Users Report/Vol.143

Handling Community-based Services for Providing Office Automation Equipment and Office Environment Mainly in Shikoku
Adopted F8VPS on the Occasion of Restrictions During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Held the First Hybrid Exhibition in Shikoku

In the early days of the company, Mr. Yoshitomi Akamatsu, the company's founder and father of Mr. Tamiyasu Akamatsu used to visit its customers with pliers and screwdrivers to adjust or repair machines by himself. Mr. Tamiyasu Akamatsu, Chairman of AKAMATSU Co., Ltd, often heard that his father, as the top management himself, won the trust of customers by not leaving everything to the employees but rather taking the initiative in providing services when necessary. He also noted that while the products they handle change with the times, their own work has not changed much. Through such a process, he recalls, the company has fostered an atmosphere that is still relevant today, in which "the main focus is on after-sales service, and the main goal of our work is to visit our customers and protect their machines so that they can keep using their machines."

Meanwhile, Mr. Masanori Akamatsu succeeded to the presidency of the company from the current Chairman in September 2020. After that, he established New Business Development Office that belongs directly to President, because he felt that the existing organization was too busy with routine tasks to take on challenges in new fields. This was the starting point for commercialization of cloud services and optical-communication-related businesses. In addition, taking advantage of the characteristics of the company having multiple offices especially in Shikoku, they made new attempts on a small scale at those locations. He says that the company is now taking a unique approach to spread the success stories to other sites and to spread them throughout the whole company.

The user to be introduced in this issue is AKAMATSU Co., Ltd (AKAMATSU), a community-based provider of a variety of hardware and services related to office automation (OA) equipment and office environments, doing business mainly in Shikoku. AKAMATSU adopted FORUM8 virtual platform system "F8VPS" in 2021 and held the first hybrid exhibition combining both real and virtual worlds in Shikoku at its Kagawa Branch Takamatsu Office. In the following year of 2022, AKAMATSU utilized the results to build a virtual exhibition at its Matsuyama headquarters. Furthermore, AKAMATSU is also looking to develop new businesses applying F8VPS to its customers based on the know-how cultivated through these efforts.

Won the Konica Minolta Grand Champion Award.
Won the Gold Medal and Special Jury Prize at the KONICA MINOLTA Technical Olympics 2017 among approximately 2,000 customer service representatives from KONICA MINOLTA JAPAN, INC. and its dealers.

 Tradition of Emphasizing Network of Locations, Technical Capabilities, and Trust to Support Community-Based Services

AKAMATSU Co., Ltd was founded in October 1956 as Ehime Nippon Type Co. Ltd. The company originally started as a wholesaler of Japanese typewriters and office steel furniture. During this period, the company underwent a series of reorganizations and expansions, and in 1975 changed its name to the current one. In 1979, AKAMATSU spun off its computer division and established ABM Co., Ltd.

AKAMATSU currently has 11 sales offices: the head office (Matsuyama city), Nanyo Branch (Uwajima, Yawatahama, and Ozu), Imabari office, Toyo Branches (Saijo, Niihama, and Shikokuchuo), Kagawa Branch (Zentsuji and Takamatsu), Tokushima and Kobe offices, as well as Tokyo Office. AKAMATSU employs over 160 people at its offices in total, mainly in the three prefectures of Shikoku (as of August 2022).

Through these offices, AKAMATSU serves a wide range of customers in the area from industries to governments and academia, including small, medium, and micro enterprises in various industries. AKAMATSU provides a wide variety of services, including sales and maintenance of OA equipment such as multifunction machines and printers, as well as design proposals for office environments, delivery and installation of office furniture such as shelves, lockers, desks, and chairs, and communications and network services.

One of the company's distinguishing characteristics is its localized service. Therefore, each of its base offices offers one-stop services for the above services. In addition, employees are directly involved in the delivery and installation of purchased products. Moreover, maintenance personnel at each base have acquired certifications for the technical skill provided by client manufacturers, and have won top prizes, including first place in a national technology contest hosted by the manufacturer. Partly due to the reputation of these honest and continuous efforts shared by its customers, AKAMATSU has won the top prize in a number of national sales performance competitions for its dealers, according to President Akamatsu.

Location: Matsuyama City, Ehime prefecture
Business operations: Providing office automation equipment, primarily photocopiers and printers; hardware products and services for ICT including communications and networks, and those for office environment such as furniture
Declaration of SDGs, AKAMATSU Co., Ltd.
Ehime Rugby Football Union,
chaired by Mr. Akamatsu.
Mr. Tamiyasu Akamatsu, Chairman
Mr. Masanori Akamatsu, President
Image CM of AKAMATSU Co. Ltd., "Some nice solutions for the future of the office."

"AKAMATSU has been particularly making efforts recently in exchanging information with companies outside the prefecture, as we want to make information resources as widely available as possible," says Chairman Akamatsu. As part of such external activities, AKAMATSU joined the Software Association of Japan (SAJ), which gave it an opportunity to get in touch with FORUM8, as well as Shikoku Economic Federation, Tokyo-Ehime Club, Matsuyama Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other initiatives. As a way of giving back to the community, Chairman Akamatsu also serves as President of the Ehime Rugby Football Union since recently.

 Unique Approach to ICT Utilization

President Akamatsu reveals that while the company is in a position to provide clients with office environments including ICT (information and communication technology), the industry itself is not making much progress in utilizing ICT.

For example, he noted that in the past, in managing equipment such as copiers numbering in the thousands, the person in charge used to manually enter data about their status of use based on the data gained by the manufacturers. Thus, AKAMATSU developed a system for directly importing the necessary information from the concerned data to create invoices and other documents. In addition to improving the company's operational efficiency, they are trying to commercialize this system as a package software product.

