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OKI and the Changing Times

Part 18: The Development of OKI Networkers, a Home-Based Employment System for People with Major Disabilities

Company efforts in the domain of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are highly valued in many ways these days. As part of its timely response to these trends, OKI established its Social Contribution Promotion Office in 1996. One initiative in particular has attracted widespread attention: the concept of harnessing computer networking technologies to enable work from home for individuals who would otherwise face great difficulty in commuting to and from work due to major disabilities. We introduce below the story underlying these activities and their growth trajectory.

Efforts in the early years of the Social Contribution Promotion Office

Based on OKI's Basic Philosophy ("As good corporate citizens, we think, act, and pursue social contribution activities with broad public support to achieve a truly affluent society"), OKI in 1996 established a new Social Contribution Promotion Office within its General Affairs Division. The new office got its start with just two staff members. Ryoji Kimura, its first manager, was an ideas person who had demonstrated striking acumen in sales and production management. He wondered if the office might benefit from a point of contact between its social contribution and business activities.

Seeking a concrete plan of action, perusing one corporate website after another, Kimura studied examples of efforts by other companies. He identified one case in particular, involving makeup application lessons given by a cosmetics firm. This project involved volunteers teaching makeup techniques to elderly residents at senior residences. What struck Kimura was the connection between the activity and the company's primary area of business, and how the initiative provided information useful for product development and sales promotions.

Based on the conviction that "the right way for a company to contribute to society is through its business," Kimura would seek out ways to link OKI products to various social contribution activities, pursuing experiments in various areas, including promoting the use of environmentally-friendly paper companywide.

OKI joined the Keidanren's 1% Club around this time. As the company took part in numerous volunteer groups and volunteer events, an idea took root: Providing opportunities for people to understand and help each other was perhaps an ideal fit for the OKI concept of corporate social responsibility.

Two encounters give rise to OKI Networkers

An encounter with Prop Station (now a social welfare corporation) proved pivotal in bringing Kimura's ideas to fruition. Based on a vision in which disabled individuals function as full participants in society, Nami Takenaka, the chairperson of Prop Station, promotes the creation of job opportunities and employment for those with disabilities. After meeting Ms. Takenaka, Kimura's preconceived ideas saw that extending a hand to those in weak positions represented a true social responsibility. He found Ms. Takenaka's remarks especially valuable. She pointed out that personal computer technologies now made it possible for disabled individuals to work. The ability to work meant they now had the potential to serve as human resources; it gave them the tools they needed to find employment. Nami Takenaka noted how home-based work, utilizing computer networking technologies, made such employment possible. This, in fact, marked a core element of the OKI business domain.

Kimura concluded computer networks offered the potential to employ disabled individuals for home-based work and OKI could contribute to society in a way that harnessed OKI's core competences. Around this time, he also met Mariko Horigome of Social Welfare Corporation Tokyo Colony.

Ms. Horigome organized information processing training to help disabled individuals work from home. She also trained information technology technicians to earn their national qualifications through various means, including the Fundamental Information Technology Engineer Examination and Systems Administrator Examination.

Ms. Horigome was troubled by the dearth of companies willing to employ workers to work from home. Recognizing each other as kindred spirits, the two began working to make their vision reality. This marked the beginnings of OKI Networkers, a system launched in 1997 to employ individuals with disabilities and to allow them to work from home.

Special subsidiary Oki Workwel Co., Ltd. (OWW) established

OKI Networkers began with just three members. Its first major opportunity was a project to design the content for OKI's Multimedia Kiosk (MMK). Sensing keen interest, Kimura asked the team to develop the OKI Social Contribution Promotion Office website. This experiment proved a great success and marked the point at which the role of work from home efforts shifted from simulations to a feasible reality.

Kimura would later strive to establish this project as a special subsidiary, leading the way to achieving the mandatory 1.8% proportion of jobs for disabled individuals. The objective was to expand employment and improve workplace environments. In July 2001, OKI Networkers won an award for excellence in the second Telework Promotion Awards. Staffing numbers passed 10 in April 2002. On May 13, 2004, Oki Workwel Co., Ltd. (OWW) became an official special subsidiary.

At OWW, multiple employees working from home form a project team under the leadership of a director (an employee working from home in a leadership position), all under the management of a coordinator stationed at the head office. In this way, OWW has fashioned its own unique production system, based on groupware it has developed itself. This system makes it possible to ascertain the working status and physical condition of each individual and to share business expertise among team members.

The system is currently supported by Workwel Communicator, the OWW multipoint teleconferencing system developed in 2006. Developed with support from the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), an incorporated administrative agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, this system has dramatically helped to overcome the sense of isolation workers feel when working on a project from home.

Today, OWW is a mid-ranking Web production company with a workforce of more than 30 outstanding Web engineers and support staff. Now it has expanded to provide Web development training to disabled individuals and consulting on work-from-home systems and sells related tools.

Workwel Communicator

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