Support innovation – Stimulate broad use

Dr Akira Sudo, Representative Executive Officer, Toshiba Corporation


Dr Akira Sudo is the Representative Executive Officer of Toshiba, a globally leading engineering and electronics company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Products and services include ITC (information communication technology) equipment and systems; electronic components and materials; power, industrial and social infrastructure systems; consumer electronics; household appliances; medical and office equipment; lighting and logistics. In this IEC Global Visions interview Sudo explains how active participation in IEC work enables Toshiba to accelerate technology innovation and allows more companies to adopt, connect with and use their technologies.



Dr Akira Sudo, Representative Executive Officer, Toshiba Corporation

Toshiba is a founding member of the IEC. In your view how did this influence Toshiba’s development?

Toshiba was from the very beginning strongly aware of the need for standards. One of the founders of Toshiba, Ichisuke Fujioka, was a member of the preparatory meeting and attended the official inauguration of the IEC in London in 1906.

In 2002, Dr Takayanagi, a former Corporate Senior Executive Vice President of Toshiba, became the 30th IEC President.  

But while the need for standards was clear, the importance of International Standards was only understood once many Japanese companies started to go abroad, some 20 or 30 years ago. Before then, Japanese companies focused mainly on the Japanese market and they were able to go after their business without complying with International Standards. When companies wanted to do business with other countries, they quickly realized that they couldn’t sell their technologies because they weren’t able to communicate and connect with others out there.  That’s also when my own awareness of International Standards dramatically changed. Now more recently, Smart communities are being built around the globe and the need for standardization is further increasing. Companies need to innovate, standardize and then develop their business, while continuing to innovate, an endless circle.

Toshiba aims to combine ICT (Information and Communication Technology) with energy, energy storage and healthcare to achieve a safe, secure and comfortable society where people always come first. To achieve this we need to work with various companies outside of Japan and international standardization is crucially important for our business and to allow us to achieve our vision of a “Human Smart Community”.

What is your view on standardization in relation to intellectual property rights?

I think there is a competitive relationship between standardization and IP. I can fully understand if a company wants to internally retain the technology they have developed on their own. But with this approach, such a technology may not be widely used and eventually another technology - possibly even an inferior technology, developed by a different company - could become the global standard. Therefore, if you have developed something good, then it makes sense for it to be standardized so that this technology can be widely spread and used. And in a very real sense I think this is how business should be conducted.   

Can you share how Toshiba uses standardization to support innovation?

Today, you need to innovate fast and for that you need a mechanism that can help you achieve this. Targeted standardization is one weapon to accelerate product development.  You set a target and clearly identify when you want to standardize, what. This then becomes your goal and provides you with a timeframe - in other words, standardization becomes the roadmap. Let’s say the technology that you developed is recognized as an International Standard; now it becomes easier to apply this technology elsewhere, including in other countries much more quickly. You reduce waste and enable further innovations. These are some of the advantages active participation in standardization offers.

In what way are systems increasing in importance and does this change how you approach your business?

Originally Toshiba was a manufacturer… we produced and then sold our products. Today things have fundamentally changed. We are not just making and selling products or components, we are integrating them into large systems, and then offering services such as maintenance and repair. And because today a system is created by many companies standardization becomes absolutely essential, without it, it wouldn’t be possible to collaborate.

What would you tell a CEO whose company is not actively participating in standard setting work?

The future world is a place where various companies will cooperate on increasingly large systems. If you have good technologies you need to make certain that others can connect with them and use them. If you don’t participate in standardization then your technologies may not be able to spread; it may be difficult for your company to cooperate with others on these large systems. I believe we all need to contribute to standardization to be able to work together in the future.