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View from the Top

Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 1–5, Mar. 2024.

Don’t Panic, Don’t Get Angry, and Don’t Let It Happen Again

Toshio Kashiwagi
Senior Executive Vice President, Executive


NTT COMWARE supports the systems that make up NTT’s telecommunications infrastructure and systems related to service operations from the software side. As a member of the NTT DOCOMO Group, it is also developing systems that will serve as the foundation for expanding the Group’s business. We interviewed Toshio Kashiwagi, senior executive vice president and executive officer (chief information officer/chief digital officer) of NTT COMWARE, which is committed to providing new value to society beyond the social infrastructure of telecommunications, about the company’s strengths as a group of software professionals and his attitude as a top executive.

Keywords: software, system development, IOWN APN


The quality and reliability of NTT COMWARE that supports Japan’s social infrastructure

—Could you tell us about the strengths of NTT COMWARE, which supports telecommunications infrastructure as a group of software professionals?

Since its establishment in 1997, NTT COMWARE has supported NTT Group’s telecommunications infrastructure by developing software for network-related systems and designing, developing, maintaining, and operating information-management systems and operational systems for tens of millions of telecommunications service users.

Our great strength is our refined technological capabilities. We have approximately 4100 engineers who support a series of processes—ranging from system planning to development, infrastructure construction, and operation centered on software technology, over 2600 agile-development engineers who design and rapidly create innovative services through continuous improvement in processes, and over 3400 data scientists and engineers. We are committed to providing new value by harnessing these technological capabilities.

To continue to improve our technological capabilities into the future, we emphasize human resources development. We are improving the practical skills involved in agile-development technology and nurturing engineers who have knowledge and skills regarding various data-analysis technologies and the latest digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data.

With this lineup, we are currently undertaking a wide variety of projects, which total about 500 per year. These projects range from large-scale projects worth several tens of billions of yen involving more than 1000 members and spanning several years from planning to service launch to agile development projects using the scrum framework to support our customers’ businesses in an agile manner.

—NTT COMWARE has supported telecommunications infrastructure while promoting the advancement of technology. In consideration of this history and the fact that it is now a member of the NTT DOCOMO Group, what is your current vision?

In 2022, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the company’s founding and, at the same time, together with NTT DOCOMO and NTT Communications, we started anew as a member of the NTT DOCOMO Group. We also launched new NTT COMWARE Group through the absorption of DOCOMO Systems and the acquisition of DOCOMO DATACOM, which became our subsidiary. We took this opportunity to renew the COMWARE Identity and Corporate Message, which state NTT COMWARE’s purpose, important values, and aspirations.

To create the COMWARE Identity, we have formulated the COMWARE New Declaration and NTT COMWARE Group Sustainability Policy. The former sets forth the specific business direction that NTT COMWARE will take up to 2027, while the latter defines our stance on sustainability activities that are inseparable from our business.

In a rapidly changing world, it is becoming increasingly important to solve social issues by achieving sustainability, which means making society, the economy, and the environment sustainable into the future. As the values of consumers, business, and society are changing, companies are shifting from digitalization—which focuses on efficiency—to digital transformation (DX)—which focuses on the added value that can be created through digitalization, and the elements required for this shift are also changing. In light of these changes, we need to constantly create new experiences that suit rapidly changing user values and enhance the stability and performance of social infrastructure.

With this requirement in mind, we aim to create a rich communication society, which goes beyond the efficiency that has been prioritized in the past, by promoting DX while pursuing advanced software capabilities, for example, by integrating them with cutting-edge technologies. While maintaining the quality and reliability that we have always valued, we focus on activities from a business perspective so that we can contribute more than ever to the growth and development of our partners.

Transforming ourselves in a new era of innovation

—In 2023, generative AI has gained momentum. As a proponent of data and AI utilization, what is your approach to generative AI and what is the effect of it on sustainability?

I went to the CES electronics trade show in Las Vegas in January 2023, where I heard nobody mention generative AI; however, two months later, I remember being very surprised that it was being talked about in various media. Companies around the world have since then investigated how to use generative AI, and I feel that they are finally ready to use it.

We are also experimenting with how to use generative AI in our development process and operations, and NTT DOCOMO Group is making use of it for each of its businesses. We have also made progress in sharing information on how to publicize the use of generative AI, including use cases, and are beginning to understand ways of using generative AI from a comprehensive viewpoint.

System development is still a “human” job; nevertheless, human system development may not be able to cope with the society of the future, so we must take the lead in identifying and determining to what extent AI can take over from humans. Some of the systems that we currently operate have been in operation since before today’s engineers were born. New technologies have emerged, and aging and obsolete hardware has been replaced; however, the basic concept of software running on it has not changed much from when it was originally developed, although some functions have been added and others have been modified. At the time that software was developed, the developers probably did not expect their systems to last longer than their own lifetimes. Even if such systems have the appropriate documentation in place, the number of pages may be enormous, and the thoughts of the developers may only be understood by them and their knowledge cannot be documented. It is challenging to transfer their thoughts and knowledge to the next generation because the developers and engineers who created a certain system have already retired, and the time is coming when we cannot rely on experts. In other words, the aforementioned “sustainability” is no longer possible if we rely on humans. However, since the functions and tasks provided by the systems are implemented through software, the software base will also continue to be used as long as these functions and tasks continue to be needed. To overcome of this situation, it will be important to transfer our assets and knowledge to AI. Perhaps this situation is what the whole world is facing; we are at the dawn of a new era—a turning point.

—The Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN) is one of the next-generation technologies. Could you tell us about the technological themes that NTT COMWARE is focusing on toward the deployment of IOWN?

