Architecting Tomorrow: Yuki Saito’s Visionary Leadership in Data Intelligence

Yuki Saito's
Yuki Saito's

Yuki Saito is emerging as an excellent leader in his role as a Technical Evangelist at NTT DATA, navigating the complex realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with his steadfast expertise. NTT DATA is a globally present organization with 195,000 employees in over 50 countries and regions.

Yuki’s journey unfolds as a compelling narrative marked by technological innovation and strategic leadership. Amidst the ever-connected digital age, Yuki recognizes the pivotal role of AI in shaping the future, particularly in addressing Japan’s pressing societal challenges like population decline.

As a cloud architect and data engineer, Yuki has faced and conquered significant challenges in promoting data and AI utilization. His proactive approach led him to explore global technologies, and as a result, he built a strategic alliance with Databricks. By combining the ability to utilize cutting-edge technology with NTT Data’s deep understanding of customers and business operations, Yuki aims to work with his clients to create new businesses in the age of AI.

Yuki’s leadership extends beyond technological advancements, emphasizing collaboration and community building. This is because, as technology becomes increasingly complex, personnel with expertise need to accompany clients as they work together to grow their businesses.  Therefore, establishing global communities for AWS and Databricks, he spearheaded initiatives that transcended organizational barriers, fostering spontaneous interaction and resulting in successful proposals as well as projects across various industries.

In the face of rapid technological evolution, Yuki remains at the forefront, not just as a leader but as a perpetual learner. His continuous pursuit of knowledge, evident in numerous certifications and global conferences, extends to his team, fostering a culture of innovation and skill enhancement.

Let’s explore how Yuki is guiding his team and organization towards the limitless possibilities of technological innovation!

As a Technical Evangelist, your role likely involves navigating complex challenges. Can you describe a particularly challenging situation you faced recently and how your leadership helped your team overcome it?

In the digital age, everything is closely connected by data, which is leading to the personalization of the customer experience and the emergence of new businesses that transcend industry boundaries. In this context, AI technology, which predicts future events based on data, will play a central role. Particularly in Japan, population decline is a serious social issue and AI is expected to greatly improve productivity and replace human workers in solving the problem.

Many Japanese companies have reached the phase of consolidating data in warehouses while also gaining insights through Business Intelligence (BI) to utilize data, and they have also made progress in developing data utilization organizations.

However, according to a survey conducted by an independent administrative agency in Japan, less than 20% of companies in Japan are using advanced data analysis, such as AI, compared to the U.S. Unfortunately, there is still a considerable lag behind. As an organization that promotes the use of data, our mission is to bridge this gap and increase the use of AI.

As a cloud architect and data engineer, the challenge I faced in promoting AI utilization was that the data warehouse and BI infrastructure we had in place were not optimal for AI development. DWH is a simple model for handling SQL-based structured data. In contrast, AI development must address a wide range of use cases, from small data to big data, from structured data to unstructured data, and from batch processing to real-time processing. To address this, we needed a new platform. While we tried to address each use case by leveraging AWS’ rich array of services, new challenges emerged, including data dispersion, poor usability due to users’ use of multiple services and design complexity.

I saw this new challenge as a major obstacle to promoting AI utilization and took the initiative to research new technologies and startups around the world on my own. In 2019, I came across Databricks, a multi-cloud ‘data lake house‘ that integrates a DWH and data lake to provide a variety of analytics, including data processing, BI and AI development. We were convinced that Databricks would be the best solution to solve our problems by providing a single platform for data processing, BI, AI development, and various other use cases.

For about two years, we formed a relationship with Databricks and followed its trends and evolution. As a result, NTT DATA entered into a partnership with Databricks in 2021 when Databricks launched its Japanese subsidiary.

Since then, we have continued to focus on launching Center of Excellence organizations and communities and disseminating information externally to promote the new concept of ‘Data Lake House.‘ As a result of these efforts, we have gradually been able to develop projects and launch our business. Today, we have built one of Japan’s largest data analysis infrastructures for a major financial institution using Databricks and we have received high praise from our clients for our visionary proposals and technical support.

