Friday, 11 April 2014

Images of the future

Konica was into films, and Minolta into cameras. As films started giving way to digital images, Konica merged with Minolta. That was in 2003. Three years later, Konica Minolta exited the camera business altogether to leverage their combined strength in imaging in a related field: digital printing. Today, Konica Minolta is the world No. 1 in colour printing.

We exited at the right time, or ahead of time, says Tadahiko Sumitani, MD, Konica Minolta Business Solutions India, about saying sayonara to camera.

Is there a lesson for Indian enterprises in this? Yes, never get stuck with a product line or technology that has a doubtful future. Konicas US rival Kodak refused to see the writings on the wall, and had to file for bankruptcy protection last year and exit camera and films (consumer lines) by force.

A conversation with Sumitani gives insights into the differences in Indian and Japanese approaches. In India, companies, especially SMEs, cater to an existing demandif something is seem selling, then everybody gets into it. The Japanese, in contrast, are always looking to cater to a future demand. And clues to the future come to them from an extremely close monitoring of customer behaviour.

Again, rather than letting technology upset their business environment, the Japanese change the technology itself to suit future customer preferences. This way, Japanese companies defuse a future crisis in the present. Innovation and customer-orientation are the tools to achieve that.

Another lesson is, one should not lose the domain expertise gained in an existing business. The best option is to find a new use for the expertise rather than trying to get into an entirely different domain. Konica Minolta has found new uses for its domain expertisemedical imaging, planetarium, organic LEDin short, anything that can carry a digital image is a would-be product line for the company.

But Konica Minoltas key focus, in India, is on digital printing, which Sumitani says has tremendous potential in the country. In fact, Sumitani, who was responsible for rest of world (ROW)except Japan, US EUat Konica Minolta, has chosen to focus exclusively on India. He started the Indian operations three years ago, and nursed it into a nearly R300-crore company and a market leader in the colour

A3 (paper size) segment. As his marketing head V Balakrishnan vouches: Today, were the market leader in colour in A3 (paper size) with a 26% share, and No. 3 in A3 mono (black

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