We are applying our expertise in the development and construction of operation systems, which has accumulated over many years of supporting telecommunications services, to achieve the optimal construction and operation of networks and develop management systems for IOWN. Among the components of IOWN, namely, the All-Photonics Network (APN), Digital Twin Computing (DTC), and Cognitive Foundation (CF), we are responsible for the operations through CF and its information-processing system. We are currently developing systems related to orchestration, a basic part of CF that involves monitoring and automatically operating various network components and information and communication technology (ICT) resources in a cross-cutting manner.

In 2023, as one of the use cases of IOWN, XR Ping Pong using the APN was demonstrated for the first time at Interop Tokyo 2023. The APN was used to connect the event site at Makuhari Messe to another site in Abiko (both in Chiba Prefecture), which are about 100 km apart in optical-fiber length to provide the XR Ping Pong experience. Both players wearing virtual-reality headsets can feel as if they were playing the game at the same place thanks to the IOWN APN’s low latency achieving 1/200 that of a normal line.

The APN also makes it possible, for example, to control robots and other equipment installed in a datacenter in Osaka from the operation center in Tokyo as if they were being operated locally in Osaka. This capability has the potential to significantly change the work of development sites, developers, and operators.

For 35 years, I have been unable to sleep in peace

—Could you tell us about your background as well as what you value as a top executive?

After joining NTT in 1988, I started my very first job—except for the training period—in software development, which is what I am engaged in now. Even though NTT had been privatized, I believe the long-distance telephone-call charge at that time was about 1000 yen per 10 minutes. A telephone call was very expensive compared to today, so I thought I wanted to contribute to making it cheaper somehow, and to that end, I wanted to reduce costs related to networks and systems. Around that time, as tasks that had been performed by people were being replaced with software, and specialized hardware was replaced with general-purpose hardware, cost reduction accelerated considerably. Consequently, the telephone-call charge was reduced to the current level about 15 years after I joined the company. I’m not sure how much I was able to contribute to reducing telephone-call charges, but I had achieved what I set out to achieve when I first joined the company. Looking back now, I feel that only the foundation for ICT to solve social issues was in place.

Having spent 35 years working at NTT, during which time I have mostly been involved in system development, I now realize the reality that I cannot sleep in peace. From the time I joined the company until now, the number of systems that are in operation has only increased. Moreover, compared to 35 years ago, systems today have become more pervasive in social life, and the importance of stable system operation has increased. If a system malfunctions, the daily lives of many people will be significantly affected; for example, people will not be able to take the train or do their shopping. This trend is unstoppable. Since my job involves such systems, I have no choice but to recognize that I’m in a situation in which I cannot sleep in peace when I consider the social implications of those systems. Most people would want to avoid such a stressful situation; on the contrary, many people have a sense of pride from work that carries such heavy responsibilities.

No matter how meticulously we prepare to avoid system failures during the development process, system failures can occur unexpectedly. Some failures have a probability of occurring about once every several tens of thousands of years; regardless, no matter what the situation, once a failure occurs, we will do our best to quickly resolve it. Since system failures are often caused by software, after receiving reports of such failures, we must calmly and logically analyze the failure in question, investigate the cause of the failure, consider countermeasures, and make final decisions on these matters. Accordingly, we try to take the stance “do not panic or get angry” when we receive reports of a failure. What’s more, since the report comes from the employee facing the failure, if their boss gets upset or angry, accurate information will not be reported, and errors in judgment will surely follow. When we have finally solved the failure, since the cause of the failure is identified, we then try to take the stance “don’t let it happen again.”

I don’t remember how I acquired this attitude or how it came about. It may have started when I became a section manager or project manager. Looking back, I recall that my supervisors and others generally took this stance when dealing with failures.

—Our daily life is supported by your “don’t let it happen again” stance. Finally, do you have a message for your engineers, researchers, as well as partners and customers?

I’ve recently been thinking that I have to change the way I work. Ten years ago, from the perspective of systems must continue to be operated normally, I hoped to welcome tomorrow the same as I had today, but now, I need to welcome tomorrow that will differ from today.

While system developers strive to provide the highest quality and reliability possible, they cannot afford to stop the on-site operations of the people who use the systems that they develop. It is important to think carefully about what kind of work a system is being used for on-site and what is the most important work being done there. Therefore, we are changing our way of thinking and working by focusing more than ever on the efficiency and convenience of our customers’ operations. It takes time to change attitudes and way of thinking, but we cannot take too long because not only the NTT Group as a whole but also the world is changing. Nevertheless, we would like to change as quickly as possible while avoiding harmful effects in various areas.

I hope that our engineers and researchers will approach their work keeping in mind how the research and development they are currently engaged in will help solve social issues and think about how to adjust to the ever-changing society and how to update their work accordingly. In the past, we had a sense of a technician’s skill, such as the mindset “I can be successful on my own,” but the sustainability of society as a whole is no longer possible based on that sense. I hope that you will pass on your experiences and knowledge to the next generation and use them as the foundation for creating something new. I have also tried to eliminate work that relies on my own unique abilities, ideas, and knowledge. I was once told by my boss, “Five years from now, a person in the same position as you should not tackle the same problems,” and I thought he was right. And our job is to resolve inconsistencies; otherwise, we are just repeating tasks. Our work is always fraught with inconsistencies, but I want us to strive to eliminate them.

I’ll conclude with a message to our customers and partners. NTT COMWARE will continue to provide the level of high quality and reliability as before. As a member of the DOCOMO Group, we will strive to contribute to addressing the challenges facing society. We look forward to continuing our partnership with you.

Interviewee profile

 Career highlights

Toshio Kashiwagi joined NTT in 1988 and became a board member of NTT COMWARE in 2016, executive vice president of the company in 2020, and assumed his current position in June 2021.