Nomura Research Institute (NRI) has newly established “bit Labs” to accelerate the company's digital business. Takuma Ishibashi of the Sales Planning Group and Yusuke Shiokawa of the Development Group, who form the core of this organization, describe the frontline and future prospects of its field of development.
From Waterfall Development to Agile Development
――What changes have been made in the development environment in recent years?
Ishibashi: Recently, even the internet is being referred to as "digital", but since around 2000, rapidly evolving digital technologies have led to reforms that dramatically change products, services, and business models in a wide range of industries. In addition, the explosive spread of smartphones has made it common to create new services using digital data as a source of value in a short period of time.
Shiokawa: In 2001, 17 software development engineers gathered in the United States to announce the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”. It gradually spread to Japan from there, but due to the unique Japanese business practices, corporate culture, and processes, it could not be well understood. However, customers themselves have begun to take positive steps toward introducing agile development over the past five to six years, as they are being required to respond to changes and speed.
Ishibashi: Originally I was a technical engineer (TE) who was responsible for planning tools to automate system testing and supporting standardization of waterfall-type financial system projects. So far, large-scale projects have been process-intensive and have used scientific management methods, but the current management methods seem to be focusing on humans and on “how to draw out the potential of each individual”. I think the role of the "Scrum Master", who is responsible for optimizing the agile team, symbolizes this.
――Can you share an experience that left an impression on you during the shift to agile development?
Shiokawa: I remember a project that I had been in charge of several years ago. It was a project involving the creation of a new service for the customer, and there were only three or four months left before the release. We worked closely with the customer to first determine the kind of services that could be accepted by ordinary users by targeting people close to them, and then continued manufacturing. This was our first time working this way and we found it very interesting. We were also able to share the manufacturing process with the customer. This application is still being used by many people on a daily basis.
――Three or four months before release seems like an extremely short development period.
Ishibashi: It is certainly a short timeframe for a large-scale project, but it is adequate for bit Labs. At bit Labs, we work together with the customer right from the point when the requirements are not fixed. Our budget is naturally limited because it may be a risky investment for our customers. This is why we need to deliver results in a short period of agile development.
Shiokawa: There are now a number of rules and methods for agile development, but at first we were groping in the dark. Sometimes I would be fumbling around to work in a short period of time when even the requirements were not decided. After finishing it, I would be asked, "Was that agile development?" and only then would I realize that that was the case. This was around 2012, when I also first encountered the word "Scrum Master".
Scrum is one of the most common methods of agile development, but it was only a few years later that it was actually incorporated into the development process. For a healthcare application developed in the predecessor department to bit Labs, we reviewed and created the content by ourselves, and made presentations to a number of customer companies. Now that I think about it, perhaps that was the starting point for bit Labs.
Change of mindset from conventional development methods
――It seems that the projects handled by bit Labs are very different from those handled by NRI.
Shiokawa: That’s right. Waterfall-type development is based on a completely different approach. The more you learn about agile development, the deeper you understand its worldview. I hear, "Scrum is a method that emphasizes team communication. Members check on each other daily and periodically review whether or not the functions being made are correct,” and think that I have understood everything, but when actually doing it I often realize that I have not really understood anything at all. Eventually, I can clearly understand from my own experience that it is difficult to shift our mindset from conventional development methods unless an intense experience convinces us.
Ishibashi: We are entering an era where the development of new services in a short period of time is considered natural, and are aware that NRI must also adopt a new development method that matches the digital implementation capabilities of society. We at bit Labs undertake the challenge of integrating NRI's comprehensive strengths and creating optimal solutions from among new technologies, by creating an agile system together with our customers and transforming our own mindset.
――With the changing times, when it is being said that conventional development methods alone are not sufficient, what are the goals of bit Labs?
Ishibashi: I would like to create businesses that have never been imagined so far. In order to achieve this, we believe that we must create a system that connects information across industries and impacts society and business. NRI's strength lies in its ability to provide support from a neutral standpoint. Although it is still a pipe dream, we would like bit Labs to be used to establish multiple joint ventures and create physical laboratory spaces to learn and share information.
Shiokawa: At present, there are many contract projects to create what customers want, but we also want to search for what should be done together. I believe that this will lead to something innovative. We would like bit Labs to soon create unique new businesses that make it popular enough to require no introduction.
Yusuke Shiokawa(L), Takuma Ishibashi(R)
Nomura Research Institute, Ltd.
Corporate Communications Department