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IBM Distinguished Industry Leaders: Naoko Nariishi
March 23, 2021

Challenger. Independent. Change Agent. March 23, 2021 Naoko Nariishi is a partner with IBM's Global Business Services team based in Tokyo, Japan. She's worked in many roles since starting her...

Challenger. Independent. Change Agent.

Naoko Nariishi is a partner with IBM's Global Business Services team based in Tokyo, Japan. She's worked in many roles since starting her career more than 25 years ago, but most recently her focus has been on Japanese telecommunications companies. Nariishi was selected to be part of the Industry Academy’s inaugural class of Distinguished Industry Leaders, prestigious thinkers who are globally recognized for their industry-transforming work and leadership.


When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My idea of what I’ve wanted to be has changed through the years. My father was a teacher and a principal of a school. He actually started as a math and science teacher, and for a while I wanted to follow in his footsteps. But I also wanted to have economic independence of my own and to establish a career, and so with my eyes set on becoming a research professor I went to university and then to graduate school in Chicago. But then I realized I wanted to take a break from the university ecosystem, so one of my professors said, 'Oh, IBM is such a good company, it would be really good for you join them, to get this experience and then come back.'

But then I really came to like working in the business world and never went back.

And now you're at IBM and working telecommunications. What drives and inspires you?

Throughout my career I've envisioned myself as a challenger—someone who can go into different spaces and learn new skillsets. I wasn't always in telecommunications, but I brought to it lessons I'd learned from working as a systems engineer and project manager in other industries. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about working across multiple industries is getting to know and interact with all sorts of new people. In getting to know people, you can learn about their hidden talents and then figure out how to help them use those talents in ways they never thought about before. That's part of the joy that I get from working.

A lot of your work has involved working with companies in the era of 5G. Why is it so crucial to embrace 5G technology?

Previously, telecommunication companies had 3G and 4G, so every time you can evolve and move into a new generation of mobile technology it’s really an opportunity for them to get into new services and new platforms. Using the high-speed and massive-network capacity of 5G technology, along with hybrid cloud technology, companies are looking at game-changing ways to tackle future challenges. And this is good not just for telecommunication companies, but for all people.

How does your work then intersect with IBM's AI and hybrid cloud technologies? How do you show these companies that these tools can help them find their way?

By turning to 5G technologies, telecommunication companies have an opportunity to create new platforms and ways to monetize services on those platforms. As more of their networks shift to the cloud, IBM can help them by providing a deep bench of industry expertise to show them how our hybrid cloud technology can help them. Then, we can guide them through how it can accelerate their use of new technologies, such as 5G. Equally important, we’re also working to foster an ecosystem of like-minded partners that can work with us and our telecommunications clients to help in the adoption of these new opportunities.

Did the pandemic force telecommunication companies to pause their modernization efforts?

Not at all. In fact, it’s only accelerated it. Connectivity sits at the center of everything we do. It’s one of our most essential human needs and is at the heart of what the telecommunications industry delivers to customers. Think about how, overnight, we had to go from daily in-person interactions to relying on video and mobile devices connect – from work, to our families, to even our health. This is where bandwidth, latency and speed play such an essential role, and the continued modernization of telecommunications networks and services are key to supporting these kinds of shifts in usage.

When IBM named you among its first class of Distinguished Industry Leaders, what did you think about it?

It felt good. I was recognized, in large part, because of my past work. Right? So the challenge is all about how do I carry that into the future. I feel honored and grateful that I was chosen, but at the same time I know I have to do better and more.

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