brewing for a while and now the transition appears to have gone into an accelerated mode. You can see that people are thinking hard. Some are going for a partial adaption where they’re problem solving and looking to alleviate the biggest bottleneck in their business. Others, meanwhile, are choosing to go fully digital straight from the beginning.
Could you give a specific example of a company that’s successfully implemented such digital technology?
The Finnish ABC service station chain is a good one. They’ve decided to really compete in their field by producing an app that directs drivers to the nearest filling station and which then allows them to do pretty much everything at the push of a button. There’s no longer any need for customers to enter the station, wait in a queue to pay or listen to a member of staff talk about some chocolate promotion. The re-fueling experience has become a lot more convenient and the average time customers spend inside a station has been greatly reduced. But the punchline is this: although the app was only rolled-out eight months ago, it’s already been downloaded 600,000 times while ABC have reported transactions have increased 5-fold in 8 months.
Some sources are claiming that automation and excessive digitalization will have a disastrous impact on jobs across the world – what’s your opinion?
The steam age was meant to lead to mass unemployment as well. In fact, every technological advance mankind has ever made was meant to have this side-effect, even computers. The transformation we’re seeing is just part of a natural progress. We’re not talking here about the realm of science fiction and super intelligence where robots do everything, we’re talking about narrow AI that does things that take humans a second to do. Ultimately, AI is here to stay as it drives so much value for businesses.
Fujitsu stress that they put humans before technology and that any advances they make are directly connected to solving challenges. Isn’t that just PR talk?
I tend to refer to the case of the San Carlos Clinical Hospital in Madrid. There we found a group of visionaries, specifically four doctors, who basically said, “look, humanity has a huge problem with suicide.” Whereas they already knew the signs to look for in a suicidal patient, a traditional assessment would take them 20 minutes. Put simply, they didn’t have the capacity to assess 200 patients each day. However, what they did have was plenty of data – over 36,000 patient records. Based on these we were able to develop a system that could make the analysis itself thereby allowing the doctors to do other things with their time. We’ve checked the accuracy over and over and it’s now reached the stage of being 95 percent accurate. While I would never dare be so arrogant as to say that this system has saved lives, it’s definitely helped the doctors. But the interesting thing here is that this didn’t take five years to reach this point, but 12 months. Other departments in the hospital have also noticed this, especially those working to tight time constraints such as the x-ray or pharmacy departments. They’ve seen this as something that can really support their work, not as something that will replace them.