'Korean companies becoming value creator'
Adobe executive says cloud may usher in data utopia
An executive of Adobe Systems, one of the industry’s leading software makers, said Korea was changing from being a simple industrial manufacturer to a value creator in the global market.
“What I see from outside is Korea moving off that early manufacturing and early services into the high-end, value-added stuff,” said Michael Stoddart, product marketing manager of digital media for Asia Pacific, who has been with Adobe for 17 years and visited Korea frequently over the past ten years, in a recent interview with The Korea Times in Seoul.
“I think Korea is reaching the maturity of value creating because it’s not just about the product. It’s about the business model and Korea isn’t leaving behind the old ways and moving forward to the new way and you have to be able to bring the two together,” he said.
Stoddart said the shift has been happening over the past five or six years, where now manufacturing competitiveness ― Korea’s backbone for its export model ― remains strong and gains the added impetuses from services and companies’ active value creation.
“There is a general feeling that Korea’s time is here. There is a lot of acceptance of your brand abroad,” he said. “With strong brands, strong manufacturing and increasing value and services, I think we will see more Korean brands in the market. And there is not that question of ‘oh it’s a Korean brand’ because the brands themselves are strong.”
He disagreed with some concerns raised by local market watchers that the nation may be heading toward its peak and will face Japan’s stagnated growth. “I think the Korean government’s management of the economy is very different from Japan’s management,” he said, citing a fundamental difference in economical models of the two. “I think it’s too easy to just say ‘it’s like Japan' without looking into it more carefully.”
The executive said the main competition will come from China and India, especially in the developers market, as they have an immense number of highly educated computer science graduates.
“Geographically and geopolitically, it is good to have a competitive partner in this part of the world and it opens up business opportunity for us,” he said.
Stoddart also said it seemed the Korean market was cautious to engage in new things, while when the actual move occurs it happens massively and all at once.
“Specifically in the media and advertising companies, for example, they are very into design, forward thinking and interested in the next three years,” he said. “But also, perhaps conversely, they are very cautious in spending their money too quickly.”
“I perceive that to be a cultural thing. Koreans are very interested in the new but want to make sure that ‘this is great’ and will say we will look into it before we cross. How that manifests itself will be a tipping point. There will be lots and lots of interest and all of a sudden it will happen at once,” he said, adding the Korean media publishers shift into things digital was only accelerating.
Stoddart also praised the creativity of the local design market, saying “There is a whole ‘look’ of Korean design style. It’s very unique and appealing to Westerners as well, unlike other designs (in different countries) that seem too removed.”
‘A broadband and storage utopia’
The Adobe official predicted that the wide dissemination of cloud, or storing data on massive online servers, may bring “fundamental social changes” and possibly a “utopia” of broadband and storage due to the cost cuts.
“If broadband and online storage become so cheap as to become effectively free, we have no idea of what’s possible,” he said. “I’m not saying either one of them is possible, only they could be.”
“It won’t be just technological changes, but a social one. It does allow for big picture thinking,” he added.
Adobe launched its latest Creative Cloud service ― its latest software solution that uses the cloud ― in April last years in the U.S. and here on Monday,. Cloud is one of the biggest trends in the information technology (IT) industry right now with many projecting a total revolution in services.
Stoddart gave a comparative example that cloud and other advanced data storage developments will bring in the future, currently unimaginable, through a question he recently received. “Someone ask me an interesting question: ‘what would’ve happened, citing back in the 1950s when they were building nuclear power, people thought electricity would be so cheap ― they actually believed it ― to become effectively free. What would you do if electricity was free?
“Most people pictured Las Vegas ― lots of neon, lots of bright signs. No. What would happen is you would solve world hunger because you would be able to desalinate water anywhere on the planet. So changes like the cloud will usher in fundamental social changes.” The matter of network neutrality won’t be problematic then, he said.
For Adobe right now, adopting the cloud for its services means faster delivery of products to consumers while giving a more dynamic purchase option. “It allows us to move more rapidly into the market.”
“The cloud side of it means: In the past when there was a major update or shift in the market, such as the iPad a couple of years ago, we couldn’t update or release any new version of a solution without charging for it, where as now we can because you are signing up for them,” he said. “Customers want to know they have the latest version and they want to decide what they want to use.”
He added that the whole discussion of what version of software people use will go away thanks to delivery through the cloud.
Compared to the U.S., Korean businesses are yet to widely deploy tablet computers for employees or implement the recently rising bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy and take advantage of touch-screen mobile devices in the workplace.
Stoddart believes that “it is only a matter of time” before this completely changes as tablets become applied in education and health areas. “You have to remember tablet market is only two years old.”
“I think if you look at the entire history of personal computers, from let’s say the 1940s to the projected future of 2040, the idea of having a very sophisticated computer on your desktop will be seen for the ‘blip’ it was. In the future you we will have lightweight material connected to the cloud.
“The idea of having highly expensive, quite fragile pieces of sophisticated equipment sitting at your home or your workplace will be looked upon as ‘well, that was quaint. Why did we have all that expensive stuff?’” he said, believing that in the next couple of years, the whole economics of computing will change due to the industry trend.
'Increased competition absolutely exciting'
The competition in the IT industry is fiercer and more volatile than ever ― with cyclical release periods that were usually between one to two years becoming shorter and shorter ― and more and more new players challenging established ones.
But for Adobe, which stayed nimble to continually transform itself in the turbulent market, the competition was “much more exciting now,” said Stoddart.
“It’s interesting to see that the commercialization of IT has been the trend for the last couple of years. We don’t see people lining up for banks for whatever new product they bring, but they stand in front of Apple and Samsung,” he said. “I find it fascinating that the consumers may be fickle but underlining it is that consumers are interested. There is energy, and it is absolutely exciting.”
“We try to stay very consumer-focused. I think you just can’t simply be arrogant anymore,” he said, adding that Adobe and other companies’ challenge is “not to be boring.” He cited the spectacular success of his companies’ Photoshop, which is 20 years old but extremely long-lived as a software that continues to bring in updates that “wow” consumers.
New devices and operating systems (OS) are emerging fast, and Adobe’s software, which has a long perception as compatible mostly with Apple’s Macs, is being “developed for other platforms,” he said. Stoddart was excited to see new devices from Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers who are also clients, especially them bringing in price-competitive tablets.
“We find that different areas use different OSs, and we have always been cross-platform,” he said. “I think there will be number of different OSs specifically for different devices, and I think for me personally, for most people they don’t care which it is as long as they can do what they want to do.
“Creative tools, email, particular devices, particular price point are the top four question and number five will be OS.”
Uptake of the its cloud service has been solid and the executive said Adobe would continue its drive to move desktop features into the cloud, while using both ways to its advantage and releasing products accordingly, without relying on one or another too heavily. “We aren’t reliant on either and are better positioned than the industry and we don’t have to ask our customers to go all cloud.”
The adoption of subscription-based purchases from Creative Cloud was to give clients a wider choice he said: “Those who wanted to use our products but couldn’t pay the up-front price can now get our solutions.”
On the launch date of the next version of Adobe’s Creative Suite, the flagship software solution of the company, which should be next month, considering the previous yearly update cycle, he said “nothing has been decided yet.”