Here's another example. AKAMATSU used to coordinate repair personnel to dispatch via radio at every time they received a request for repair from the customer. To improve this operation, some of the functions of the application for managing its customer information were expanded to build up a mechanism that enables sharing information about the repair registered in the app. in real time among all the staff involved.

"There is quite a bit of faddishness in ICTs, some of which are out in the open and others are buried." "I think it is important to use diverse types of ICT tools for different purposes, not to say that what is buried has no value."

For example, today, when interactive generative AI (Artificial Intelligence) is attracting attention, it does not bring out good results by simply chasing after trendy ICT in order to catch up the trend. President Akamatsu explains that by seriously considering the objective of what one wants to achieve first, and then effectively using ICT to achieve that objective, the possibilities to be brought can be expanded.

 F8VPS Enabled Hybrid Exhibition in 2021, and Virtual Exhibition in 2022

"I think it is the COVID-19 pandemic that had big influence on the adoption of F8VPS."

AKAMATSU originally focused on demonstration-based sales at customer sites in addition to exhibiting at trade shows. As their established sales style, AKAMATSU staff members would load printers and other equipment into the vehicle for demonstration to visit the customer's site, where they would actually output various types of printed materials to allow the customer to experience the printing quality and speed and then purchase the equipment after being satisfied. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, AKAMATSU was required to provide "non-face-to-face" services, and although the restrictions are getting gradually loosened, there are still some customers who are reluctant to have face-to-face communication. President Akamatsu recalls, "Some customers also said it was difficult for them to take time out of their workday to visit the exhibition hall, which led to the idea of a hybrid event combining both real and virtual worlds."

Around that time, Chairman Akamatsu, who had come into contact with information on FORUM8 products through his aforementioned activities at SAJ, advised the president on the issue. After President Akamatsu himself contacted several companies and solutions were offered using F8VPS to be expected in a short period of time, they decided to adopt F8VPS of FORUM8.

The first example of its application was a hybrid exhibition hosted by the Takamatsu Sales Office of the Kagawa Branch held on October 5 and 6, 2021. On this occasion, the emphasis was placed on reproducing the same kind of experience online as in the real exhibition. It was so designed as to reproduce the configuration of the on-site layout, as well as to enable viewing of catalog data (PDFs of still images) and playback of video contents from client manufacturers on demand for featured products, centered on various office automation equipment and subscription-type products. The same was also applied to the setting up of the corner for seminars by exhibitors, as well as to the conducting of lotteries and questionnaires.

A total of over 1,000 people participated throughout this first hybrid exhibition in Shikoku, which was more than expected. The virtual exhibition, where visitors were able to experience the exhibition in just the same way as the real one without worrying about restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic or other people in the workplace, was especially fresh for customers and generally received good reviews.

In the following year of 2022, from the idea that "it seems this mechanism itself can be used in many different ways," young employees of the "Special Sales Section," which is in charge of developing new customers at Matsuyama head office and others applied the results of the hybrid exhibition held in the previous year to holding a virtual stand-alone event. This event focused especially on new and potential customers. A system was built up to update various information on commercial products and to link them with video-delivered seminars and other events.

Information on Special Seminar of "Virtual Exhibition"

Essence Award, The 20th 3D VR Simulation Contest on Cloud
First in Shikoku! Toward the New Normal Age: "AKAMATSU Hybrid Exhibition" by AKAMATSU Co., Ltd.
The first hybrid exhibition combining both real and virtual worlds in Shikoku was held, featuring OA equipment and subscription-type products in a virtual venue using F8VPS, where visitors can browse materials, play promotional videos, and view products. The exhibition also included seminar corners by exhibitors, a lottery, and a questionnaire survey, and was accessed by a total of more than 1,000 people for two days, contributing to sales promotion. Big lottery with gorgeous prizes

Won the essence prize at the 20th 3D VR Simulation Contest on Cloud. President Masanori Akamatsu at the Award Ceremony
(FORUM8 DESIGN FESTIVAL 2021 at Shinagawa Intercity Hall)

 Providing Customers with Know-how for Applying F8VPS

President Akamatsu envisions the next goal of this series of initiatives: to sell F8VPS to the company's own end users.

This stems from the following backgrounds: that the use of virtual space has been accepted through remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic even by those unfamiliar with virtual spaces before; that the related contents have steadily become more advanced along with that; and consequently, he has become convinced of potential expansion of its applications not only in academia, tourism, and entertainment, but also in the pure business areas. However, he reflects that the company has not fully communicated this potential in its own business activities. For this reason, he believes that their challenge for the future is how to create the mechanism successfully to achieve this.

For example, there are many products in the world that are large and heavy, including the products handled by AKAMATSU, or difficult to show to customers promptly in spite of their needs. In such cases, AKAMATSU invites customers to its showrooms in distant locations to provide them with opportunities to actually touch and feel the products. However, partly because of the cost and other issues, it is actually hard to do similarly in all cases. On such occasions, AKAMATSU staff utilized F8VPS that enables linking to groupware and communication that reflects reality. Then they could assume the applicability of this approach in a wide range of fields, which would allow "those who are interested a little bit" to experience with a sense of reality with ease and complementarily.

In particular, based on the company's experience with hybrid exhibition using F8VPS, President Akamatsu suggests that a virtual exhibition should be opened prior to the real one. If it can be devised in some ways, for example, to allow the participants to touch the actual products on site after studying them on VR, it should be more effective, according to him.

"While linking the real and the virtual, we hope to use both roles successfully if possible. We think other companies (that have not experienced it by themselves) don't have such an idea.

(Written by Takashi Ikeno)
(Up&Coming '23 Fall issue)