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Connecting digital and people

Posted on by from Fujitsu

An exclusive interview with Michael Keegan, CEO, Fujitsu.

Change is order of the decade

If business leaders have learned one thing over the past few years about the future of work, it’s that it is far from certain. The pace of globalisation has never been faster; the imbalance between old and young has never been so dramatic; and the growth of technology has never been quicker.

In a world where change is not just order of the day, but order of the decade, businesses need to constantly innovate to keep ahead of the curve. And with that, frame these prevalent macro-economic shifts as opportunities rather than challenges; future proofing your talent strategy to spur your organisation forward.

This is the exact mission that global IT services giant, Fujitsu, is undertaking. In the view of UK & Ireland CEO Michael Keegan, it is people that will ultimately drive success. “Fujitsu is a great company with lots of brilliant technology, but people are the essence. When customers buy Fujitsu, they are buying the dedication and professionalism of our people. The technology doesn’t walk and talk; people do.”

And Keegan sees his role as leading and inspiring the people, listening to colleagues and getting their knowledge and expertise and being able to deploy that in a way that can take business forward. “My role is not about micromanaging or having all the answers. It’s about giving people the freedom to run the business,” he reveals.

Making computing human-centric

Fujitsu is the world’s fourth-largest IT services provider and number one in Japan. Outside Japan, the UK & Ireland is the organisation’s biggest – and most profitable – region, with 12,000 employees and an annual turnover of £1.75 billion.

But providing great technology products alone is not enough. So Fujitsu’s mission is to enable people to connect ideas and technology so they can thrive in a new digital world, characterised by connectivity. The organisation’s core value proposition, which supports all Connecting digital and people its operations, is ‘making computing human-centric’ – which for Keegan, is a more liberating concept.

“We’re here to help organisations work out how they present themselves to the market and customers in a way that’s digitally enabled, while not throwing everything they have done to date away. It’s about helping them through that challenge by linking up their established operational back end with a more digitally enabled digital front end. That’s where we can add value,” he says.

A disconnected world?

To understand how the market is changing and how customers are feeling, Fujitsu regularly carries out primary research projects. The most recent of these, Digital Inside Out, surveyed 1,000 UK adults, 1,400 UK employees and 100 people without home internet access, to discover their views on the digital revolution and assess the challenges and opportunities that digital brings for organisations.

Some 73% of employees said digital is vital for the future success of their organisation, but only 45% felt they had the right access to technology for them to do their job. “People don’t feel enabled to take advantage of technology – there’s a frustration and lack of empowerment there,” comments Keegan.

Much has been written about the transformative impact of Generations Y and Z, who are now entering workplaces – and bringing with them a different set of expectations about technology at work. This puts pressure on organisations to meet this growing demand, both in the workplace and in the consumer market, or face being left behind.

This growing expectation played out in Fujitsu’s research. Two-thirds of respondents said they felt their organisation needed to invest more in technology in the next two years. “Employees are saying that technology is ‘game changing’ how we do our work, interact with customers and get insights into the market – so if you don’t invest we won’t be as effective for you. So there’s a reality check for businesses between short-termism and long-term change and benefit,” says Keegan.

But why, in Keegan’s view, is this not happening already? “There may be a reticence in investing in technology because businesses either don’t understand it or are cautious about spending in the wake of the economic crisis,” he suggests.

The importance of impatience

Keegan argues that digital technology is becoming more than just a connector or an enabler: it is a national obsession and a pastime in its own right. Indeed, people in the UK spend almost nine hours every day on media devices (more time than they spend asleep) while as much as £100 million was spent over the Christmas period in the UK last year.

For Keegan, today’s consumer is characterised by impatience – signalled by the ‘on demand’ mentality that pervades many products, services and industries today – most noticeably banking, hospitality and retail. This mindset was echoed in the survey, which revealed that 50% of the UK population is not happy with digital in general.

“People can’t understand why service providers have to take them through different layers, processes and steps, to interact with them. Younger generations in particular want it now – and are not prepared to wait.”

Enabling efficiency at Fujitsu

So how is Fujitsu responding to this expectation and delivering digitally enabled services for its own employees? According to Keegan, the organisation is working towards a culture that acknowledges the digital revolution and does not bind employees by making everyone work in the same traditional ways. “We understand that, in order to be truly digital, you’ve got to be digital from the inside out; ensuring employees have the same digital capability as the customers they serve, enabling us to create a more personal and improved service,” he explains.

