Helping Fukuoka Be a City Loved for 100 Years to Come - The Past and Future of 「Regional Collaboration」 at LINE Fukuoka
LINE Fukuoka celebrates its seventh anniversary on November 18. In that brief period, the company has rapidly expanded in both organizational scale and the functions that it is equipped to perform.
To celebrate our seventh anniversary, we will be re-introducing you to the functions that we currently serve. We also sat down with several department leaders to ask them how they've grown over the last seven years, as well as what challenges they plan to take on in the future in our 7th anniversary project.
The theme for our fourth issue is "regional collaboration." We sat down to discuss the initiatives we've undertaken with Fukuoka City over the past seven years, and what the future holds.
This time we interviewed:
The Desire to be a Company Fukuoka Residents Cheer for
― Since LINE Fukuoka's establishment in 2013, your department has interacted with residents in a variety of ways. The citizen-driven commercial which was filmed in 2014, just after the company was established, was particularly impressive.
Matsuo: LINE Fukuoka is a company that was born from a strong desire to "nurture LINE services together with Fukuoka residents." We wanted our TV commercial to be an embodiment of that. Even so, we didn't know how many people would come to be a part of the commercial when we asked them to gather in front of Fukuoka City Hall in 48 hours. But 1,000 residents answered the call. We could feel the big expectations people have for LINE, and the LINE Fukuoka Corporation, and the employees who participated in the filming received strength from directly interacting with actual users.
― Similarly, about 2,000 people came to the fan meeting that was held in front of Hakata Station in 2014.
Matsuo: The idea behind the fan meeting was the same. During that period we were stepping up our hiring, so in that sense we wanted people to know about LINE Fukuoka, and make more friends. Some current LINE Fukuoka employees who actually applied as a result of going to that meeting.
― In 2015 LINE Fukuoka also held lectures for engineers at the Kyushu Institute of Technology, and sticker creation workshops for illustrators. Interactions with the regional community have changed to utilize the functions that LINE Fukuoka serves. In 2019, LINE Fukuoka also began to support and give technical advice to start-up companies at Fukuoka Growth Next, which is Fukuoka City's start-up hub.
Matsuo: A lot of people use LINE's services, but don't have a clear picture of what LINE Fukuoka is doing as a company, or what kind of people are working here. This is an issue we continue to face in 2020. We wanted people to learn about LINE Fukuoka, and cheer for us, so we created opportunities for them to interact directly with our employees. That's something we've always kept in mind since around then. Additionally, we thought there might be something for employees to gain, by providing them with an opportunity to utilize their skills and experience to give joy to other people outside of their work.
― LINE Fukuoka has also acted as the Official Communication Partner for the FUKUOKA MARATHON since 2017. The marathon has acted as both a venue for verification testing of services, and another valuable opportunity for employees to interact with the city's residents.
Matsuo: Right. The marathon was canceled in 2020, but once a year the FUKUOKA MARATHON is an opportunity for people with various goals and viewpoints to come together including runners, volunteers, committee members, and roadside spectators, and is one of Fukuoka City's largest events. Every year we worry about what kind of value we can offer to the event, but it's a very important event for us. It's an opportunity to get feedback directly from our users, and contribute to the city through our services.
Realizing a "Civic Smart City" from Fukuoka
― In 2016, LINE Fukuoka concluded the Information Provision Fortification Tie-up Agreement With Fukuoka City. In the following year, the Fukuoka City LINE Official account was launched, and collaboration with Fukuoka City has accelerated from there.
Matsuo: Around 2015, we proposed multiple ways to utilize LINE to the city. It was our first initiative with the city, and it was difficult to make everything we wanted to a reality at first, so we decided to start with information delivery first and concluded a tie-up agreement.
― The first thing to be introduced was segmented information delivery. In addition to being able to get just the information you want, features rooted in daily life in Fukuoka such as "non-burnable garbage" notifications and environmental forecasts (such as for PM 2.5) became a hot topic.
Matsuo: A lot of features like that were created as a result of things employees living in the city noticed. Take non-burnable garbage notifications for example - a planner who was in charge of putting the garbage out for his home had a habit of forgetting to put out non-burnable garbage, which only gets collected once a month, so we added the feature to the account.
― After that, LINE's technology was adopted in a wider variety of fields such as AI and Fintech, not just information delivery, so LINE Fukuoka concluded the Comprehensive Partnership Agreement. Mr. Minakata, you currently oversee our initiatives with Fukuoka City, and this was when you joined the company, wasn't it?
Minakata: My personal motivation for joining the company was a desire to make the city I love happy, and create a good company in Fukuoka. When I joined the company I worked as a corporate planner for the company as a whole, and was considering what kind of value LINE Fukuoka should create in the future.
That was when Fukuoka City was openly recruiting verification testing for cashless payment, and LINE Fukuoka was planning to submit an entry. I thought this was my chance to accomplish both my goal of using LINE to make Fukuoka residents happy and create new value for LINE Fukuoka, so I raised my hand to take on the project.
― After that, LINE Fukuoka was selected to carry out verification testing for cashless payment, and in the same year the Smart City Strategy Department, which takes on collaborative initiatives with Fukuoka City and regional companies, was established.
