Sunday, July 27, 2014

When strategy makes me sad ...

Many years ago, I was CEO of a Canon subsidiary (between 2003 to 2007 having formerly been the CIO). Under my stewardship this profitable SME had developed the first PaaS (2005), an internal private IaaS (2003) and was involved in technology from the use of mobiles phones as cameras to 3D printing to online photo storage to ... well, there was a long list. There was an awful lot of future industry that Canon was poised to have a shot at owning.

However, these and a host of other capabilities including arguably one of the finest development teams in the world were all lost when the parent company decided to focus on SED televisions (over $1.8 billion invested according to Fortune by 2006, killed off eventually in 2010), remove its European R&D capability and outsource all our services. Many of the areas of technology that I've subsequently been involved in over the years - from Cloud to Devops to Gov to Mapping - were strongly influenced by that group in Old Street, London. Of course, this was when Old Street was barren of technology companies bar that one troublesome, open source focused, hack day driven, agile company - Fotango.

So, what makes me sad? This report on "Canon Inc. Corporate Strategy Conference 2014". You see, I still have some fond memories of Canon and this report is disturbing reading.

First, the language is weak throughout - "Creating Outstanding Hit Products", "Concentrate on Technological Themes that will Lead the Way to the Future", "Develop game-changing products", "Capture needs of people that desire to take even better pictures" and "Secure overwhelming advantage" are more cries for help than actionable insight. The elements on developing a sales network in emerging markets reinforce this and seem to be one of those epic fails of sensible CEOs.

There are some good bits here, DNA diagnosis to immersive tech to PLED tech are all interesting spaces. It's also finally good to see 3D printing make a mention but given that I wrote my first report on 3D printing technology for Canon in 2003, it's over a decade late.  However, despite the good bits there is no obvious coherence to this. It's more a 'nice story' than a surgical strike.

I do worry about Canon. Substitution effects of smart phones, liquid lenses and other changes heading their way are going to be harsh. I met Fujio Mitarai all those years ago on the Canon Corporate Executive development program (Oct 2003) and immediately got into a warm discussion over the future of 3D printing etc. He is a really interesting person to talk to, a pleasant chap but I do fear for their future. I imagine it's going to be a tough old decade for them.
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