TL; DR: Kintone’s cloud-based platform provides a visual programming platform for building custom business solutions that make it easy to store, share, and analyze data among teams. The database, workflow, and collaboration tool is trusted by more than 12,000 organizations to speed development, remove technical barriers, and centralize data. Ultimately, through Kintone’s tools and methods highlighted in events like Kintone Connect, the company hopes to foster a society brimming with effective and seamless teamwork.
Kaizen, a Japanese word that translates to “good change,” also represents a productivity philosophy centered on cycles of continuous and deliberate improvement. Proponents of the mindset say it creates long-term value by streamlining business practices incrementally and through teamwork, rather than a single, alienating upheaval.
“It enables teams to continuously improve their solutions and manage their businesses,” said Dave Landa, CEO of Kintone. “As they recognize process or communication deficiencies, they themselves can make slight changes to their applications, to their solutions, and continuously improve.”
The philosophy sounds impressive, but let’s be honest: At the average corporation, there is often a shortage of developers, who are very much siloed from those who consume actually the software they develop. On-the-ground personnel — who know their processes best and are able to recognize when slight changes are needed — seldom have access to the technology or people required to set the Kaizen ball rolling systematically.
That’s where Dave’s company, Kintone, comes in. Its cloud-based visual application builder enables organizations to collaboratively and rapidly deploy changes without textual code-based developers. The innovative platform, released in 2011 in Japan and 2014 in the U.S. by Japanese parent company Cybozu, was designed to help teams effectively manage their data and workflows for better collaboration.
“We have an interesting mix of U.S.and Japanese values, but our core business-related values of continuous improvement, or Kaizen, certainly come from our Japanese side,” Dave said. “That’s something our Kintone platform executes perfectly.”
Today, more than 12,000 organizations across the globe — including Fortune 500 companies — trust Kintone’s database, workflow, and collaboration platform to improve how their teams store, share, and analyze data. By speeding development, centralizing data, and empowering non-coding business users to program, the company ultimately hopes to set the scene for a society fueled by effective and seamless teamwork.
A Business Model Rooted in Progressive Company Values
In 1997, three up-and-coming Japanese software engineers left their jobs at Panasonic to start Kintone’s parent company, Cybozu (which translates to “cyber kid”). “They built an office productivity suite of software that immediately caught on in Japan,” Dave said. “Within three years, it went public as the fastest company in Japanese history to go from inception to IPO.”
The rapidly growing company was known for working its employees around the clock. Unfortunately, what it gained in productivity, it soon lost in low morale and high employee turnover — which was teetering around 30% by 2005.
“At that point, the leadership took a step back and started refocusing on culture, on people, on teamwork, and on the values that they wanted to instill in the organization,” Dave said. “To better support their mission internally, they instituted flexible work models, allowing folks to do remote work, or work part-time, which was pretty revolutionary back then in Japan.”
Cybozu even began supporting families with a six-year childcare leave and programs such as the Career Mama Internship, aimed at easing re-entry into the workplace. Co-founder and CEO Yoshihisa Aono made headlines for taking paternity leave three times for each of his children, earning him the nickname CEO Papa.
“Over the course of about six years, we were able to significantly reduce our turnover, which has been below 5% since 2010,” Dave said. “We have also ranked as one of the best workplaces in Japan for women for a couple of years running.”
With the morale of the team successfully raised, the company then turned to financial growth. After listening carefully to customer feedback, Cybozu began work on what would become Kintone. “The goal with Kintone was to centralize a space where folks could manage their data and processes, enhancing collaboration and democratizing the software development process,” Dave said. “Our mission continues to be based on improving teamwork, just as Cybozu did internally.”
A Cloud-Based Database, Workflow, and Collaboration Platform
Dave said the rapid application development (RAD) platforms of the past have been designed specifically to help developers boost efficiency when generating applications. When Cybozu first introduced Kintone to the U.S. market in 2014, Dave said people weren’t very familiar with low and no-code app-building tools.
But over the last five years, he’s noticed a shift in public perception. ”There’s a significant increase in awareness of the fact that these solutions — our platform and some others — have the power and capability to transform the way organizations run their operations,” he said. “They do so by enabling the groups who are closest to the processes to create and constantly optimize software solutions to meet changing business challenges. To not only fix problematic processes once, but then empower the immediate ‘Kaizen’ continuous improvement ethos going forward.”
He’s also observed a change in the way IT professionals view the technology. Initially, he said they were skeptical — and even a little concerned. Today, they’re realizing that the no-code trend can help support businesses manage their data and workflows by empowering stakeholders in the organization to continually improve upon customized solutions through collaboration, and in doing so relieve the burden of their IT backlog.
“You can create and manage very sophisticated solutions and processes quickly and easily, and once you’re done, they remain incredibly agile,” Dave said.
Kintone’s real-time centralized platform is considerably powerful, allowing users to build database applications, streamline operations with task-driven workflows and processes, and create spaces for teams to stay organized with reports and project-specific threads.
Democratize Development, Break Down Data Silos, and Connect Communications with Business Systems
Kintone groups its value proposition into three key pillars. The first is centered on empowering anyone to create business-focused apps through visual programming.
Dave said tools like Kintone can help bridge the tech talent gap that is currently plaguing the industry. Research indicates that by 2020, an estimated 1.4 million computing jobs will be available, but only 400,000 college graduates will be ready to fill them.
“There’s always a shortage of developers to build solutions that professionals are looking for,” he said. “With visual programming, stakeholders within the organization can create those solutions for themselves.”
The company’s second value proposition pillar is the ability to break down the all-too-common data silos that exist within organizations. Dave said this segmentation is caused both by the continued preponderance of old, disconnected spreadsheet and paper-based processes, as well as the shadow IT trend that began about 20 years ago with the rise of SaaS-based point solutions.
“Frustrated with the old systems and the time and cost it took to build new custom systems, folks were going out and getting all of these different SaaS services — for marketing automation, customer relationship management, customer support, HR, etc. Ultimately, although much more user-friendly than old all-everything ERP systems, this just added to the siloing of data that spreadsheets and paper processes are inherently guilty of,” he said. “It just got more difficult to capture, access, and manage all of this information.”
Kintone shines in its ability to bring siloed data together under a single, centralized custom web-based solutions environment in which a company’s data, team, business systems, and operations are aggregated in one place. This leads us to the company’s third value proposition pillar: collaboration.
“Not only can folks have all their business data centralized, they can collaborate right there in real-time with those connected business systems,” Dave said. “Compare this with the tradition model of using disconnected email or other standalone collaboration tools like Slack, wherein research shows people need to spend 20% of their working hours just searching for the data they need to be able to accomplish their tasks.”
Kintone Connect: Fostering a Society Brimming with Teamwork
Kintone is wrapping up this year with a series of Kintone Connect events designed to provide the tools that organizations of any kind need to boost productivity, increase transparency, and foster an environment ripe with teamwork. The event has thus far made its way through Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago, with an upcoming stop planned for San Francisco on December 12.
“As a company, we have a dual mission: to make a company brimming with teamwork, which is really the foundation for the second, to make society brimming with teamwork,” Dave said. “The Kintone Connect series is our first manifestation in the U.S. of the second half of our mission. We’re bringing not only Kintone tools but also some of our methodologies and problem-solving techniques for continuous improvement and team building.”
The events also focus on a transformation triangle centered on the importance of policies, culture, and tools in digital transformation. “For the first time, we’re bringing some of the methodologies we’ve employed in Japan to the U.S. audience,” he said.