OMRON窶冱 Digital Design to Support the Creation of Social Needs

I often come across with a keyword "VUCA" in daily life, as in "the coming of the age of VUCA with an uncertain future" and "DX that supports sustainable growth of companies in the VUCA era." That said, the VUCA era did not just arrive one day like a comet. For example, in SINIC Theory 1) advocated by Kazuma Tateishi, the founder of OMRON, the arrival of the VUCA era was already discussed in the 1970s when the information society was just around the corner, although of course the term VUCA was not used at that time. It is no exaggeration to say that agile development, design thinking, and other aspects have been created to deal with VUCA.

So why do we now frequently see the phrase "VUCA era," which is both a new and old word, around us? I believe that the answer lies in the fact that VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) has been discussed in the past, but its amplitude and magnitude have become too large to ignore, and in fact, the scale of its impact on businesses and business models has grown exponentially. In this sense, digital design, which appears in the title of this article, is one of the important functions that prepares us for an era when the amplitude or magnitude of VUCA exceeds a certain threshold.

In this article, digital design is primarily meant as a technology that supports DX in the engineering chain. The technology behind this digital design is expected to play the following three roles in the VUCA era:

(1) Role in dealing with volatility and uncertainty

In order for our engineering chain to quickly keep up and keep pace with the rapid changes in the market environment, feedback response will be much more required than ever before. The keys are prediction and discovery. The role of digital design is to utilize all available data to accurately predict changes in the environment and identify bottlenecks in the process of responding to the changes. Here, the final decision when discovering bottlenecks in responding to changes is left to humans. Digital design technology has an important role to play in visualizing candidate bottlenecks and providing decision-making support for humans to discover the bottlenecks. Also, the key to dealing with the uncertainty in future prospects is to increase efficiency (= reduces costs as a result) through digitalization.

(2) Role in dealing with complexity

In an increasingly complex market and business environment, it is necessary to consider how to unravel and simplify the intricately intertwined elements. Digital design contributes to factorizing and simplifying complex business processes or facilitating the optimization and automation of operational processes. Here, too, digital design plays a role in making discoveries for simplification and providing decision-making support for reducing bottlenecks in the simplification.

(3) Role in dealing with ambiguity

The essence of ambiguity lies in the imprecision and opacity of information. Digital design has a role of providing decision-making support that promotes information sharing through the visualization of data itself or knowledge based on data analysis, leading to faster decision making.

As discussed so far, technologies that support digital design have five key functions窶廃rediction, discovery, improvement of efficiency, visualization, and decision-making support窶杯o assist the three roles expected in the VUCA era. In OMRON TECHNICS 167, the value of these five key functions of digital design is presented using six concrete examples. I hope that these six examples will give you a glimpse into OMRON's vision of the near future of digital design.

Digital design has two implications. One is design by digital. The implication is to create designs by fully utilizing technologies including AI, various technologies to analyze data, visualization technology, and simulation which specifically implement the five key functions. Another is design of digital. The implication is to take a deep look at questions such as "What do we need to digitalize?" and "What is the essence of DX?" to evolve our business and business models. In both of these implications, it is important to aim for a human-centric social implementation through collaboration and harmonization between humans and machines, rather than leaving it up solely to people, machines, or technology.

Last, I would like to conclude this introduction with an episode that will symbolize and convey the situation of the current era in which I am writing this manuscript for those who would read this article somewhere in the future.

Episode: The text in some parts of this introduction was generated by generative AI, the latest tool of digital design in the sense of design by digital, (of course, the text is not the output of the AI as is but has been edited by the author). Dear readers, can you tell which part of this article was written by generative AI?

Nakama, S. (2022). SINIC Riron (SINIC Theory). JMA Management Center. P. 268.

Masaki Suwa
Masaki Suwa
Executive Officer, Senior General Manager, Technology & Intellectual Property HQ, OMRON Corporation and President and CEO, OMRON SINIC X Corporation