“We want to liberate people so they can be where they need to be to do their work. If you have someone who is stuck in traffic for two hours every day because of a need to be in the office ‘because that’s what work is’, it just doesn’t make sense. I think that’s the biggest way we can enable our employees to be more productive, more efficient and more motivated. Technology can enable that – and we have to be at the forefront of it.”

And being able to practise what you preach while enabling employees to be more liberated is a thoroughly good thing for Keegan.

While he acknowledges that, with an ageing workforce, there might be people in the organisation who have perhaps grown up with more ‘traditional’ working practices and find such transitions difficult, he wants the technology company to be at the forefront of digital change.

“There might be people who feel uncomfortable, but we are a technology company so you have to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says. “We want to help people get on that page by leading and incentivising them rather than being dogmatic about it. If you encourage people it’s so much more powerful.”

Fujitsu encourages employees across the organisation – including the senior leadership team – to utilise tools such as social media to interact with customers, stakeholders and other colleagues. “Responding in real time is how the world is now,” Keegan adds.

Embedding global consistency

Over the past four years, Fujitsu has been on a major journey to establish global consistency among its operations, underpinned by the brand promise: “shaping tomorrow with you”. And while it would be easy to dismiss this approach as little more than an advertising slogan, Keegan insists this captures what the
company really represents – it was formed after extensive interviews with customers, partners and employees. And he puts the personification of this brand promise down in part to the “inspirational leadership” of president Masami Yamamoto, who undertook his role in April 2010.

“We now have a simple model for our company – with five key regions and three big capabilities. If Fujitsu can represent its brand with a consistent experience for customers, we become easy to deal with – we can deploy technology and people consistently and our growth can power on the back of that,” he explains.

As part of the journey to become more internationalised, Keegan is confident there will be more people in different parts of the world getting experiences, which in turn will create a “more rounded” employee base. “I encourage people to get to know colleagues in other markets, exchange ideas and learn from them. Don’t just be bound by the UK – you need an international perspective on technology and your market.”

Driving diversity

Increasing the number of perspectives (or “lenses” as Keegan terms them) in the organisation is a central strategic focus for Fujitsu in the years to come. “The only way you are going to be successful is to listen and make your decisions based on the maximum number of inputs you can get,” he argues. However, he admits this is an area where technology companies “have a lot of work to do”, particularly around gender diversity.

“Our industry is too blokey. We need to address this and role model women in the organisation – to get the message back into education that technology is a great place to work – and its power to change the world is immense.”

Beyond its diversity aspirations, Keegan recognises the need to engage with future talent and, as such, has several partnerships with schools and universities across the UK – helping students with employability skills and educating them on the world of work and the careers available in technology.

“Technology helps to make the world a better place and to be part of that is exciting for young people. As one of the biggest employers in the UK, we have a real responsibility to inspire young people into the sector.

“There’s not enough intersection between schools and business. If we want to live in an economy where we can generate the tax revenues to pay for our elderly and central care, we have to have a thriving business sector – so it’s in the direct interests of business and education to be joined together,” he says.

‘Bring your whole self to work’

For Keegan, the biggest macro-economic change that will influence the world of work is the ageing population. “The idea of having a career for 30 years and then retiring is old-fashioned,” he says.

“To have the standard of living you want you may end up working longer.” He anticipates a shift in people wanting to work on a part-time, flexible basis and observes this already playing out.

Keegan would like to see a world where people are more trusted and more empowered at work – and measured on their outputs rather than their capacity to be in one workspace.

“How much do we lose by travelling to the office every day? It’s an old fashioned concept of work,” he declares.
“Technology will enable people to fit work in with other parts of their lives, so there won’t be a massive divide between business and work lives.“We will be able to join these things up in an intelligent way in society going forward, which I hope will release a lot of efficiency.”

Creating a workspace where employees feel confident to bring their whole selves to work is paramount for Keegan too. This, he suggests, will not only drive motivation among employees, but also drive profitability.

And when it comes to his own role, Keegan acknowledges the need for humility. “The most important lesson I’ve learned in my career is to listen a lot, and don’t assume you have all the answers,” he says. “My colleagues have got so much skill, so I want to help them to contribute at their best.

“If I can facilitate an environment where people are more engaged, more enabled and will jump out of bed daily and do a 5% better job, the multiplication of that x12,000 is more than any one thing that I can do in terms of my individual value add to the business,” he concludes.

Michael Keegan

By Michael Keegan

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