Expand business scope – enable cooperation

Hirozumi Sone, President & CEO, Azbil Corporation


Hirozumi Sone is the President & CEO of Azbil, formerly Yamatake Corporation, a highly respected, globally operating provider of industrial automation, control solutions and building automation. In this IEC Global Visions interview he explains how active participation in IEC work has enabled Azbil to expand the scope of its business, increased its ability to cooperate with other companies and allowed it to add long-term value for customers. 



Hirozumi Sone, President & CEO, Azbil Corporation

When did you and your company really start to apply international standards?

Sone: Like the IEC, Azbil was established in 1906 under the name Yamatake. The company has developed automation solutions which involve cross-cutting technologies and are used in a multitude of applications in many different areas. To expand our customer base we need to enable the integration of different technologies and for that we need standards. That’s why standardization lies at the core of our business.  

Azbil’s business is focused on working together with the customer to create value. We might use words like solutions, life-cycle and partnership but all of this basically means that we want to increase value over a long period of time. In that sense if our work is based on standards it will not only bring about benefits at a single point in time but it will allow us to create value in a sustainable manner in the long run. By applying standardization we are able to continuously expand and build new solutions on the existing base. And from that perspective this is very helpful. 

At what point did you personally started to understand the value of standards?

Sone: Right after I joined Azbil after graduating from University, I was involved in a big international project. The design and development was done by a US partner, the project members where international and the product was to be installed in a factory in Japan.  I was impressed by the role standardization played in this context. For such a project to succeed it is extremely important that all involved speak the same language, and I don’t mean English or Japanese. By using the same vocabulary, measurements and ratings we had a common foundation. Technical and design transfers could be done as if we were all together in one place and from the same cultural background, because we were able to exactly understand what the other engineers meant. I clearly remember how it positively influenced our cooperation, allowing us to work smoothly and efficiently together.

Did your participation allow you to influence International Standards?

Sone: Let me give you two examples where Azbil has been involved in international standardization in the IEC and that lead to important outcomes for my company.  One is batch control, which is a way of controlling manufacturing. Azbil was involved in creating the standard method of control for this application and this standard is still widely used today.
The other area is Fieldbus: this is a digital communication system that is used in networks in plant and factory automation environments. Azbil was involved from the very beginning as a founding member and has supported this International Standard all the way through its development up to publication. We feel very close to it.

Does your active participation in the IEC facilitate your innovation process?

Sone: In automation technology new value is created through various combinations of user needs and applications. So when a solution is standardized it can be used by many different customers in various fields. This can lead to new uses and applications and directly creates added value. With standardization we are able to build more advanced solutions in a more stable way and connect them with what is already in place. In other words, our day to day business becomes easier to handle and we can invest more time in coming up with the next level of innovations. In that sense standardization is very valuable and a direct contributor to our innovation process.

But there is another aspect that I would like to talk about that goes ways beyond technology development. Standardization has a major impact on the way business is conducted. For example, a number of years ago HVAC and energy management where considered separate things. But now that they are combined under a single Standard, the customers look at them as one topic and budget for it in that way. This has fundamentally changed how this business is handled and at the same time has significantly expanded Azbil’s scope.

Has your company been able to learn from mistakes others made?

Sone: I think there is a lot that we can learn from participating in standardization, because in Standards past experiences and what is currently important is included and by learning this you can gain knowledge on what you need to be careful about. And this is very helpful in conducting current business. It also allows us to identify areas that are not yet covered and were we could focus on. And so from that perspective there is a lot to learn. 

Why is it not enough to simply buy and follow standards?

Sone: There is the technical value of IEC Standards and that’s an important reason for buying them, but more importantly, from a top management perspective, you also want to build your business. Through active participation you can influence standardization and this helps you create new business and you can make certain that your technology is taken into account.

Would you say that collaboration is becoming more important?

Sone: The problems that technology needs to solve are becoming larger so we are not only looking at one building but a group of buildings and perhaps a community. Then naturally many companies need to cooperate to solve the problem. And in that case we need to have a common language among different companies and different technology areas. We need to allow devices from many different manufacturers to safely connect and interoperate and that’s what standardization supports. The value for standardization is enormous and the need for it will only increase.

What would you tell a CEO who is not yet participating in IEC work?

Sone: I think standardization should be looked at not as a technical tool but as an important business tool. In other words by understanding standardization activities you can create new business opportunities or improve your company’s operation. CEOs need to look at standardization as a tool that can allow them to do all of these things.