Since its founding in 1984, SoftBank has been at the forefront of telecommunications in Japan. From the country’s first emails sent on mobile phones to the introduction of the iPhone in the Japanese market, the group has sped ahead of competitors, both domestically and abroad. In keeping with its commitment to innovation, SoftBank unveiled its Beyond Carrier strategy, an ambitious plan to provide services across a range of industries, including AI, big data, health care and more.
But traditional forms of communication were slowing the conglomerate down and standing in the way of its vision. SoftBank, which comprises more than 260 companies and 40,000 employees, needed a scalable solution that would allow the 17,000 employees supporting its core company to quickly make decisions and execute new strategies. Encouraged by the success of early internal adopters of Slack, SoftBank formally adopted the platform in October 2020. The switch to secure channel-based messaging didn’t just transform communications – it enabled the company to scale knowledge, automate workstreams and accelerate decision-making.
‘The company-wide introduction of Slack has both transformed our internal communication at SoftBank and had a positive effect on our customers and stakeholders.’
Swapping meetings and emails for fast, open communication
Like many legacy companies, SoftBank had long relied on email and in-person meetings to facilitate business. But that approach grew cumbersome and time-consuming as the company expanded. When leaders needed to make quick decisions, they would gather relevant stakeholders in a meeting. ‘The problem with this strategy is the more you want to speed up business, the more meetings you need,’ says Keiichi Makizono, a senior vice president, the chief information officer and the head of SoftBank’s IT and network unit. ‘In our corporate culture, we decide and execute things quickly, which led to a considerable number of meetings each day.’
This resulted in stacked schedules and left little time for deep thinking and strategising. ‘Many executive officers couldn’t physically get out of the meeting room because they had continuous face-to-face meetings,’ says Kunihiro Fujinaga, the senior vice president of business strategy and marketing for SoftBank’s corporate business unit. The company’s reliance on word-of-mouth communication led to other issues too, he says. ‘Communication was always a problem: the fast pace of business and parallel progression of multiple projects resulted in repetitive work.’
The company initially encouraged every department to choose its own collaboration tools. While that policy gave people flexibility, it also created a fragmented communications experience, with information scattered over multiple platforms and email. Slack had emerged as one of the most popular tools among the younger generation of workers. The platform’s ease of use and interoperability with other workplace tools caught Makizono’s attention.
‘From the perspective of managing IT operations, the ideal situation is to have just one company-wide collaboration tool,’ he says. ‘You also need to be able to link the tool with the company’s IT systems, so that you can conduct all of your daily operations and communications there. For this, Slack was the obvious choice.’
‘The early Slack adopters at SoftBank knew its potential. To maintain that momentum and break our dependence on emails and face-to-face meetings, we introduced Slack company-wide to speed up decision-making and accelerate business growth.’
Scaling knowledge and introducing operational efficiencies
Kazushi Iizuka, who works in SoftBank’s AI/RPA promotion office in the consumer sales unit, was one of the company’s earliest Slack users. His experience inspired him to push for its adoption company-wide. ‘I knew Slack was a tool that could deliver efficient communication,’ he says.
When Iizuka and his teammates used email, it was challenging to keep others in the loop, especially if they were not on the original message. Long threads made information hard to locate and pass along. When his team switched to Slack, they were able to share conversations with all of the relevant stakeholders instantly. ‘Employees in different workplaces realised that we could solve our communications problem in one fell swoop with Slack, leading to a rapid expansion of users,’ he says.
Iizuka says that the benefits of Slack continue to underscore its value at SoftBank. ‘It’s not just that Slack is easy to use – the speed of product updates and feature developments keeps pace with our requirements,’ he says. ‘We were keenly aware of the need to increase our own operational efficiency, which drove Slack’s popularity.’ Slack also helps SoftBank’s teams to optimise the processes and apps that they already use. ‘Slack’s ability to link with various apps and APIs makes the platform very compatible with our workflows.’
‘The ability to aggregate information and search in Slack is part of why it became so popular. When teams noticed how intuitive and easy it was to share knowledge, it led to rapid expansion.’
Accelerating business with external partners in Slack Connect
Slack has transformed collaboration at SoftBank for 20,000 employees and counting. Teams have been quick to link internal systems with Slack, automating as many business processes as possible in order to free up time for deeper work. For example, in the sales division, SoftBank replaced email notifications containing the latest metrics and results with automated updates in Slack. The change eliminated unnecessary notifications while giving all stakeholders easy access to the most recent sales numbers.
In the future, SoftBank aims to extend channel-based messaging to its partner companies with Slack Connect, a secure environment for collaborating with external organisations. ‘We plan to leverage Slack to encourage more open collaboration both internally and externally,’ Fujinaga says. ‘With Slack, we can foster a culture of open, channel-based communication that moves work forwards faster.’