Minakata: In the early stages of our department we hadn't decided on a name or what we were going to do yet. We'd only decided that we're not going to stop with information delivery and promoting cashless payment, we're going to find more that we can do with LINE services.
By selecting the name "Smart City Strategy Department" we were able to consider how the smart city we're aiming for was different from other smart cities, what our competitive edge was, consider the marketplace as a whole through the lens of smart cities, and decide what direction we should go in.
― In the two years since your department was established, it has taken on over 60 projects.
Through the Fukuoka City LINE Official Account, it has also released features rooted in daily life such as Oversized Garbage Reservations/Payment (粗大ごみの申し込み・支払い) and School Lunch Allergen Notifications (給食のアレルゲン情報通知) , as well as features useful in emergencies such as Evacuation Action Support (避難行動支援). As of November 2020, the account has 1.73 million registered friends.
The same account also won the Good Design Award in 2020. The source code the account's features were modeled from are also now offered for free nationwide in the LINE SMART CITY GovTech Program, for local governments to accelerate their developer experience (DX).
Minakata: We're using basic LINE features such as LINE Official Accounts and LINE Pay. However, we can make daily life more convenient exactly because we're using LINE services, which many people are already using.
At the same time, what we're striving for is a "Civic Smart City," and we believe it's important for residents to participate in urban planning through these familiar LINE services. For example, one of the features of the Fukuoka City LINE Official Account is the Infrastructure Report (道路公園等通報) feature. It allows residents to easily report damage they find to city infrastructure, such as damaged park equipment or traffic mirrors, easily on LINE, and as many as 400 reports are made in a month.
I believe that through experiences like this, residents can appreciate how one small action helps the area, and by changing their awareness of urban planning, I want to make the "Smart City" that residents truly want a reality.
― Since 2019, the Smart City Strategy Department also collaborated with private businesses in several projects, not just the local government. Co-creation has been especially rapid in 2020, such as with the release of "Nishitetsu Bus and Train Congestion Information Delivery" (西鉄バス・電車の混雑情報発信) in just one week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October of this year, the department also formed theFukuoka Smart City Community joint venture with eight companies in different fields representing Fukuoka City.
Minakata: Of course, urban planning isn't possible with just our strength alone. I believe it's important to work together with private businesses that have supported Fukuoka City with a strong will and its local government, as well as contributing our strengths to the city.
Matsuo: Since 2019, in addition to providing venues for exchanging views like Meetups, I believe our collaboration between companies is proceeding smoothly as a result of our accumulated initiatives with Fukuoka City. If LINE Fukuoka didn't have the achievements and credibility it does, it would be difficult for other companies to select us as a business partner, even if the person in charge wants to.
Helping Fukuoka Be a City Loved for 100 Years to Come
― In terms of "regional collaboration," how do you perceive what you've been able to accomplish and what you haven't? Going forward, what kind of evolution are you aiming for?
Matsuo: I feel that we've consistently made friends over the past seven years, including Fukuoka City residents and the companies we've partnered with. We're also now receiving inquiries from local governments and private businesses outside Fukuoka.
But on the other hand, I think there's still a lot of other experiences we can offer residents that make them realize how much more convenient their life is with LINE. I feel that we need to give Fukuoka City residents our attention once again, while continuing to polish our technology. I want to be a more familiar presence to the city's residents.
Minakata: I want Fukuoka City to be a city that's loved for 100 years to come, not just now.
However, the way a city should look and its values are probably a lot different from now. That's why I want it to be a resilient city that can respond to any change, and one that can resolve issues quickly. I also want LINE Fukuoka to do everything it can, without leaving it up to someone else.
Currently, the Smart City Strategy Department has 15 direct employees, and 24 if you include those who hold an additional post in the department. I'm very proud of what we've been able to accomplish with these select few members, such as being able to accomplish 30 releases, and raising the monthly active users (MAU) of the Fukuoka City LINE Official Account by more than 100,000 in 2020 alone.
On the other hand, LINE Fukuoka has more than 1,000 employees, and there are other departments that have worked on projects with other regions, as Ms. Matsuo just said. I think LINE Fukuoka can give back more to the community, and we can create a lot more value together in Fukuoka City together with its residents in other ways than Smart City initiatives as well. I hope that by putting what we've done over the past two years into words and sharing it with the entire company, we can contribute to LINE Fukuoka creating a lot of value as a company.
A message from the editor/LINE Fukuoka Press
We're very thankful that recently, we have started to receive a lot of messages from people that they learned about or became interested in LINE Fukuoka through our initiatives with Fukuoka City.
Conversely some time ago, we were receiving messages of doubt and unease, much less being interested in our initiatives. That's exactly why these two have continued to value putting the value of initiatives into words, and continuing to deliver messages both in and out of the company. We feel that this is yet another type of "accumulation."
The theme for our next and final issue of the seventh anniversary project - discussing the past and future of LINE Fukuoka is "Why We're LINE Fukuoka." We'll be bringing you a conversation between our CEO Mr. Noritaka Ochiai, and our COO, Mr. Yusuke Suzuki. We hope you'll read the final article as well!