The Cloud as Seen from the Land of the Shikinen Sengu Ceremony
May 29, 2020
At the end of 2019, several years after the last Shikinen Sengu ceremony in 2013, I visited the Ise Shrine, where I had not been for some time. Shikinen Sengu is held every 20 years and involves cutting down trees to build a new structure identical to the original sanctuary. The formerly vivid color of the unvarnished wood of the Uji-Bashi Bridge over the Isuzu River was a thing of the past, now buried in the color of nature. Many of the shrines had also blended into the forest after several years of aging. Locals were already talking of the next Sengu, and I was impressed anew that this tradition has continued for more than 1,000 years. Not just the work of politicians, but also the presence of a culture towards which similar sentiments were shared widely among the people must have been needed to continue the tradition of Sengu for more than 1,000 years, while adhering to ancient techniques and construction modes. Trees are already being cultivated in the neighboring mountains in preparation for the next few hundred years. It truly shows a magnificent cultural sensibility.
Three key points in formulating a company’s cloud strategy
Those of us in the world of IT inevitably are aware of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) as part of the business environment and consequently seek business opportunities overseas. When I talk to officers in charge of planning at global companies overseas, regardless of the topic of conversation, I feel strongly that they always take the “future” and the “world” as a premise. That is because the future exists on a globally shared platform realized by investments by GAFA. Below, I offer some thoughts on formulating strategies premised on the cloud.
First, we must share the same future world with others. Why? Because investment cannot be scaled such that a single company can survive on its own. What is important here is not that strategies are mutually compatible, but that visions and cultures are. It is not possible to unify a business entity consisting of hundreds of thousands of people and tens of billions of dollars with strategy alone. It is essential to have a vision to aspire to and a culture towards which people share similar sentiments. Sustainability is not realized by a company’s business model or scale of capital; it requires the support of a vision towards which stakeholders share similar sentiments and a culture that embodies that vision.
When people overseas ask me what I am, I tell them about Shikinen Sengu. While enjoying the surprise I see rise up in their eyes, I feel that asking ourselves to consider the significance of the fact that Japanese companies exist on the premise of Japanese culture is truly what it takes to obtain global sentiment.
Second, we must develop the readiness to face the cloud. The most important thing is to understand that services on the cloud “are destined to break from the start, and are built with the assumption of being rebuilt” (we of the Sengu culture are surely capable of this). The advantage of the cloud is that when carrying out a large-scale business, it is possible to make a lean start without preparing large-scale IT resources in advance. This seems similar to the use of electricity, but the difference is that cloud players, unlike infrastructure companies such as power companies, do invest in the stability and continuity of the service, but give no guarantee with regard to services to be placed thereon.
A company that builds a service on the cloud must itself endeavor to continually provide customers with functions such as protection of customer information, security, and compliance, and it requires unexpectedly and surprisingly massive maintenance and management costs to realize these functions on the cloud. It wouldn’t matter if the company was not responsible for service provision when something breaks, but providing a sustainable (this word is difficult to define; it is once more necessary to fully explain to customers the sustainability of the service) business depends on having everyday “preparation for emergencies” and also being able to prepare for “moving house (cloud transition)” in ten-year units. Various services will be provided on the platform, and at what level and to what extent the company will bear responsibility is surely essential in maintaining the company’s brand.
Third, we must develop a real sense of what “expansion” means. Until recently, information was exchanged by a certain format between companies or between an individual and a company, and credit and the like served as the foundation of business. However, now that all data exists on the platform, business is achieved by facing the reality that lies ahead of the company or individual before our eyes. This is not an era in which only the protocol of data exchange with a company or an individual alone is important. Individual scoring in a controlled society comes up as a topic when it comes to this perspective, but speaking from a constructive viewpoint, we can think of analyzing climate data or land or sea area data and formulating a proposal for the business of a client. Companies that have a sense of expanding the business that lies ahead of their clients are the ones that will be able to win the trust and sentiment of their stakeholders, and as a result they will achieve augmented returns. What is important here is that technology must stand on the side of social justice. That is because the pursuit of technolust alone cannot be continual.
Rethinking our own culture will lead to cloud strategy for Japanese companies
If I may tell a personal story, I was born in the “month when there are gods” (the tenth month of the lunar calendar, when the gods travel to the Izumo Shrine; known as the “month without gods” in other parts of Japan, but as the “month with gods” locally) and grew up in that region. In that region, the gods are a familiar presence in many events, and we called them “Yaegaki-san” or “Inari-san” (using the polite prefix “san” instead of the honorific prefix “sama”). They were not absolute gods, but gods present in our everyday lives.
I believe that rethinking our cultural sensibilities is needed to survive in a global and cloud-native age.