The NTT Communications Group is creating opportunities to conduct discussions with various stakeholders, with the view to engaging in a dialogue that facilitates closer communication.
The NTT Communications Group actively conducts CSR activities through its core businesses based on the theme of “providing communications that serve people, communities and the global environment.” In this dialogue session, we invited Ms. Maki Saito, an expert on social businesses, to participate in a discussion on what kinds of CSR activities can be implemented through NTT Communications' ICT services.
[The Social Utility of ICT]
“ICT in itself is a social service that underpins socio-economic activity.”
- With a variety of social issues coming to the fore these days, there are rising expectations around the world for social businesses to provide solutions to these issues. Japan is a case in point. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake (March 11, 2011), Japan's society as a whole has started to adopt a more “social” orientation. What are the possibilities for ICT services in this context?
- First, the ICT services we provide comprise technologies and services that have a compelling social dimension in their own right. As you know, the birth of the Internet has paved the way for means of social communication that was previously impossible. In our role as a communications services provider, we feel both responsibility and pride in having made a sizable contribution to the advancement of society in these respects.
Moreover, as a company that supports social and economic activities through ICT services, NTT Communications sees its social mission as “bridge” different elements of society. One definition of data communications is technology that enables communications across time and distance barriers. That being the case, I believe that NTT Communications is well positioned to continue making a growing contribution to society through its core businesses going forward.
- How did you respond to the Great East Japan Earthquake?
- The Great East Japan Earthquake caused extensive damage and untold hardship for many people. Data communications networks were also hit hard. The NTT Group moved quickly to restore communications services to its customers. In addition to launching a public telephone service using satellite communications, we worked hard to restore severed communications cables and damaged telephone exchange equipment.
As the extent of the damage became clear, we learned that the earthquake disrupted a broad range of services for many of our customers. For example, one of our customer companies was unable to continue operations at a call center in Sendai due to the absence of staff members. We responded by rerouting calls to the call center to Tokyo and Osaka. Furthermore, office work was rendered difficult in many locations as a result of the earthquake. To solve this issue, NTT Communications helped to develop cloud-based telecommuting environments. In other areas, we received many inquiries for services that could be used to verify the safety of employees.
- By enabling communications across time and distance barriers, ICT should prove useful in assisting society in many different ways. I hope that NTT Communications continues to listen carefully to society's needs, and uses what it learns to develop new technologies. If it does so, it may be able to develop a service that is even more symbolic of its commitment to society.
- I also believe that it is very important and meaningful to explore what technology can do to help solve the variety of social issues that are becoming apparent. In actual practice, networks and various terminal devices are enabling us to do many different things that were not possible before. For our part, we aim to open up a wide range of new opportunities by accelerating research and development.
[The Potential of Social Businesses]
“We aim to steadily contribute to society through our core businesses in fields such as cloud computing and smart communities.”
- I know of a U.S. outdoor supplies manufacturer specialized in manufacturing environmentally friendly products. It became first in its industry—and the world—to manufacture fleece garments from recycled plastic PET bottles. At present, the company is managing merchandise using a system that it developed to analyze and assess environmental impact in the product manufacturing stage. Looking ahead, the company aims to take this system to the next level by developing an industry-wide shared system for providing environmental impact information simply by scanning a garment. I believe that such win-win arrangements that benefit all stakeholders will become crucial.
- Scanning technology has seen technological development progress to a fairly sophisticated level. Traditionally, business-to-business (B-to-B) and business-to-consumer (B-to-C) communication was the norm. However, at this point, we are seeing significant technological advancement in machine-to-machine (M-to-M) communications. I believe that the use of ICT in such new domains will also be very helpful to developing services in social businesses.
In addition, there has been growing interest in renewable energy out of concerns about the environment. Renewable energy, which taps natural sources of energy, is characterized by its lack of stability. Therefore, smart community technology that can perform sophisticated control of the supply-demand balance for electricity in a distributed and autonomous power grid will become essential. There is plenty of scope for ICT companies like us to make a positive contribution. In fact, we intend to make steady strides in these fields.
In other areas, we also believe that there are similar opportunities in cloud computing services.
- The phrase “cloud computing” certainly seems to be used almost every day as a keyword for the future. How will society change as cloud computing advances?
- Sometimes, one truly appreciates the benefits of ICT services only after actually trying them. I believe that cloud computing services are a prime example. Cloud computing technology can be used to entrust information “in the cloud.” In Japan, after koseki (family register) records were actually swept away by the tsunami, people have started to consider whether it is better to keep information close at hand, or entrust it to a safe place. The Great East Japan Earthquake caused untold suffering, but the fact remains that it has also given us a perfect opportunity to seriously consider transitioning to cloud computing services.
In addition to entrusting information, cloud computing services allow routine work that all companies must perform to be processed in the cloud. This frees up companies to focus on more creative work. I'm confident that cloud computing and other ICT services can contribute to the recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake, as well as to the revival of Japan's economy.
