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View from the Top

Vol. 22, No. 6, pp. 1–6, June 2024.

Creating a Future Achieving Both Individual Well-being and Social Well-being That Is Friendly to the Planet by All Employees Becoming Marketers

Sachiko Oonishi
Executive Vice President, Head of Research
and Development Market Strategy, NTT Corporation


In 2023, the Research and Development Market Strategy Division was established at NTT Corporation. Its mission is to create new value by combining research and development on the basis of the conventional product-out approach with marketing while being committed to creating an exciting future. We asked Sachiko Oonishi, NTT executive vice president, head of Research and Development Market Strategy, about the Division and her mindset as a top executive.

Keywords: product-out perspective, market-in perspective, well-being


Establishment of the Research and Development Market Strategy Division—NTT’s first of its kind

—Would you tell us about the Research and Development Market Strategy Division?

The Research and Development Market Strategy Division was established in June 2023 by merging two functionally independent departments, i.e., the Research and Development Planning Department, which has been managing NTT’s research laboratories, and the New Business Promotion Department, which had been developing new businesses for the NTT Group. Mission of the Division is to create new value by combining research and development (R&D) on the basis of the conventional product-out approach with marketing.

In 1890, 134 years ago, the telephone first appeared in Japan, marking the birth of technologies that connect people. Following this first telephone development, the Electrical Communication Laboratory under the Ministry of Communications of Japan—the predecessor of NTT laboratories—was founded in 1948, and NTT began research on optical fibers in 1966. Technology that connects people has evolved into technologies that connect people and information, people and objects, and the real and virtual worlds, so it becomes possible to convey everything from sound to images and data as well as skills, experience, and space. Fifty years of research on optical technology have led to envisioning the concept of the Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN). This evolution of technology was unimaginable at the time the Electrical Communication Laboratory was established. Nevertheless, the external environment of our business is changing dramatically, as the global environment, social structures, geopolitics, etc. change, and people’s values are diversifying and shifting from material satisfaction to spiritual fulfillment.

In the midst of these changes, it has become increasingly difficult to satisfy market expectations with conventional approaches alone. Therefore, the Research and Development Market Strategy Division was established with a focus on how to advance R&D while incorporating market needs and insights to create markets.

—What is the structure of the Research and Development Market Strategy Division?

The Division consists of three departments: Research and Development Planning Department, Market Planning and Analysis Department, and Alliance Department. In addition to the existing Research and Development Planning Department, the Market Planning and Analysis Department was created. I believe that by incorporating a market-in perspective during the practical application phase of new technologies created in the conventional product-out manner, those technologies can be further developed leading to social implementation and market creation. Specifically, we will align our R&D technologies to the market by refining them from the viewpoint of to whom, what kind of value, and what features we appeal to the market. The mission of the Market Planning and Analysis Department also includes identifying promising R&D areas by deriving insights from market and technological trends. To accomplish this mission, we are also building a data-driven marketing infrastructure that will enable us to identify promising areas by using data to visualize NTT’s capabilities, such as products and services, customer base, and human resources, as well as markets and external environments.

In a rapidly changing market, there is a limit on creating markets and innovation by NTT alone. Therefore, the Alliances Department is responsible for strategizing collaboration and co-creation with various partners to expand our R&D results “from 1 to 10 and 100.”

Breaking through unconscious bias and creating new value

—I understand that the best and brightest of the NTT Group have been brought together in the Market Planning and Analysis Department. Would you tell us about the strengths of the Department?

The Market Planning and Analysis Department needs a variety of perspectives to enable us to constantly create services and value that people are excited about and want to continue to use with peace of mind by responding to their diverse values. Members of the Department include researchers, people who have worked on alliance businesses, people who have developed products, and people who have built their careers at other companies outside the NTT Group. They also vary in age and life stage. Members who have been in business with various roles and different perspectives on life bring diverse perspectives to the table. This diversity is a huge advantage.

However, we have not yet developed a framework, in terms of organization and structure, that translates these diverse perspectives into specific marketing functions and links them to activities and results. Firstly, I believe it is important to align the understanding of the market-in approach. Then, by combining the conventional product-out perspective and market-in perspective, it is possible to accelerate innovation and market creation.

