[YS Exclusive] Here’s why Rakuten - the Amazon of Japan - chose to set up its tech R&D centre in Bengaluru

17th Dec 2018
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Yasufumi Hirai, CIO and CISO, Rakuten, says the Japanese ecommerce major’s deep tech research and development arm in Bengaluru will help drive innovative solutions for worldwide operations.

Over the last 21 years, Rakuten, one of Japan’s leading ecommerce marketplaces, has turned into a conglomerate with interests spanning fintech, digital content, and communications. The giant may not have any direct business operations in India, but it has set up a centre in Bengaluru with one aim – tapping the country’s rich, technical talent pool to drive innovative solutions for its worldwide operations. For this, the company that operates in 29 countries and regions, this month, inaugurated the Rakuten Institute of Technology (RIT), its deep tech research and development arm, in Bengaluru.

Speaking to YourStory, Yasufumi Hirai, CIO and CISO, Rakuten, reveals why they set up a tech institute in Bengaluru, the company’s key focus areas, and whether they will engage with startups.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

YourStory: How is Rakuten tapping into the technical talent pool in India?

Yasufumi Hirai: We are committed to capitalising the power of data and artificial intelligence; that is why we decided to establish Rakuten Institute of Technology (RIT), a footprint of our research function in Bengaluru. There are several transformational aspects happening, which include the shift from physical to digital, PC to mobile, and download to streaming.

This is where Rakuten is planning to contribute to society by combining everything, including content, search delivery platform, and connectivity. Right now, we have 10 technical development sites globally. In Japan, we have the largest with 2,500 engineers, but 60 percent of them are non-Japanese. This is evidence of our globalisation effort. We are also conducting an initiative where English is the only single common business language. It is a fact that there is some difficulty in recruiting top engineering talent in Japan, so we are looking at an alternative site to continue to expand our technical capacity. We opened our India centre two years ago and have 450 engineers; this facility can accommodate up to 800. We are committed to expanding capacity.

YS: What are key focus areas for Rakuten in India?

YH: We have 20 different functions for Rakuten India. The scope of tech activity ranges from ecommerce applications, ecosystem services, big data, security, etc. We have completely moved our security operations centre from Tokyo to Bengaluru. R&D is an important element to expand in Bengaluru, simply because of the top talent - the source of innovation. Rakuten is going for quality talent. There is also a similar working style between India and Japan.

Yasufumi Hirai, CIO and CISO, Rakuten

YS: What are the plans for the newly-opened Rakuten Institute of Technology?

YH: In India, we find many excellent people who have expertise in business and technology domains. We are collaborating for the businesses of ecommerce and fintech. We are working in the area of fraud detection as it is an important component for the accelerated future of ecommerce and payments. The other area of focus is computer vision projects, owing to the presence of excellent researchers. The key focus is, how do we elevate business services to the next step through deep learning and other advanced technologies.

YS: How will Rakuten attract the necessary talent?

YH: Rakuten may not have business operations in India, but we are a globally known brand. We recently hired people with either masters’ or PhD degrees from IISc. Rakuten is such a wide conglomerate that when somebody comes into work with us, they are not limited to any specific segment. They have the opportunity to work in multiple segments like fintech, ecommerce, network infrastructure etc. Also, RIT is engaged with solving many deep interesting problems of the future through technology. If not for these opportunities, we would not have grown so much in terms of talent. We have also recruited talent from IITs and other large corporations.

YS: Will Rakuten look at engaging with tech startups in India?

YH: That is another advantage of having a presence in Bengaluru: we can reach out to any startup. We may be able to do joint projects with startups or have some sort of alliance. We can export something very attractive out of India to the rest of the world. We will also engage with universities and academia. Rakuten India is not an offshore centre but a globalisation hub. We have transferred some end-to-end product development activity to India where there is complete ownership.

YS: What are future plans of Rakuten for India?

YH: We are committed to expanding our capacity and capability in India. The Founder of Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani, is a big fan of India. We recently had our global CTO summit in Bengaluru and it was a big success. Next January, we plan to organise our leadership summit in the city to touch and feel of the reality of what is going on in India.


Also read: Startup funding: The Japanese may be cautious, but they're betting big on India


 

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