Are businesses smarter than the sum of their people? If the evidence from Asia-Pacific (APAC) is any guide, they definitely can be.
There’s plenty of evidence proving that well-integrated teams boost efficiency and raise productivity. Now, the rapid embrace of digital is adding another dimension to teamwork: innovation through shared endeavor.
In APAC, this is driving the creation of new products, services, and revenues for businesses across the spectrum—from start-ups to SMEs and global multinationals.
The trend is taking shape in APAC’s embrace of smart cities. UBS predicts Asia will account for 40% of the global market in smart-city projects by 2025—tens of billions’ worth of new investment in infrastructure, construction, consulting, engineering, and digital tools—all enabled by tighter collaboration among government, business, and technology firms.
That shared ambition, coupled with the rapid expansion of Asia’s digital economy, has given rise to an extremely competitive innovation ecosystem that sees manufacturing, construction, financial services, and other sectors collaborate on long-term, big-picture objectives.
Asif Moghal, head of market development in Design & Manufacturing at Autodesk, says improved collaboration is “the No. 1 thing” customers want from technology. At a recent workshop with APAC customers, he posed this question: If you had 100 units of any currency to spend on technologies for collaboration, customer experience, flexible manufacturing, mass customization, and smart services, how would you split it?
“Everyone put the majority of their hypothetical budget into collaboration,” Moghal says. “That’s hardly surprising considering collaboration helps you work with greater speed, effectiveness, and quality, which yields almost instant benefits such as productivity and efficiency. But collaborating also gives another big benefit: It increases the chances of spotting all types of innovation far earlier. With the right digital capabilities, collaboration can allow a company to validate those innovations and bring them to market faster and at lower risk.”
Tech loves a catchy portmanteau, so here’s another one: collab-ovation. It may not roll off the tongue, but it’s an accurate description of what’s driving innovation in Asia-Pacific, a region expected to contribute to roughly 60% of global growth by 2030.
The following success stories make the case.
Daiwa House: Improving Disaster Response
Osaka, Japan–based Daiwa House Group is a pioneer in rapid building systems for temporary housing. The technology is a central component of Japan’s national disaster response system, housing displaced people in the aftermath of earthquakes and flooding.
The group’s prefabrication technology was tested to the limits when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the Japanese city of Kumamoto in April 2016. Thousands of housing units were needed in the immediate vicinity of the quake. And while more than 4,300 were built in the following months, company leaders realized that the increasing frequency of extreme weather events demanded a faster solution.
They collaborated with researchers at Kumamoto University to shorten the planning and approvals phase—one of the most time-consuming elements in any emergency-accommodation project. Creating a construction plan for temporary housing can take a week or more to complete, a process often complicated by limited resources, heavy scrutiny by local officials, and sketchy information.
“It’s similar to the planning of a town,” says Tokio Yajima, who works in the Quality Assurance Dept. in the Administration Div. of Daiwa Lease Co. Ltd. “The layout plan has to be communicated to stakeholders in local government several times, then redrawn based on the needs of the disaster site. The task was repetitive—taking it home, modifying it, bringing it back the next day, meeting, then modifying again and again."
Using computer-generated visualizations, the combined team developed a way to streamline the planning process with automation. Users could manually enter site boundary information; then, the system would automatically create an accurate layout with all houses, roads, and parking lots.
Rather than spending a week or more to generate a disaster-housing plan, the new program can generate an initial site layout in about an hour. Because local government coordination and approval is vital to keep things moving forward, the faster layout process improves communication and speeds up turnaround when changes need to be made. The process can also respond quickly to feedback from stakeholder meetings, allowing changes to be made on the spot.
Tiong Seng Contractors: Healthier Construction Outcomes
Singapore’s Kallang Polyclinic and Long-Term Care Facility is a hybrid healthcare building consisting of a long-term care unit with resident patients and a polyclinic offering a wide range of clinical services.
Because the design, purpose, and patients treated in each building area are very different and include multiple stakeholders in the decision-making process, construction posed a significant challenge. Every design detail had to pass multiple stages of oversight and approval, so a seamless feedback cycle was essential if project milestones were going to be hit on time.
To optimize how information was shared and input received across the extended project team, the company created a 3D digital-collaboration system to bring everyone together.
Tiong Seng Contractors created a digital project model and presented it in a virtual reality (VR) environment. The immersive VR experience helped owners and end users, including doctors and nurses, visualize the rooms and provide feedback for faster adjustments and approvals.
The immersive VR experience made collaboration between project stakeholders “seamless,” according to Ye Zaw Lin, corporate BIM manager, Tiong Seng Contractors. “We saw a 33% improvement in resolving coordination issues compared to past projects,” he says.
From mechanical and electrical trade contractors to engineers, designers, and the project’s clients, every stakeholder could see the latest construction progress and design updates in real time while adding feedback or asking questions.
With tighter collaboration and inventive use of 3D-modeling tools, Tiong Seng Contractors reduced the number of prefabricated components needed for the build. That shortened the construction and fabrication timeline by 25% and saved the project more than 5,000 hours.
Honda: Lightening the Load
In the battle to reduce automotive emissions, targeted design changes can play a crucial role. Decreasing the weight of a car’s component parts is an effective way to raise fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
In Japan, Honda is constantly striving to make cars lighter without sacrificing safety or durability. To reach that goal, the materials used in every bolt and fender have to be scrutinized.
That ongoing analysis process led Honda’s R&D division to focus efforts on a pilot project aiming at lightening the lowly crankshaft. It’s one of the most vital parts of an engine, taking the motion of pistons and redirecting it to make the car move. It has to be strong and resilient. And, traditionally, that’s made it heavy.
Honda’s R&D arm set out to safely reduce the weight of its crankshafts by 30%. The team traveled to the UK, where it received training in generative design and discussed broader topics such as additive manufacturing. The team realized that prototypes could be made from designs quickly.
After sharing Honda’s weight and operating constraints data, the R&D team then collaborated with design-software experts as the model took shape. Using generative design to virtually test multiple designs and model their efficacy, Honda came up with a design that was miles away from traditional crankshaft forms and materials. The new crankshaft design delivered a 50% weight reduction—well in excess of the team’s 30% reduction goal.
Building Hives of Creativity
Necessity used to be the mother of invention. Today’s innovations are just as likely to be sparked by teams working across an ecosystem to achieve a shared business objective. The trend can be seen at every level, from the bottom of the organization to the top.
From the first industrial revolution to the fourth, technology has helped people achieve more. Steam made manual tasks easier; electricity and mass production opened the door to automation.
Now, the shift to digital is improving teamwork and knowledge sharing. In Asia-Pacific, those benefits have become vital fuel for innovation.