I consider that the product-out perspective focuses on the “function” of a product and the market-in perspective focuses on the “value” of a product. Let me explain these two perspectives by taking a bicycle as an example. From the viewpoint of the function, “the tires move on all roads without becoming flat” or “the bicycle speeds up when the rider pedals lightly” can be considered. If we try to refine the bicycle from the viewpoint of the function only, we might pursue the durability of tires by making them wider and thicker. From the viewpoint of value, however, the value of a bicycle required by people changes according to the user and situation, as saying “My train station is far away, and I want to reduce my travel time to the station, but I cannot use a car because car parking is not available,” “I have to carry heavy luggage,” or “I need to drop off my child at daycare.” To deliver such value, providing means of transportation other than bicycles can also be considered. In that case, instead of improving the durability of tires and making them wider and thicker, it may be necessary to improve other elements, thereby converting the bicycle to technology and products that people want to use and required by markets. In other words, a change in perspective may lead to different points of refinement and pursuit. I believe that by taking advantage of the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our members, we can look at the products we are currently refining from the viewpoint of value and consider whether a different approach to refinement is needed or create new value by using a different refinement approach.

When incorporating these new perspectives into our R&D and commercialization processes, however, we tend to become stuck in our conventional ways of thinking and doing, and we may have an unconscious bias based on our experience and knowledge; thus, there are hurdles in incorporating new perspectives. It will take time, but we will work diligently to overcome these hurdles and incorporate new values and perspectives into our R&D and commercialization processes.

—NTT has announced new products one after another, and among them, IOWN and NTT’s large language model (LLM) “tsuzumi” are attracting much attention both in Japan and abroad. Would you introduce them from a marketing perspective?

It has been five years since the concept of IOWN was announced. Now in the phase of shifting from conception to implementation, IOWN is becoming ever more popular as a group of technologies as a game-changing social infrastructure. In March 2023, NTT EAST and WEST launched the IOWN All-Photonics Network (APN)1.0 service, and in March 2024, NTT Communications began offering the “APN Leased Line Plan powered by IOWN,” an inter-prefectural communication service that meets customer needs for a more-advanced communication infrastructure.

Grown out of the exploration of technologies that connect people and R&D results based on the product-out approach, IOWN supports a data-driven information society in an energy-saving and sustainable manner through technological innovation by achieving a 100-fold increase in energy efficiency and 125-fold increase in transmission capacity. This view of IOWN is taken from a product-out perspective. Looking at IOWN from the market-in perspective raises two questions: what social issues can it help solve and what value can it create in people’s lives? All information will be digitized, and artificial intelligence (AI) will be able to function with low power consumption, high speed, and high efficiency through IOWN. Therefore, new value will be created in ways such as eliminating food loss and clothing loss by enabling visualization, optimization, and personalization. I believe that such value creation in everyone’s social lives from food, clothing, and shelter to healthcare and entertainment will enable us to build a future in which both social well-being that is friendly to the planet and individual well-being are achieved while bringing back humanity and the five human senses.

Regarding tsuzumi, which is an NTT’s LLM and smaller and lighter than current generative AI chatbots such as ChatGPT but achieves the world’s top-level Japanese processing performance, NTT DATA and NTT Communications launched commercial services in March 2024. Since the announcement of the development of tsuzumi in November 2023, we have received more than 500 inquiries from corporate customers and local governments. Two-thirds of those inquiries indicated that they wanted to use a customized LLM by training it on their internal data. We have received inquiries from a wide range of industries, many of which handle highly confidential data in, for example, manufacturing, local government, and finance. They have high expectations for using tsuzumi in the following scenarios: improving customer experience (CX) at customer touchpoints such as call centers; improving employee experience (EX) by streamlining internal operations such as through automatic creation and summarization of meeting minutes and creation of questions & answers from operational manuals; and automating information technology (IT) operations and software development. In preparation of the commercialization of tsuzumi in March, we addressed the above-described customer reactions, expectations, and needs, which were reflected in our solution items. It is another new initiative of the Research and Development Market Strategy Division that incorporates the market-in perspective I mentioned earlier.

The tsuzumi LLM has received strong interest from overseas as well. We plan to develop industry- and business-specific LLMs in multiple languages and incorporate them into NTT assets to be used in global markets. The tsuzumi LLM is simply one AI tool. Using tsuzumi as a trigger, we will take on the challenge of creating a sustainable world for people and the planet by supporting various improvements in DX and CX.

