Underdeveloped IT Skills Challenges IP Video in Japan

By John Honovich, Published Sep 29, 2009, 08:00pm EDT

Despite, or perhaps partially due to, the great success of manufacturing hardware in Japan, the more abstract fields of IT and software development are greatly underdeveloped.  For example, the products manufactured by companies such as Panasonic, Sony, JVC, Fujitsu, Toshiba, Sanyo, Canon, Nikon, Ikegami, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc. have strong sales backed by strong reputations around the world.  However, if asked to name one famous software solution developed in Japan, nothing comes to mind.

There are several reasons for this and they all present challenges to any IP based company attempting to do business here.

[Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Japanese Video Surveillance Market Guide.]

There is very little in terms of highly-qualified human capital in IT.  Though sciences and math have a strong history in the higher education system of Japan, the focus has not shifted to computer science, networking, programming, etc.  Thus, while many of the workers in the market certainly have the basic skills necessary to be successful in IP or software development, they do not have any of the necessary knowledge or training to take advantage of the basic skills that they do have.

Nearly all job-related education is conducted by the companies who hire new graduates.  These programs generally last from between 3 months for those who will be basic “system engineers” to approximately 3 years for those who are labeled as having potential for management or executive level positions.  Though this training is certainly better than nothing, it is not the equivalent of the university programs or even on-the-job training programs that have developed the skills of IT workers and programmers in other countries.

The training varies greatly from company to company, and is generally focused very narrowly.  The goal of the training is generally to generate workers who can perform a group of specific tasks, and does not emphasize the thinking processes or concepts that drive the growth of the industry and link each of the specific tasks studied by the new entrants to a company.

If this training was then gradually broadened to other tasks related to the same specialty, workers would become specialists in a certain field able to perform all of the related tasks to the particular field.  Unfortunately, this is not how it works.  The educational practices and business environment described above have created a dearth of visionary leadership in the field.  Moreover, the task oriented focus of the industry has also created an atmosphere that is not conducive to specialization.  

Teams are created to complete a particular project for an end-user.  Workers are pulled into these teams based on their availability at the time as much as they are for any special task that they are able to achieve.  For each new project, it is necessary for them to learn a new skill-set only to the extent that they can complete their personal assignment within the new project.  As such, they must also “reinvent the wheel” rather than utilizing their own past experience and the past experiences of others to accomplish familiar tasks while applying that knowledge in creative ways to develop better solutions for the future.

In many smaller companies, these technicians are also often required to work as salesmen.  While this could theoretically improve the knowledge level of the sales-staff and allow for the consolidation of sales and technical knowledge within a single individual, it more often results in a less capable sales staff and a less capable technical support staff as well.  Employees are unable to devote the necessary time to either task to become a specialist.

This cycle has not only created a lack of visionary leaders, but also a lack of true masters of the IT or development craft.  As workers have not been able to specialize or learn the greater concepts behind tasks or projects, they are not able to gather enough background or contextual information to be able to recognize the sources of problems, find more efficient and elegant ways to successfully finish a project, or utilize the skill-sets of the other technicians around and/or under them.  Without these kinds of leaders or masters who are able to see the greater concepts, the quality of the education of new employees also suffers greatly.

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