Trends in Japanese Technology Management

Article excerpt

This is the second in a series of occasional reviews of the literature on a timely topic. The first, on the critical conditions for successful innovation, appeared in RTM, March-April 1994, pp. 60-61.

Technology management is Gijutsu Keiei or Gijutsu Kanri in Japanese. There are very few Japanese publications that directly discuss either term. There are, however, many articles on technology policy that reveal current thinking on technology management.

Our review of recent articles and books reveals that current discussions of Japanese technology management are based on a keen realization by Japan's leaders that what made the country successful in the past is no longer applicable in today's harsh competitive reality.

The 1994 Science and Technology White Paper contains the accepted explanation of drastic changes occurring in Japanese technology management (1). Its subtitle, "Japan in the World in Transition," reveals that Japan believes it is facing a turbulent global situation. Industrialized countries are exerting strong pressure in advanced technologies. Japan especially sees the strong re-emergence of the United States. Asian neighbors are strong competitors in low-end manufacturing and high-volume quality products which were traditionally the monopoly of Japanese industry.

Internal pressures come from an aging population, disinterest of youth in science and technology, slow recovery from the bubble economy's collapse, and growing disenchantment of employees with overwork and increased job insecurity.

Japan's technology managers are slowly developing strategies to cope with the situation. They have identified several key elements for economic recovery. These include R&D for innovative technologies, the development and dissemination of computer-based information technology, the transfer of manufacturing technologies and some developmental work to countries with low labor costs, and international cooperation in advanced R&D.

The managers largely accept the notion that the shift of manufacturing and some critical technological activities overseas could result in the "hollowing-out" of domestic manufacturing activities, and cause increased unemployment. Yet they feel these shifts are inevitable for the survival of their industries and will bring benefits to Japan as well as the entire world in the long run.

Insights from JATES

One of the most valuable sources for assessing current trends in Japanese technology management is the magazine Gijutsu to Keizai (Technology and Economy), published by the Japan Techno-Economic Society (JATES) (2). JATES members include senior managers of major companies, high ranking government officials, and nationally-known university professors. They routinely conduct seminars entitled Gijutsu Keiei Kaigi (Technology Management Conference) to which they invite industry leaders and management specialists to present their views and participate in roundtable discussions.

Topics covered in JATES technology management seminars shed light on the issues being discussed by Japanese technology managers. Recent topics have included technology transfer, creative R&D, technology hollowing-out, Omron's concept and strategies for company management for the 21st century, Japan-China joint venture companies, technology globalization, Siberian resources, the micron-size world opened by electron waves, UNIX-based operational and control systems, concurrent engineering and CALS, U.S.-Japan technology agreements, cooperation and competition, and intellectual property protection issues.

One particular JATES publication worth reading is Made in Japan (3). Japanese technology managers believe that MIT's famous book, Made in America, played an important role in revitalizing the sagging U.S. economy and the inefficient manufacturing industries of the 1980s (4). Hoping to inspire their own technology managers, JATES published its own version entitled Made in Japan, edited by Prof. …