Toyota’s culture of collaboration and excellence provides good direction for Pierre Masai’s IT plans.
by Aaron Lazenby
For 25 years Pierre Masai has seen the impact of IT on the European automotive industry. As vice president, information systems, at Toyota Motor Europe, Masai is dedicated to finding ways to bring a polyglot IT and management workforce into alignment with Toyota’s overall strategic IT vision—all while respecting the cultural differences (and regional business demands) of his continental peers.
“When Toyota became a global company, of course there was a need to clarify those things, to translate them and to start explaining to people around the world,” says Masai.
Profit spoke with Masai about the influence of Toyota’s culture on IT strategy and the challenges of managing projects across a multinational continent.
Profit: What is the Toyota Way?
Masai: In talking about the Toyota Way, we maintain two core values. One involves respect for people and teamwork. When we respect others, we make an effort to understand each other, take responsibility, and do our best to build mutual trust. When we value teamwork, we stimulate personal and professional growth, share opportunities for development, and maximize individual and team performance.
The second value is linked to continuous improvement and it has three parts. First, we don’t base things on impressions—we base everything we do on fact. Second, we improve our business operations continuously, always driving for innovation and evolution. Third, we form a long-term vision, meeting challenges with courage and creativity to realize our dream.
In a non-Japanese environment, we need to adapt those values not only to the function but also to the geography where we are. Our colleagues in North America have done a great job of that. Doing exactly the same as in Japan would not have worked, so there’s a lot of work that was done to explain it to a Western type of audience, which then again we have used in Europe.
Profit: How does the Toyota Way apply to managing enterprise IT?
Masai: If we apply the Toyota Way to an IT problem, we address it the same as if an automotive engineer had a problem, or if a factory worker had a problem. That enables us to be quite versatile and able to move across functions within the company. It’s easier to move to other functions and geographies if you master the Toyota Way, because it’s a common language.
Of course the database administrator, for example, needs to do his database administrator work. But there will be a percentage of his time, 10 or 20 percent, where he will do more Toyota Way things—such as applying the Toyota Business Practices problem solving, describing a future project, or reflecting on a finished project. The manager of the database administrator will do more Toyota Way things, and the general manager of the infrastructure area will do even more.
Profit: What are some of the challenges of running IT across multiple markets and different languages?
Masai: What makes it particularly challenging is that we don’t have a top-down approach to things. For example, we are gradually creating common pan-European information systems throughout our countries in Europe. But we’re not forcing them to move to one common location, and we’re respecting their local employment contracts.
For example, we are now integrating the information systems department of Toyota U.K. The people will keep their local employment contract, but at the same time, we will organize the reporting line into the pan-European information systems. We need to have mechanisms to ensure that everybody will get their chance based on their own talent, no matter where they are based. This is one of my main tasks—to make sure that this balance will exist and that we will encourage the best talent, wherever it is.
But, at the same time, it’s about teamwork. Each person has their own targets to improve at their level, so that the overall organization will improve together.
Profit: How has that manifested in the Oracle technology–based vehicle ordering system in Europe?
Masai: Our vehicle ordering system allows local dealers to find out where a certain type of car is in the pipeline—whether it’s available in the common stock of the country, whether it still has to be produced, or whether the car can be transferred from another country. It’s sometimes difficult for people based in North America to understand, because they tend to have huge dealerships where the cars are all there. But in Europe, you have much smaller dealerships: we must optimize our cost and space in Europe. So common stock within a country or between countries can make a lot of sense.
The vehicle ordering system is live in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the Baltic countries. We are in the process of rolling out to Germany and the U.K. In order to roll out to these larger markets, we did a major upgrade of our Oracle systems. Now, we have several modules in the system—a product module that describes the cars, modules to manage the stock in the pipeline, even a module to manage incentive compensation. We have the possibility to manage this in vehicle order management, which interfaces with the financial system through Oracle Financials, and the vehicle logistics systems.
Profit: What relationship does an IT vendor play in your overall strategy?
Masai: We face the question, “Do we really want to develop by ourselves a general ledger system?” Well, the answer is no. So we have rolled out Oracle Financials to more than 50 legal entities in Europe. We are now in the process of converting Germany to Oracle Financials.
But as we come closer to our own core business, it becomes more difficult. People ask how much of our needs are covered by the standard functionality found in, for example, Oracle. If it’s a reasonable amount, like 80 or 90 percent, then we select a vendor’s product.
I must say that Oracle Order Management was a case where we had many, many discussions like this. Some people thought that we should have developed the whole thing by ourselves, and others thought we would benefit from vendor upgrades. Ultimately, we chose Oracle because it was the right business decision, and we are working together with Oracle to ensure that the upgrades will enable us to remove more and more customizations.
Profit: Does the economic volatility in Europe impact your strategic approach to IT?
Masai: The economic context impacts us in a very important way, but it reinforces the need to pursue a consensus-building model—if people have economic difficulties, there is even more reason to come together and find common solutions in order to minimize the spending.
Now, we need to do it in an intelligent way. Sometimes, these common solutions can cost more than what the country can afford. So we always have to find the best solution together. But because this is precisely our whole culture, I think that this economic climate helps us to do what is our vision.
For example, we want to use the people, wherever they are in Europe, to their best talent. So when we move to a common system, people in different locations can work on the same system. Instead of using a contractor in Brussels, I may use a permanent member based in Germany or the U.K. to do the job. While we are reducing the cost of IT, we are at the same time increasing the skills of our people and working together as a team throughout Europe.
Profit: What enterprise IT projects are you excited about in 2012?
Masai: The first is the pan-European information system rollout. This involves taking on more people in more locations and integrating existing people into the system. We want common systems wherever it makes sense, but at the same time we need to keep the ability to react quickly to market needs with local systems.
Then the second activity, one where I see a lot of growth in the coming years, is in the area of telematics. This involves integrating telecommunications and informatics for use in vehicles. Telematics has really become mainstream. In North America, you have seen GM’s OnStar and Toyota Entune, in which cars get a lot of IT-related features.
The challenge is to do it in a way in which all types of drivers can use the technology in the best way possible. Not everybody will use all the functions, but we should not have people who cannot use the car at all because of them.
Drivers are also looking for help with traffic routes and available parking spaces. A recent study about Barcelona, Spain, said 30 percent of traffic is people looking for a parking place. If we can integrate with city infrastructure so people can be quickly directed to a parking space, this can ease a lot of the traffic congestion. This is an area where there is a lot of development for the coming year.
Profit: How does the long view of the Toyota Way manifest in your organization?
Masai: It’s not well known outside Japan, but Toyota sells houses with solar panels. So your house can get energy from the solar panels, and you can then use it to load your plug-in electric vehicles. You can also give energy back to the grid. This type of home energy management system can really contribute to society. It’s very important for Toyota to work on sustainability, and to work for the long term. We are, luckily, not only bound to the next quarter’s results.
Aaron Lazenby is editor in chief of Profit.