Exploring “RICOH360”, a service that creates new value on the business scene
29 August, 2020
Ricoh Company, Ltd. is a company that develops products such as multi-function printers (MFP), software services, and digital cameras. Since the release of “RICOH THETA” a 360-degree camera in 2013, Ricoh has continued to develop various services that use 360-degree spherical images and videos. This time we interviewed Mr. Wataru Ohtani, an Executive Officer at Ricoh and the General Manager of the Smart Vision Business Group, which supervises RICOH THETA and the 360-degree business, about “RICOH360”, a service that has received a great deal of praise in a wide range of fields such as real estate and tourism. We will look at an overview of the RICOH360 service and explore such things as its vision and business strategy.
What is “RICOH360” that utilizes “RICOH THETA”?
―Could you please begin by telling us about the background for the development of RICOH THETA, which enables shooting in 360 degrees. Mr. Ohtani: It all began around 2010. It was triggered by the question “Can we create new value using cameras?”, during a time when people were moving from compact digital cameras to using their smartphone. At that time, within Ricoh we coined the term “Shaba (photographic field)” and used it to describe an image that shares the entire scene in terms of the atmosphere and ambience. We thought that there might be a need for this type of thing and proposed a 360-degree camera to meet the needs of society and to expand the camera’s possibilities.
―What kind of service do you provide with the newly released RICOH360? Mr. Ohtani: We have been developing various services for the business sector that utilize RICOH THETA, a camera that can take a 360-degree image in a single shot. Within the RICOH360 framework, we have developed services that include a 360-degree banner advertisement and a Cloud service that easily embeds 360-degree images into the customer’s website. For real estate, 360-degree images on a website enable you to view how rooms look as though you were actually there, while for tourism, you can rotate and view 360-degree images of famous tourist spots and images inside the hotel where you plan to stay. These services are also being used to feature the inside of vehicles and help manage the work conducted at construction sites. ―Did you expect to be creating services for the business sector since the initial development of RICOH THETA? Mr. Ohtani: To some extent we expected it to happen from the time of initial development. We saw it being used in the world of real estate and this pushed us towards developing services for companies. Real estate agents were sending photos showing the inside of property taken with RICOH THETA to introduce property to their customers. We thought about the need for “how much better it is to rotate and view inside a room” compared to shooting multiple images of the room. The user showed us a specific way of using the camera and this led to our current development.
A service that provides “intangible goods” that are different to past business
―I heard that you will integrate services into the RICOH360 brand. Mr. Ohtani: We will integrate services for the business sector that use RICOH THETA into the brand name “RICOH360”. Basically, it is based on the concept that we want to provide new value and something unique that has never been seen before. So far we have produced such things as “THETA 360.biz”, “RICOH360 – Ad” used for advertising, and “RICOH360 – Analysis” that enables you to analyze customer behavior after quickly placing RICOH THETA in a location. We have proposed methods to use 360-degree images and videos in a format that meets the needs of each individual customer. From now on, we would like to bring our services together once again, and fashion them in such a way as to “show customers how best to use 360-degree images and videos” and “provide them with everything they need” when they come to RICOH360. We are aiming for a format that has a lineup of services available to customers when they go to RICOH360 from which they can choose the ones they want to use. ―What aspect of this is a new initiative? Mr. Ohtani: Ricoh was originally a manufacturer and was basically a business that dealt in “physical goods”. However, RICOH360 is a platform service. It is a dynamic business, which is different from our past business in that it deals with “intangible goods” in a new way.
―I heard that deployment of this service will also be different to your past business. Mr. Ohtani: We are adopting a subscription model that provides services to users for a fixed period of time, similar to Adobe and Salesforce. Since we are in an age of rapid technological change, we want to develop a model that users can easily and openly customize by themselves. We want to push ahead with RICOH360 as a gateway to this model, and this is also clearly the essence of digital transformation.
360-degree images are becoming more widespread in companies
―Please tell us about what RICOH360 has achieved so far. Mr. Ohtani: About 3 times more users are using our services for the first time compared to last year. In terms of business sector, there has been an increase in cases from the construction industry and automobile industry, not just the real estate industry. ―How did people react after the service was actually deployed? Mr. Ohtani: They reacted extremely well towards it. As was the case for RICOH THETA, people started with the impression “Hey, this is interesting” and started to devise useful ways of using the service, and then there was widespread acceptance of the service. The market has come to appreciate “the advantages of being able to see an image in 360 degrees” with RICOH360 and RICOH THETA as was the case in the world of real estate. The other reason that it has become so popular is also due to users discovering new value by themselves by saying “hey, you can also use it like this”. ―How about the future growth of this business? Mr. Ohtani: I have been involved in various new business so far and I feel that a business that slowly penetrates the market will grow for much longer than a business that suddenly grows after its launch. Services that are easy to understand often grow suddenly and then fade just as fast. On this point, the usefulness of the RICOH360 service is slowly taking hold so I believe it will also continue to grow from now on.