The knowledge gained through these experiences has been introduced to the world at Databricks’ largest global conference, the DATA+AI Summit, as a successful case study in promoting the concept of Data Lakehouse, including being the first Japanese to speak at the event.

In addition, we were awarded the ‘Partner Champion of the Year 2023‘ award for Databricks evangelists at the same event (3 evangelists from around the world), which we believe is due to the recognition of these activities. We believe that we have contributed to Japan’s recognition as a pioneer in the global data analysis arena and the attention it has garnered.

 NTT DATA is a global technology provider. How do you ensure that the General Affairs Division aligns with NTT DATA’s broader technological vision while meeting specific local needs?

NTT DATA operates on a global scale, boasting a workforce of 195,000 professionals spanning across more than 50 countries and regions.Top of Form Since technology is the common language of the global community, in focused areas such as the data intelligence domain, highly skilled technologists in each country collaborate to share knowledge and develop assets.

We then deploy this knowledge and assets globally and customize them to the local characteristics of our clients to quickly apply leading-edge technology in the best way for our clients.

I am also responsible for setting up and managing Databricks’ global community. This community connects members of the Data Intelligence domain from APJ, US and EMEA to engage in daily technical discussions, share knowledge and capabilities, and enhance the ability to leverage digital technologies through identifying next-generation technologies and creating new solutions.

Leaders often have unique approaches to problem-solving. What’s your philosophy or strategy when tackling difficult issues within your division, especially in the context of AI technologies and compliance?

I focus on clearly identifying potential trade-offs in problem-solving. This facilitates understanding of how the relevant factors interact and allows for clear sharing of the effects and risks of possible responses among the parties involved.

In my area of expertise, i.e., data platforms, there is often a trade-off between the high level of security required to handle sensitive data and the freedom as well as agility required for users to conduct analysis in a flexible and creative manner. I try to balance the security, freedom and agility required by our clients through technology and agreement among the parties involved in order to provide the best environment for our clients.

In the fast-paced AI Age, staying updated with technology is crucial. How do you personally keep up with the rapid advancements in AI and how do you ensure your team is equipped with the latest knowledge and skills?

Technology advances appear discontinuous, but they are continuously evolving. By following the daily evolution of the technological elements that support AI technologies, such as machine learning models, cloud computing, and big data processing, it is possible to keep up with the rapid AI advances represented by LLM. I take the initiative to learn about these technologies, systematize the process of technology evolution, and effectively transfer knowledge and skills to my team by developing learning paths and training them. Continuing these activities has led to the production of a large number of Databricks evangelists, including those from group companies.

Technology consulting is also important to promote the future potential and value of technology not only to the company itself, but also to its clients. We are working together with our clients to advance their businesses through technology by creating a vision of the future for the industry and clients from the perspective of cutting-edge technology, and by setting achievable goals step by step with backcasting.

Collaboration is key in modern workplaces. Could you share an instance where fostering collaboration between different departments or teams led to a successful project or innovation?

The mission of my department is to drive technology across industries. The capability of cutting-edge technology needs to be quickly              coordinated with other departments to scale the business, but it typically takes time to overcome organizational barriers in large companies.

For this reason, I am working to establish a technology-centric community to facilitate collaboration between departments from the bottom up and create opportunities for cooperation. Specifically, I established company-wide communities for AWS and Databricks furthermore successfully expanded them to over 300 members in two years.

In the early stages of the community, there were times when it was difficult to keep communicating on our own, but through steady information dissemination and study sessions, we have gradually seen an increase in spontaneous interaction among participants. As a result, we have succeeded in creating proposals and projects in various industries by actively adopting cutting-edge technology, which also includes the implementation of Databricks.

Effective communication is fundamental to leadership. How do you ensure transparent and open communication within your team and how do you handle misunderstandings or conflicts that may arise?

