Sony dumps its PC business, splits its TV division and cuts 5,000 jobs, and issues a fiscal warning. But lacking is clarity: We all know what Sony was, but what is it becoming?
What if Sony gets out of the box business entirely? What if it zeroes in on the development of advanced “sensing” technologies? And Sony becomes responsible for selling and licensing, and partnering with equipment vendors in different industries?
Hirai spent much of the time during his keynote speech, talking about “future” sensing technologies. He meant everything from Sony’s current digital image sensing technology (remember, Sony is the world’s leader in CMOS image sensors) to its future advanced sensing technology “that has the ability to see the unseen.”
Clearly, Hirai wasn’t just talking about the new generation of high-end digital cameras. He cited “a complete array of image sensors,” capable of capturing real-time photos, which allows users to “change background and foreground focus, color intensity, image enhancements, depth of fields, and others -- even after the picture was taken.”
To see the unseen
But his point about advanced sensing technology was to “capture unseen data,” including speed, location, wavelength and others, and combine them to expand human perception and insight, and ultimately “to see the unseen.”
Hirai talked about the potential of using such technology in automotive (i.e. Advanced Driver Assistance System), agriculture (sensing weather, CO2 consistency), skincare, and more general medical monitoring devices.
OK, maybe this was just marketing hype to make everyone feel better about Sony’s future. But if Sony is really looking for an exit plan, I’m convinced this is it.
Despite the public perception of Sony as a consumer electronics appliance company, I think it’s time to ditch the CE label and forget about building boxes.
Just because Sony has good ideas to help farmers with its advanced sensing technology, it doesn’t mean that Sony has to build the box to hold the technology. Sony won’t make money by creating a box for every industry application.
As I pondered this makeover, I realized that this is a total switch of the business model that made Sony who it is today. It was hard enough for Sony -- financially, but also emotionally speaking -- to dump the PC business and spin off TV. Ditching both game consoles and smartphones will be devastating to the company’s workforce.
As of September last year, Sony reportedly had about 145,000 employees. Even after the latest 5,000 job cuts (1,500 in Japan, 3,500 abroad), Sony is still saddled with too big a workforce. That makes it almost impossible to morph Sony into a more nimble, small-scale, technology-focused company.
I know. I just killed my own exit plan for Sony.
But here’s an alternative.
We can flip the plan. If Sony’s advanced sensing technology is as good as Hirai claimed in his keynote speech, how about spinning off Sony’s imaging/sensing technology group? Make it essentially a hungry startup, freed from the burden of carrying more than 140,000 employees.
By all means, Sony shouldn’t be hiding unprofitable business units in the name of synergy. But rather than in the perpetual motion of cutting the company to the bone, it’s high time for Sony to save one part of the company that might be able to do some good in the future.