Softbank shifts to paperless workplace, Apple tools

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Internet giant Softbank Corp. will go paperless starting this month by banning employees from printing handouts or distributing paper press releases.

CEO Masayoshi Son unveiled his grand plan as he released Softbank’s earnings report for business 2011 to reporters and investors Thursday, saying the use of electronic documents via iPads or iPhones will be mandatory for all business-related matters.

Softbank, the first mobile phone company in the nation to distribute Apple’s signature mobile devices, said it has been promoting the shift to a paperless workplace over the past few years.

As part of the campaign, Softbank has been equipping employees with iPhones since 2009 and iPads since in 2010.

“All of our employees are equipped with iPads and iPhones. There is no reason for us to print paper any more,” Son was quoted as saying Thursday. He also emphasized that the wireless gadgets will be more than adequate for internal document-sharing.

Son also said it would no longer publish paper news releases or fax them out, calling for investors and reporters to go online to the PDFs.

“You can’t see (the earnings) numbers unless you have an iPad next time we release our earnings report,” Son said, promoting iPads.

Softbank remains the exclusive distributor of Apple’s tablet computer in Japan but is encountering fierce competition in iPhone sales from rival carrier KDDI Corp., owner of the au brand, which began selling them last October.

Yet Son said the firm would still distribute paper documents to “old establishments,” such as government entities, which only accept paper. It will also keep brochures on hand at its retail stores for prospective customers.

Analysts said using tablet computers might become a major trend in corporate Japan.

Researcher Hiroshi Naya at the Ichiyoshi Research Institute noted: “iPads are cheaper than computers. They can also store and share lots of information.”

Softbank isn’t the only company pushing the “paperless revolution.”

In March, Miura Co., a boiler manufacturer and distributor based in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, began requiring its 1,000 service engineers to make use of iPads when performing maintenance work.

Miura said maintenance used to involve lots of paperwork and bulky manuals. But thanks to the iPads, it has scrapped its 2,300-page technical manuals, allowing it to engage in environmental conservation and save on printing costs.

The gadget also produced dramatic savings on labor, allowing service engineers to work 60 hours less each year by taking advantage of video manuals and videoconferencing.

In the United States, United Airlines distributed 11,000 iPads to its pilots in 2010 to replace their bulky navigational charts. The airline said each pilot typically carries a conventional flight bag full of 12,000 sheets of paper material weighing around 17 kg. Use of the iPad, which weighs less than 1 kg, should save it 16 million sheets of paper and 326,000 gallons of jet fuel per year, the airline said in a statement.