[Various Initiatives and Themes Leading to the Fulfillment of CSR]
“One important CSR theme for NTT Communications is building an organization where employees can derive a sense of achievement in the course of business operations.”
- Our discussion so far has shown that ICT services constitute a business for which there are compelling social needs. How does NTT Communications want to pursue CSR activities?
- NTT Communications is an ICT services company focused on infrastructure business. The primary social role of a company like ours is to ensure that we provide services that people require. In this light, we believe that it is crucial to steadily implement CSR through our core businesses. Moreover, we believe that such CSR activities increase the likelihood for companies to achieve sustainable growth.
- Internet addresses, telephone numbers and other data are important private information. Certain groups of people, such as women, do not want to make such information public due to safety concerns. The “050 Anshin (Safe) Number” service provided by NTT Communications is an example of a social service in your core business that answers such needs.
- “050 Anshin (Safe) Number” was launched as a service to provide an alternative phone number “for public use” to protect the privacy of our customers. The service has proven highly popular. These phone numbers are used by customers for Internet shopping, member registration, and for telephone directories and other lists for their children. They are also useful in business situations. For example, the service is used by proprietors of private lesson businesses, and as a dedicated telephone number for meetings to promote interaction between people in different business sectors.
Using the same arrangement, we also provide a service called Wan Nyan Ber as a way to find lost pets. With this service, customers can write a dedicated telephone number with a 050 prefix on a collar or a “lost animal” tag. The service enables people who find lost pets to easily contact the pets' owners.
- That is a unique service indeed. Do you have a special team that develops such services?
- We have a system for soliciting various ideas from within the Company, but we don't have a special team as such. The solicitation of ideas is a considerably lively affair at NTT Communications. With regard to CSR, we believe that it is important to respect the diversity of each and every employee, while promoting the development of a fulfilling workplace environment. The mission of our business operations is to provide even better value-added services to customers. When customers are happy with such value-added services, employees feel that they have achieved something significant. That is why we believe that another important theme is how to develop an organization where employees can derive a sense of achievement in the course of daily business operations.
[CSR Activities Ahead]
“Corporations and employees can reaffirm that they are members of society by voluntarily participating in CSR activities.”
- In terms of contributing to society, our most important mission is to realize a secure society that offers peace of mind by providing highly reliable data communications services. We also believe that it is important for the company and employees to voluntarily participate in social contribution activities while remembering that they are members of society.
One social contribution program we conduct is the Chichibu Rice Terrace Revitalization Project. The program entered its fourth year in 2011. It is carried out in cooperation with the non-profit organization Chichibu Environmental Association. Every year, all NTT Communications Group personnel, as well as their families, participate in large numbers. The participants perform everything from preparing rice fields to planting and harvesting. In other areas, the NTT Communications Group is also involved in tree-planting activities and other programs. I have personally participated in such programs. These social contribution programs involving employee participation provide precious opportunities to experience what would not be possible in your normal daily routine. Another key feature is that all participants show increased interest in and awareness of CSR activities after taking part in such programs.
- Social contribution programs involving employee participation are certainly important. Because participation and hard work make the experience memorable for employees, these programs can pave the way for new insights and ideas. For example, one outdoor shoe manufacturer collaborated with a non-profit organization (NPO), manufacturing shoes from the perspective of the NPO's goals. The company found that these shoes sold very well.
- The wonderful thing is that there might be a certain type of communication that is only possible by accomplishing this type of work. Communities are not formed by work alone; it is also important to consider how to foster camaraderie among people. The collective experience of working together as a team to achieve an ambitious, common objective is an irreplaceable asset that fosters personal growth.
First, I want all employees to recognize that CSR activities are implemented in the course of normal daily operations, and are not something difficult. I also want them to know that there are many in-house programs they can easily participate in. To this end, I would like to steadily increase opportunities for employees to communicate with one another through shared experiences that fit people's natural instincts. I'm sure that these opportunities will give employees the chance to think about how they can contribute. Going forward, I want employees to be able to participate easily in many more of these programs.
For example, I would like to increase opportunities where our people can get together and actively consider proposals from the R&D departments and expansion into new fields, among other topics, addressing questions such as, “Isn't there more that we can do?” and “What should we do to contribute?” In the process, we will focus on social businesses and other such fields based on your suggestions. We are constantly being put to the test in terms of what kind of contribution we can make to society through our core businesses. Therefore, we aim to pursue unique CSR activities that befit the NTT Communications Group.
- Ms. Maki Saito
Ms. Maki Saito is the Representative Director of ASU International LLC and a CSR consultant. She is also an Assistant Professor at SBI University Graduate School. She is Chair of the Human Security Forum and a member of the Expert Committee of the Meguro Environmental Deliberation Council. She graduated with a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs in New York, U.S.A. She is the author of such books as “100 Simple Ways to Change the World for the Better” (Kodansha) and “Social Entrepreneur - New Trends in the Social Responsibility Business” (Iwanami Shinsho). She also translated and provided commentary for “An Introduction to Social Business” (Nikkei BP).