Technology is advancing faster than we anticipate, especially in data utilization and AI. Integrating this complex technology into your business requires close communication with both technology partners and clients while working with technology partners such as AWS and Databricks to understand technology developments through regular information exchanges and discussions and, at the same time focusing on your business challenges.

A regular conversation can help you understand technological developments and focus on your business challenges. In doing so, we must see the means to solve our clients’ business challenges as our own. Linking the evolution of technology to the business challenges and prospects of our customers is the added value of a systems integrator who understands both the technology and the customer.

System integrators will take the lead in further deepening mutual understanding between technology partners and customers who strive to be the ones to lead the business as a whole to success.

How does your division ensure that AI applications are developed and used ethically, especially considering the potential societal impacts?

NTT DATA has formulated AI guidelines with the message, “AI should not violate fundamental human rights and should exist to realize the happiness of human society,” and is working to develop ethical AI applications. We have also established the AI Governance Office as an organization to effectively manage risks arising from inappropriate use of AI and to promote appropriate use of AI.

For my own part, I am trying to provide a safe and ethical AI development environment for our customers and others by validating our AI risk management tools, such as Robust Intelligence, Citadel AI, and other services.

Balancing innovation with stability is often a challenge. Can you share a strategy you’ve implemented to encourage innovative thinking within your team while ensuring the reliability and stability of the systems and processes you oversee?

First, we organize ‘what must be done‘ based on the client’s current issues and put together a proposal with stability. Then, we hold an open discussion with the client based on the future vision of the client’s industry and the trends in related cutting-edge technologies; furthermore together we try to envision what we should be aiming for in two to three years’ time.

How do you incorporate diverse perspectives and cultural differences within your team, fostering an inclusive environment where every member feels valued and heard?

NTT DATA has more than 10 job titles, including application specialist, data scientist and service designer. We actively hold study sessions on each other’s ideas and expertise to deepen mutual understanding and to create synergy as a team. These collaborations also enable us to provide a consistent customer experience, from service design and consulting to system development and utilization.

Continuous learning is a hallmark of great leaders. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned recently and how has it influenced your approach to managing the General Affairs Division in the dynamic landscape of AI technology?

My motto is “Always keep learning” and I have continued to learn while adapting to the times and my own position. I have obtained all the national IT certifications in Japan, AWS, Databricks, and more than 50 other certifications in total. The reason I continue to learn is a simple desire rooted in the realization that “it’s fun to be able to do something you couldn’t do before.” The world of IT encompasses many different fields, including technology and management. It is a deep and difficult world where I really struggled at the beginning of my career. However, if you face each one of them and keep learning, there will come a time when you ‘get it,’ and once you do, it will definitely be easier and more interesting than before. It is more painful to be in a state of “I don’t understand” for a long time.

In this age of AI, there are more and more new things to learn. It is extremely important to realize the joy of ‘understanding‘ and ‘being able to do‘ and to continue learning on one’s own initiative. I share this with my team members and focus on motivating them by reminding them of this joy. I provide opportunities for them to share good learning experiences and get a sense of what they can do through practical hands-on training.

In your opinion, what qualities are essential for leaders in the AI Age and how do you cultivate these qualities within yourself and your team to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving technological landscape?

I believe it is an attitude of enjoying unpredictable changes and continuing to take on challenges. For example, ChatGPT and other LLM-related services have radically changed the landscape of business use of AI applications over the past year, and I wonder if you are enjoying these changes and new technologies. I was excited when Databricks released Dolly (the world’s first open and commercially viable instruction tuned LLM) and tried running AI that day.

To keep up with the rapidly evolving technological environment, it is important to enjoy continuous learning, as I mentioned in the above question. And, as I found with Databricks, we need to keep up with the latest technology trends and link them to solving customer problems and providing new value.

In order to lead my team and organization in the age of AI, I set an example for myself by always being curious about new technologies and continuing to learn. I will continue to understand and learn about the value and promise of new technologies and will continue to communicate the same to our clients and team members.