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How Toyota Uses Information Technology (IT) for Kaizen

By Jon Miller Published on June 21st, 2006

There is a staggering amount of good material being printed these days in the Japanese press about kaizen, the Toyota Production System and issues of manufacturing and business competitiveness. I just wish I had more time to read the magazines and books that Brad Schmidt sends over from our Tokyo office, and share it with you.
If anyone out there knows of a grant to read Japanese literature and share summaries with English-speaking audiences, or some other scheme that would allow me to pay the bills e-mail me.
A recent article in Nikkei Business Press titled (in Japanese) Toyota’s Data is at the Hands of the CIO – Data is a Weapon for Kaizen Suggestions (Toyota no subete no jouhou wa CIO no temoto ni aru – data wo buki ni kaizen teian) contained a brief interview with Toytoa CIO Yoshikazu Amano.
Toyota has succeeded in reducing new vehicle development time from four years to between one and two years partly due to heavy investment in CAD tools and electronic parts list systems. Here are Amano’s comments on how Toyota uses information technology to do kaizen:
“At Toyota the Information System Department and I as the CIO have an absolute advantage when compared to other departments. The reason is that we manage all of the data from Toyota’s global operations. I have this data at my fingertips.
Looking at this data tells me a lot. For instance in sales I can see that some sales companies are successful at selling new cars while others are good at selling used cars or service. I can also see the difference in profitability between these companies. In the area of logistics I can see one department over here and another over there processing similar data, and that these departments may need to be reorganized and the transactions streamlined.
Part of my job as CIO is to take on these company-wide issues and use this data to make improvement suggestions when I have an opportunity to meet with the managing executives.
Of course, it requires more than me making suggestions for Toyota to make good use of IT. The departments who are the users of information technology must be motivated for IT use to spread. Fortunately, the departments who are users of information technology frequently contact me to ask “Can we use IT for this?”
The reason they ask me is that our company’s goals are set very high. These departments have goals such as “cut lead time to 1/3rd” and “cut prices in half” that are virtually impossible to achieve through our traditional way of doing business.
There are cases when people become desperate for help in achieving their goals they ask me “Can we use IT for this?” In order to achieve these things we need to approach information technology implementation from a cross-departmental approach.”

He goes on to give an example of this from new vehicle development at Toyota.
Very cool. Despite what those in the business will tell you, information technology is not the solution to problems of how products sell or how we move materials from place to place. IT is a tool and an enabler to a world class operating systems, if you’ve already got one. If you don’t work on that first. When information made visible is used to do kaizen according to the proper thinking (TPS philosophy) you can achieve results that traditional thinking could not.

  1. Jeff Morrow

    February 14, 2007 - 3:30 pm

    I’d very much appreciate a translation of the “… example of this from new vehicle development at Toyota.” if that’s not too much bother.

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