Creating value that matches the needs of the customer
―Please tell us the reason that you adopted a subscription model. Mr. Ohtani: Last time I mentioned that “We want to develop a model that users can customize”. A subscription is a contract model in which users discard an old product or service and use a new one in its place. This has significant advantages for the user. We are now in an era where various things are possible using the Internet of Things (IoT) and users are also interested in new things. When new technology and such is released, we want to allow the user to choose for themselves each time it happens. ―What are the important points of a subscription model? Mr. Ohtani: Increasing the number of various options available as much as possible. Since it is named “RICOH360” we want to ensure that we can provide any kind of services associated with 360 degrees. Doing so will prevent the services from becoming obsolete and allow us to provide a format that responds to the needs of our users.
―Are there any services that you refer to for how to deploy your own service? Mr. Ohtani: We have studied and referred to services such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Salesforce as examples. We want people to be interested in our free service as the first point of contact and then, ideally, we want to have them move to a subscription-based contract. We also want many people to know about our services so are considering a broad-ranging deployment of the services using various opportunities.
What services do customers desire?
―What kind of services does RICOH360 offer? Mr. Ohtani: First, ““THETA 360.biz”” offers a 360-degree image viewer using the Cloud. Customers can not only save images shot in 360 degrees in the Cloud, but can also acquire codes to embed them on websites. This enables end users to view 360-degree images without using a special app, and the customers can also easily create tours in which the viewer can move around within the 360-degree image. For example, for the real estate industry, their customers can look at how rooms appear without worrying about the time or location. This is of course convenient for the customers, and can increase the effectiveness of sales and the rate of people who decide to rent or buy the property. You can also show the atmosphere inside a restaurant. In addition to the use in the tourism industry and automobile industry, recently there are also cases in which companies show their workplace such as offices when recruiting people for jobs.
Providing a service across time and space
―What do you have to meet the needs of companies? Mr. Ohtani: There are various things. For example, we meet the demand for home staging. Home staging is a method of placing actual furnishings in vacant rooms and taking photos so that they look like model rooms when introducing property to people. It is said that people take less time to decide to buy or rent the property when compared to viewings of rooms with no furnishings. However, this method unfortunately takes time and money when bringing items into and placing them in the rooms. “RICOH360 VR Staging” can easily solve this problem. You can decorate and arrange furnishings and small items created using computer graphics inside 360-degree images to show the space in a more attractive light. In the virtual world, you can switch in an instant to a Japanese or Western style room, without effort or cost.
―It looks like there are many other things it can be used for. Mr. Ohtani: I’ve given this example several times but it can also be used for construction sites. Severe communication loss at construction sites is regarded as a problem. This is because various contractors enter the site and come together to work on various tasks. For example, I’ve heard that there are times when incorrect work procedures are used even when just fitting window frames. If you use 360-degree images taken with RICOH THETA, you will be able to provide instructions to workers such as “You need to install this today” while viewing images of the construction site. Looking at images and videos is the best and easiest method to understand the situation so I think it will eliminate almost all mistakes at the work site. ―Frankly, what is the essence of 360 degrees? Mr. Ohtani: Besides communication and recording, it is the ability to move across time and space. Accumulating 360-degree data for 10 years or 20 years will enable us to go on a virtual tour across time. This is referred to as a time machine that travels across time. As an example of crossing space, there are also people from among RICOH THETA users who take 360-degree images of places where other people cannot go, such as the summit of Everest or in the depths of the ocean. You are now able to cross through space and actually go to places you would not otherwise be able to go to by yourself. You can have an experience that crosses over time and space due to a 360-degree image taken for use by either consumers or business. I believe that the ability to cross over time and space is the essence of value.
RICOH becomes a global platform
―Are you also deploying the services overseas? Mr. Ohtani: On the whole, we want to quickly start deploying our services overseas. An equivalent service to “THETA 360.biz” has been deployed in the USA. We are also planning to expand into the European market soon. ―Is it difficult to enter the market when deploying services overseas? Mr. Ohtani: Business methods and the organization of key players are indeed different in different countries. Therefore, we want create more partnerships using a format that conforms to the local way of doing things as much as possible. We have already started working with startup companies and such for “RICOH360 VR Staging” and “RICOH360 – Ad”. I say startup companies but there are also many companies that understand the local needs and provide single solutions. We are considering forming an alliance with these type of companies and putting them on the Ricoh platform.
―Please tell us about the advantages of creating partnerships. Mr. Ohtani: Ricoh has sales channels (customers) all over the world. For companies who have formed an alliance with us, it is an opportunity for them to reach Ricoh customers. For Ricoh, it allows us to provide an extensive menu of services to users, and build a win-win relationship. In this regard, we want to work with companies that know the needs locally instead of deploying services by Ricoh alone.
RICOH360 shows further expansion of value by integrating brands. Content that crosses over time and space is without doubt attractive to end users and companies. We should keep an eye on RICOH360, a service that will show consecutive new developments after adopting a subscription model. It will be possible to use a combination of various services that include “THETA 360.biz”, “RICOH360 – Ad”, “RICOH360 VR Staging”, and “RICOH360 – Analysis”. We are grateful for this development that allows users to customize the model with 360-degree images by themselves such as enabling customer acquisition and advertisements on websites, and being able to produce photos featuring real estate property as is for advertising. * This article was written in April 2019. Services currently provided now may differ to those discussed here.
RICOH360 is a service brand for the business sector that optimizes the digitization of work and the work site using 360-degree data. RICOH360 provides a total user experience from shooting images to data utilization in order to optimize the customer’s work flow.