Flat communication and an open mindset create an upward spiral

—In consideration of the businesses you have been involved in, what is important to you as a top executive?

At my previous job at an NTT operating company, I mainly engaged in creating new businesses and developing new services. For example, my mission was to create a service that would become the next main source of revenue after telephone services, and I was involved in the launch of FLET’S fiber-optic Internet services (FLET’S ADSL, B FLET’S, etc.) when Internet services were shifting from dial-up to flat-rate plans. At the Stadium Wi-Fi Promotion Office, which was established at NTT Broadband Platform after Tokyo was selected to host the Olympics, I focused on promoting the introduction of IT infrastructures in stadiums, such as for soccer, to make watching sports more exciting and emotional experience than ever before. I also visited the United States, which is leading the way in deploying such infrastructures.

What I have always valued is the perspective of users. In the process of creating new businesses or developing new services, we tend to focus solely on the provider’s perspective and be biased toward the product-out approach. I have always tried to think from the perspective of users in terms of how to make them want to use our product, rather than thinking about how to sell it. In that sense, I tried to base my decisions on my own experience as a user; that is, I considered whether I would want to use a product or service myself and whether it would excite me.

As the head of the Research and Development Market Strategy Division, when incorporating marketing into the business process, it is essential to take the perspectives of users and consumers into account. To do so, I want NTT employees including myself to maintain a “work in life” attitude. Conventionally, society has viewed work and private life as separate; however, it is a fact that that work can create positive synergy in one’s private life, and vice versa; namely, one’s private life can create positive synergy for one’s work. It is easy to forget that when we, the employees of NTT, provide value in the form of technology, human resources, and social infrastructure, we are also consumers. In that sense, we can bring our perspective as consumers and it is important to integrate such realistic perspective into business. For example, the world is changing in such a way that people are encouraged to take maternity and childcare leave, and when they actually do, they gain the perspective of being a consumer and not just a company employee. I believe that such life events will contribute to promoting marketing activities on the basis of the real perspectives of consumers. Having conducted market research for marketing for many years, I have seen firsthand the discrepancy between actual experience and survey results, and I have come to believe that survey has its limitations. It is therefore important that all 340,000 diverse employees of the NTT Group become marketers so that their perspectives and sensibilities as consumers are reflected in business.

For example, we use smartphones daily and enjoy their convenience, but when we try to sell smartphones as a business, for some reason, we switch our perspective from “how to use” to “how to sell.” I want to change that mindset. To promote such change, I want the members of the Research and Development Market Strategy Division to enjoy their work every day.

—What do you keep in mind as a top executive?

I keep in mind flat communication and an open mindset. Information is shared among members regardless of one’s position including peripheral, such as background and objectives. With remote work environments in place, it has become easier to create time for all members to connect via on-line tools such as Teams. “Town-hall meetings” are held to share primary information directly with members. By building a new relationship that differs from the hierarchical relationship at work and creating an environment in which people feel comfortable talking to each other, flat communication will gradually emerge in the workplace. Thus, it will be easier to discuss ideas not only from the provider’s perspective but also from the consumer’s perspective.

NTT President Akira Shimada’s message that “Improving EX also improves CX” is also spreading. I hope that NTT researchers will take pride in the fact that they have accumulated an impressive track record and history of creating technologies that have become social infrastructure since the inception of NTT laboratories. The tsuzumi LLM is the result of their research. On top of that, I want them to add a market-in perspective to their research activities, look at the market and society, and pursue exciting research and technological development toward new value creation.

I invite our customers and partners to join us in addressing social issues in a variety of fields—from food to healthcare—and create a future achieving both individual well-being and social well-being that is friendly to the planet.

Interviewee profile

 Career highlights

Sachiko Oonishi joined NTT in 1989 and became executive manager in charge of regional revitalization at the New Business Promotion Office in 2016. In her career at NTT Communications, she became a senior vice president, member of the board, head of the Third Business Solutions at the Business Solution Division in 2020 and senior vice president, head of the Third Business Solutions at the Business Solution Division in 2021. She has been in her current position since June 2023.