The need for digital transformation at companies is more pressing than ever due to the COVID-19 epidemic. In order to promote digital transformation, it is necessary to modify portfolios so that commoditized （generalized） “technical debts” in the area of technology can be transformed into “technology assets,” which will be subsequently required. Otherwise, digital transformation cannot be promoted and companies will not be able to achieve transformation or growth.
I believe that this way of thinking applies not only to companies but to individual engineers as well. This means that it is necessary to review the technology assets of engineers from the viewpoint of portfolios and accumulate new assets by constantly taking inventory.
This idea of modifying and accumulating technology assets for engineers must be further emphasized in the post-COVID-19 world, where digital transformation is expected to make progress.
Furthermore, this way of thinking is not necessary just for engineers but must also be considered by all business people. I hope that everyone that is supporting companies will contribute to the transformation and growth of companies even in this age of uncertainty by consciously bearing in mind the idea of “reorganizing and accumulating knowledge and expertise.”
Restaurants that are enjoying popularity have signature dishes without exception; for instance, “if you want to eat xxx, you should definitely go to that restaurant.” These signature dishes that are engraved in customers’ memories are called “spécialité.”
Restaurants around the world are offering creative and unique spécialité inspired by cuisines of different genres by utilizing local ingredients. Customers visit these restaurants and enjoy delicious food, at times waiting in a long line or making a reservation months in advance.
I think there are many similarities between the process of chefs creating their spécialité dishes and engineers devising new applied technologies and developing products based on basic technologies. And these processes include many lessons for engineers and business people.
For software engineers, languages, target systems and operating systems that can be developed are considered as their expertise, while statistical analysis utilizing advanced knowledges such as statistics, figures and information science are the expertise of data scientists. Creating a “menu” listing these types of expertise and promoting visualization will be essential for creating our own “spécialité.”
It can be said that restaurant menus are menus of the restaurant’s expertise. While categorization methods differ according to the genre of cuisines, they are segmented, for instance, into appetizers, main dishes and desserts. Moreover, dishes that can be made with ingredients procured on that day or week are listed up. The spécialité of restaurants are created based on this menu of expertise and restaurants whose experience value is appreciated become popular.
For engineers as well, it is important to have a menu of expertise that includes spécialité, such as: “that person will be the one to approach in this area of technology.” And if this is a unique area or requires challenging expertise, work will automatically begin to come in. It has always been said that “work should be requested to those that are the busiest,” but this is the same as saying that going to a popular restaurant with queues is the best way to get good food.
The “spécialité” of engineers need not necessarily be extensive. The key is to choose a field that no one else is working on or can work on. I also think that choosing technical areas and themes that are projected to grow going forward is a good idea as well. There is the case of the young engineer who, realizing that he has no chance against veteran engineers with mastered skills during the golden age of analogue technology, studied hard to learn digital technology that had just been launched and seized the subsequent digital prosperity to become a top-class engineer.
As for me, I was assigned to a team that was developing a handwritten character recognition algorithm when I started working as a new graduate 30 years ago. We were able to realize a highly advanced character recognition system by adding a fuzzy theory, which was being highly recognized for its fuzzy processing functions, based on the rule base, which is now called the “second generation of AI.” It was mounted as the world’s first character recognition engine for pen computers at the time.
Luckily, I was able to acquire knowledge in a confined and exhaustive sector while envisaging the future and make it the foundation for creating my own “spécialité” thereafter. The work I was tackling more than 30 years ago has helped me considerably to correctly understand the AI technology domain centered on deep learning, which is said to be the third generation of AI, and to also comprehend its advantages and disadvantages.
After releasing the character recognition engine, I was sent to the U.S. by the company to study at a university around 1990. So I lived abroad as a visiting researcher for one year. I was given a chance to learn computer graphics, which was mainly used for military purposes back then and was unrecognized in the private sector until it was employed in the 1993 film “Jurassic Park.”
I was also able to study user interfaces when the word “graphics user interface” was uncommon until the launch of Windows 3.1 in 1992, although it had already been introduced in the Macintosh in the 1980s. These studies became my “spécialité” when I was involved in the Play Station business after returning to Japan.
At the time, computer graphics was not a mainstream technical field and it is true that those around me had skeptical views regarding the research theme. However, the competition was fortunately mild and, more than anything, the fact that I was able to “enjoy” learning in a field I was interested in was an irreplaceable experience for me. It is important to pursue what you enjoy by being defiant against the circumstances.
Also, I had a credo regarding success and failure from that time: The best circumstance for me is “to decide on my own and succeed,” the second best case is “to decide on my own and fail” and the third is “to have someone else decide and succeed.” The worst case is “to have someone else decide and fail.” This overseas learning experience turned out to be the best decision for me.
When we look at the background of renowned chefs, many of them have been trained at overseas restaurants. The days I spent overseas were an irreplaceable valuable experience for me as well.
Nevertheless, training can be done anywhere. “Decide on you own” what you “enjoy.” If you pursue this, I believe that you will be able to train anywhere in any environment.
As we have entered the age where we can instantly connect with people throughout the world with the advancement of communication technology such as web conferencing, which has disseminated rapidly during the COVID-19 epidemic, I hope everyone will make optimum use of this and take on new challenges in work at a global level without going abroad. I strongly hope that you will create a stronger and more flexible one-of-a-kind spécialité through this social and economic crisis.
※This article was published in "Forbes JAPAN posted on July 3, 2020". This article has been licensed by Forbes Japan. Copying or reprinting without permission is prohibited.
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