Designing the increasingly important links in a networked society
An advantage of open architecture lies in how, by promoting a shared vision, it forms broad networks beyond existing frameworks, giving movements new capabilities and tremendous momentum and inspiring further innovation. Advances in digital technology have brought on an era in design where we can freely link the constellations of people, things, and services around us. As many things or events no longer seem to exist in isolation, design proves its worth by arranging these things in a network – arrangements that are increasingly open.
However, companies view open architecture as both a significant opportunity and a potential risk, and in each case they must decide what to share and what to keep closed. Companies must determine a fitting stance, accounting for the nature of markets and the company’s strengths, and apply good design toward this end on a case-by-case basis. If all goes well, a desirable chain reaction occurs that may exceed expectations, but failure poses the risk of releasing – by one’s own hands – expertise that took years to develop. This makes open strategies challenging.
What users or partners are tempted to participate? Under traditional business frameworks, they would be companies large and small, or perhaps research institutes. The essence of openness, however, also leaves participation open to individuals. With enough ingenuity or technical expertise, anyone can participate – and this thinking is essential to open strategies. What supports open projects is a group of individuals. The ties between real people, who become acquainted with each other and engage in friendly competition, form a kind of social capital and add layers of value.
This social capital also holds the potential to shape the future through the efforts of enthusiastic individuals working beyond the limitations of modern society's economic utilitarianism. It can fill the void between public and private sector activities, which also applies to rural revitalization deemed economically unfeasible. As more people – especially in Japan, where an era of growth has given way to an era of maturity – become interested in taking on social issues and improving everyday life, social capital toward these general goals will build up, and we may gradually mend some of the distortions of modernization and establish a new equilibrium between economic viability and social or environmental sustainability.
The evolution of open corporate strategies
Leading component maker Misumi now shares factory equipment design information normally kept quite secret within the manufacturing industry. Instead of locking up this information internally, the manufacturer passes down engineering knowledge to younger generations, contributes to greater overall industrial efficiency, and proves their corporate commitment to open standards, which deserves admiration. And when manufacturers take the initiative to release design files (as for the Exiii bionic arm and Olympus open-platform camera project), developers and designers worldwide become involved in the community, which encourages independent refinement and expansion of product design and functionality. Another factor that maintains interest in ongoing development is making 3D data available, so that individual contributors can 3D-print models themselves. The open approach taken in the Sony MESH smart DIY platform encourages diverse development though modular products, which are combined by makers in electronic projects. As the business environment becomes more complex, one senses a new decisiveness in companies that focus on certain strengths or technologies while leaving other matters open for users or partners to develop. Rather than narrowing their scope of business, this open stance can be viewed as a proactive strategy that promotes more widespread use of what the company truly excels at.
The emergence of platforms that amplify individual efforts
There is also a new spirit of enterprise and opportunity in open frameworks supported by many individuals. Crowdsourcing is one example of this, and to its 650,000 registered users, the CrowdWorks platform offers work opportunities beyond the bounds of conventional employment. Communities and regions also stand to benefit. Rural prefectures with abundant resources such as Tottori and Miyazaki are promoted in projects of the Blabo! collaborative platform, which has 13,000 participants. Another notable example of collaboration for community development has united the efforts of Miyama residents and their city officials. Residents are equal stakeholders in community-building that takes on energy and related issues. These projects seem to herald an end to the dominant practice of thoroughly dividing labor in pursuit of efficiency and growth, and they suggest a future where the connections between people with a shared vision drive us all forward.