Michio Baba joined IPsoft as VP of Sales for Japan in November. Before joining IPsoft, Michio was at Nuance Communications, where he worked as Sales and Marketing Director for 14 years, and most recently served as Country Manager for Japan where he delivered 300% year-over-year revenue growth in FY2019.
In this Q&A, we talk to Michio about his plans for bringing IPsoft’s autonomic and cognitive AI solutions to customers in the region, how enterprises there are currently applying AI, and what he sees as opportunities for growth.
What are your key objectives as IPsoft’s new VP of Sales for Japan?
My mission and ultimate objective is to increase revenue in Japan. For that to happen, I need to increase our overall presence in Japan, create a strong sales team and culture, and identify key strategic partners to drive opportunities through these partners.
What are some key challenges unique to your region in regards to enterprise businesses adopting AI?
Japanese customers are highly interested in AI and conversational AI. However, a lot of customers are very slow in decision making and require at least one or a few POCs [proof of concepts] before making any decisions. So, we really need to be an evangelist with customers. We are not selling technology solutions — we are selling value. We need to educate executives on what’s going on outside of Japan. Since Japan is an island, everyone wants to know what’s working outside of the country and see if those same models can be replicated there successfully. We need to prove it.
What advice would you give to enterprise clients who are interested in investing in automation and cognitive AI, but have yet to take the first step?
Japanese society can benefit from automation and cognitive AI in a couple of key ways: Improve our workforce and enhance our healthcare system. We have the third largest economy in the world with a decreasing and aging population — 28% of our population is over 65 years old.
It’s difficult to hire in Japan these days because we have less people who can work, and those who can work do not want to do repetitive work anymore. It costs a lot of time and money to train someone and to retain those employees. Additional labor from AI can take care of that.
Our healthcare needs to be updated with conversational AI and it can be a strong message to Japanese society, not just for enterprise business but also for our healthcare system.
In order to maintain growth in our economy, we need to bring in AI, [and] we need to bring in additional labor to do the repetitive work. Everyone in Japan should be educated on that. Fortunately, IPsoft has the solution and that will be our message. We need to show more proof points and value propositions to show people in Japan that [IPsoft technology] will work.
What are some unique applications of AI that you are currently seeing in Japan? What business challenges are they addressing, and what kind of business value are they delivering?
[F]or contact centers, we see more use cases of conversational AI being deployed; for instance, when agents get calls from customers, their desktops will dictate everything the customer and agent said, AI will extract that information from the database so that the agent can have a more proactive conversation with customers. That’s the largest use of AI in Japan right now.
We are seeing AI deployed in online banking as physical branches begin to shift to virtual. I have seen RPA enhanced with AI deep learning technology for the same reason — a decrease in population — and we need the technology to take care of those simple business processes.
We are also starting to see more smart home and smart car devices utilizing AI. In Japan, our biggest companies like Toyota, Nissan and Honda are developing smart cars that will have conversations with the driver similar to how users speak to their Siri or Alexa devices. These are some of the businesses that need more of our technology.
What is important to know about Japan and how enterprise businesses operate in the region, compared to North America, Europe, and other parts of Asia, in terms of adopting AI?
There are two types of Japanese customers: Very slow moving or very fast. The locally operated companies are usually slow while the international companies such as Uniqlo, Sony [and] Toyota are extremely fast. The rest of the society can be relatively slow. Many people don’t feel comfortable to change. It’s unique to Japan. We need to prove [the technology] to them through POCs and education and proof points outside of Japan and drive opportunity as quickly as possible.
The localization part is key. We have local competitors and international competitors — the international ones are struggling with accuracy in Japan, local are struggling with scalability and value proposition, so we need to have a strong strategic partnership to support both of these types of companies.
A lot of Japanese websites are not localized. We don’t need to localize everything but we do need to have the basics. Japanese customers are flooded with AI but they are hungry for information. Digital transformation is a huge buzzword.
What made you want to join IPsoft?
The reason I joined IPsoft is because this company has so much to offer. We can bring value to people’s lives in Japan and elsewhere. IPsoft is very focused, especially compared to other AI companies that sometimes scatter their investments in other things. I’ve met many people here and they are very smart people, and that’s a powerful thing, not only the solution and technology, but to have a focused vision with great leadership and smart people. I want to do the same in Japan: Develop the team, the regional office and a focused direction.