Innovation starts from encounter – Challenge for co-creation
The following is a discussion between three people; Mr. Shigeru Kawashima, CEO of Via-at, Inc., the company that developed and provides the “via-at” platform which allows shops, cafes, and other facilities to make use of free space by installing a simple co-working space; Ms. Tomomi Yoshida from the Epson Sales Japan Corporation DX Planning Section, who uses her knowledge mainly in the field of printing to work with Via-at, Inc. in proposing new work space ideas; and Mr. Akihisa Obara, from the Seiko Epson Corporation DX Strategic Promotion Section. They talked about how people and companies are coming into contact under the new normal, and the creation of new value through co-creation.
■Mr. Shigeru Kawashima
CEO of Via-at, Inc.
■Ms. Tomomi Yoshida
General Manager of DX Planning Department, Epson Sales Japan Corporation
Manager of DX Strategic Planning Department, Seiko Epson Corporation
*Terms of address are abbreviated during the text.
Challenging to the latest service as use case, co-creation to enhance the value of the place
My company is currently in the business of providing a special platform that allows stores and other retail facilities, cafés, and other locations to turn any free space they might have available into a simple co-working space, with the intent of increasing the number of work spots in the city. In terms of how we are seeking to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, the service we have created does have its own strengths, of course, such as a check-in system that can be used simply by displaying your smartphone, but ultimately it all comes down to the extent to which you can heighten the value of the location being used. This is because, from the perspective of the users, the co-working space business is a very simple one; users are going to work in that space and pay money for the location and the time they spend in it. That means you need to provide reasons for them to want to do so even at a cost to themselves. The only way to achieve that, I believe, is by providing additional value that other places don’t have.
As we are currently dealing with the effects of COVID-19, the value of everywhere feels like it is just dropping down and down. How to combat that adds another important layer to all this.
That’s true. That’s why, recently, I’ve become focused on the keyword of co-creation, realized by connecting people and companies together and creating new value as a result. Ending up working with Epson. on this project is a textbook example of what I’m talking about. The printing field is a vital companion to the workspace industry, and so being able to approach clients already having a high quality, highly convenient service all locked down is most definitely a strength when it comes to expanding our business. Even better, rather than just providing equipment and services, we have been together in this since the formation of the original idea, meaning we should be able to continue to provide the optimal service for varying usage scenarios in the future.
We have always retailed our products with a keen awareness of how easy and flexible the actual printers are to use, —but providing the optimal service for each usage scenario is not considered enough.
Actually, when I go to the owner with Mr. Kawashima, there are many things that I can see, for example, when an unspecified number of people use the printer all at once in a co-working space , what kind of functions should be provided, how to make the user interface easier to understand, etc., and by creating it together with partners, we can notice what we did not recognized . In this way we try to create a situation where more people can make use.
People get together, meet and connect, then innovation begins
On the topic of co-creation, there’s a location in Marunouchi, Tokyo called Route Café and Things which is using our exclusive platform and has started into the co-working space business, and the staff there told me something interesting. People who don’t know each other, complete strangers, and who would never otherwise have the chance to meet during their everyday lives, are using that workspace together because they’re via-at users.
Watching this happen, it’s almost like they are forming their own community, and it would be incredible if new businesses were to be formed as a result of these meetings. When I heard that, I thought it was really great. That member of staff was talking specifically about via-at users, but any people who gather in one location are there because they have some kind of reason in common, bringing them there. In other words, these are people with some element that connects them, and so I don’t think it strange at all that this should lead to some sort of new form of exchange.
Those kinds of special meetings are rare things, but they can happen if you are in the right place. I think co-working spaces leading to the creation of communities would be a dream come true. One could almost call that the beginning of open innovation.
In Epson Sales Japan Corp., we often talk about how attractiveness changes depending on how the workspace environment can be enriched. In the past I wouldn’t have proposed anything other than Epson printers and projectors, but recently the topic came up of lending out sub-monitors and USB blankets, which seems attractive service. I’ve started to feel how expanding the circle of co-creation can lead to the provision of even more interesting and customer needed services.
This isn’t all coincidence, solving social issues and creating new value
Changing topic, a little, during the state of emergency in April to May last year, everyone was told to stay inside, and to be honest that really crippled our business. No one was allowed to move around, and the spaces themselves had to close, so for a while we had to suspend the service completely. After all of that, however—once the state of emergency was lifted—people started talking about the new normal in terms of working, and it was around that point that suddenly everyone seemed pretty understanding of the ideas that we have espoused up until now but never got much traction—such as multi-location working—and the issues that society faces in regard to working. People who agree with what we’re doing continue to increase in number, including Epson and other business owners who are starting co-working spaces, and that’s providing a real boost to push us further along with this. On top of that, with the COVID pandemic many people in the world are looking for places that they feel comfortable, and so—as I said at the beginning—I want to really begin heightening the value of places as much as I possibly can.
The situation with the COVID-19 crisis is also accelerating DX in many different areas. Mr. Kawashima mentioned the boost it is providing, and I also feel that we are getting a very strong push from behind due to this. First, we’re committed to supporting the proof of concept tests we’re performing at places like Route Café and Things, or kaien Hostel & Café Bar in Aizuwakamatsu—where we are also offering a service in tandem with Mr. Kawashima—until they can be formed into the kind of model cases that can be applied absolutely anywhere. As Ms. Yoshida said earlier, this is very different from the business of providing products that Epson has conducted up until now; one of the most difficult aspects of co-creation is that there are constant demands for us to update and improve our own operation. Of course it is very interesting as well, and we have been able to meet many people who believe in the same goals as us—including Mr. Kawashima and the owners of various work spaces—and so I’m hoping to make effective use of the knowledge from various people while proposing the resolutions to issues and doing whatever I can to create new values.
With Route Café and Things, we’ve been developing the business together while communicating pretty closely for around one year now, and while at the start we mainly just handled everything online, recently I have really started to feel a new type of relationship between people forming. On the other hand, meeting like this today with you folks from Epson in a different format from normal, chatting face to face, I’ve learned that we really are all thinking pretty much the same things. That makes me think that, ultimately, this isn’t all coincidence; just like the communities of people using working spaces that we already discussed, I think there’s something special that has brought us together to meet.