Cloud culture gap bridged at Océ

Martin Lohmeier, CIO at Océ, met with quite some resistance at Japanese parent mother company Canon when he suggested moving toward the cloud for a specific part of Océ IT. “We are not into the cloud,” was the reply from Japan. Initially, Canon hardly used outsourcing. Meanwhile, this has changed, but only after a cultural gap had been bridged.

Océ, taken over by Canon in 2010, manufactures and sells huge industrial printers. The parent company wanted to be the world leader in printing. With the takeover of Océ, incorporated in 1877, this aim was achieved, partly because the company delivers products that are virtually unsurpassed in terms of physical size, innovations applied and performance.

Canon was incorporated in the early 1930s and was known to concentrate on photography. The company has always enjoyed strong autonomous growth. Several major takeovers took place after 2010, starting with the acquisition of Océ.

“In several respects, it looked like a marriage you could only have dreamed of. As Canon had little experience with takeovers, the integration of cultures – although international, Océ was essentially thoroughly Dutch – was difficult,” says the Océ CIO. “Little by little, we manage increasingly better to develop products together. We take the things we have in common to a higher level, and we appreciate the differences. Additionally, we are making progress in integrating and consolidating IT landscapes. In the process, Océ pursues an autonomous IT policy but consults with Canon if important choices are to be made.”

We take the things we have in common to a higher level, and we appreciate the differences

Quite remarkably, the new IT strategy lacked any reference to the cloud. This does not alter the fact that in some circumstances, according to Lohmeier, the cloud would definitely come in handy. He does not really refer to shadow IT resulting from the business using IT services of its own accord, although he admits this also occurred at Océ. An unwished-for phenomenon, since a well-protected technological edge is essential for the company. Hidden solutions in various uncontrolled clouds obviously do not help.

A structured approach was needed, therefore, inspired by pragmatism; for Océ the cloud is a means rather than an aim in itself. “IT could be faster, cheaper and better on the basis of this. It was also consistent with our efforts toward more uniformity in processes and IT systems that support this approach.”

Furthermore, the adoption of SaaS could be relevant or productive for the business. In the practice of Océ, this applied to the consolidation of some fifty legacy HRM systems, where a cloud solution was considered the most obvious option. “Convincing the Japanese management of Canon was the main challenge. In a culture as steeped in hierarchy and tradition as Japanese culture this is anything but simple,” the CIO says.

Ironically, the Japanese management was basically unfavourably disposed towards (public) cloud solutions for their own enterprise IT, while Canon was working worldwide on cloud-based solutions for its own customers. Irista is a case in point: a cloud service for safe storage and editing photographs.

Natural disasters
Why this reluctance? Lohmeier: “Nature causes the Japanese to be alert. Earthquakes and major events, such as tsunamis, have created an atmosphere in which the Japanese want to avoid risks whenever possible – an attitude that is more prevalent than among the Dutch, at any rate.”

The CIO mentions several examples to illustrate this, ranging from the first goalie mask in ice hockey to the two serious hacks at Sony that made the headlines across the world several years ago. “Canon’s perception of the public cloud is reluctant. They don’t like the idea of putting their fate into somebody else’s hands. When I went more deeply into Japanese culture and their way of thinking, I learned they are often right, by the way. This made it even harder to convince the management.”

A closer look at Japanese culture and their way of thinking taught me they are often right

According to German-born Martin Lohmeier, the differences between Japan and the Netherlands cannot be put down to behaviour alone. “Culture is much more deeply ingrained. Strategies change, the circumstances change and products change, but a culture – Japanese culture in particular – hardly changes, if at all. It is like the weather: you can complain about it, but it doesn’t help. You can’t fight a culture either.”

Shared basis
To bridge the gap, the Océ CIO decided that a shared basis had to be found first. To this end, he and the Japanese management first needed to speak the same language. This basis was afforded by lower total cost of ownership, faster implementation, improved governance, and a higher degree of predictability.

Additionally, more time and resources would remain to perform other, more business-oriented things from an IT perspective, if the cloud was accepted. Lohmeier mentions the example of being able to provide predictive maintenance for all machines on the customers’ premises, which requires smart data handling.

Once this shared agenda was in place, the uncertainty issues were addressed. Which data is really sensitive? Do we know the risks concerning implementation and operation? What do we do when things go wrong? And, not unimportant, is the cloud really faster, better and cheaper? All services were weighed and assessed on the basis of monitoring and a careful consideration of the possibilities and risks.

Eventually, SuccessFactors (a SaaS solution from SAP) was opted for. “The packages of large providers were mutually not much different in relevant functionality, but for reasons of speed we were definitely looking for a cloud solution, as it can be customised to a lesser extent than a traditional on-premise solution and because HRM processes are not distinctive for us.”

Besides, it was mainly a matter of building trust, of being consistent and predictable in meeting our promises, of configuring smooth processes, and of showing we are in control. “With our consistency in these aspects, we eventually succeeded in gaining the trust of the Japanese senior management at Canon.” Meanwhile, the HRM solution has been implemented successfully and rolled out world-wide – in time and within the budget.

Of course, finances are important, but the Japanese will never be opportunistic

Is the financial perspective all that matters? Does money beat culture in the end? Martin Lohmeier: “Of course, finances are important, but the Japanese will never be opportunistic. They have a long-term focus to a much greater extent than we do. Trust, predictability and feasibility are important to them. Only gradually, their attitude, and thus their culture too, is sometimes adjusted a little.

The nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima in 2011 had an impact on the data centres in the area. Due to this risk, some companies have moved their data centres to a safer area, in which outsourcing and the cloud were suddenly regarded as less risky than retaining data centres in an area with a recent history of earthquakes. At Océ, we have firmly set our sights on both public and private cloud solutions – after a profound analysis of the benefits and possible risks in every case.”

by Hotze Zijlstra

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