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e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Series: Regional Revitalization (Part7) Ruby-driven IT Development and Regional Revitalization in Shimane Prefecture Hiroshi Inoue President Network Applied Communication Laboratory Ltd. [Date of Issue: 30/June/2016 No.0256-1013]

Date of Issue: 30/June/2016

Series: Regional Revitalization (Part7)
Ruby-driven IT Development and Regional Revitalization in Shimane Prefecture

Hiroshi Inoue
President
Network Applied Communication Laboratory Ltd.

IT industry development is proceeding apace in Shimane Prefecture, driven primarily by the Ruby programming language. Here we examine the background to this development as well as the current status of regional revitalization.


The year 2015 has been called the first year of regional revitalization in Japan, accompanying a recent surge in interest among young people in moving out of the major centers.

Shimane Prefecture in particular shot up to a third place last year among all Japan's prefectures as a place that people would like to move to. According to a survey conducted by the NPO Furusato Kaiki Shien Sentaa, one distinctive feature was that where Nagano and Yamanashi, which were first and second respectively, were popular among middle-aged and elderly people, more than 50 percent of those who wanted to move to Shimane were in their 20s or 30s.

While the survey did not examine the causes of Shimane's sudden rise in popularity, it is not difficult to imagine that the advance of the local IT industry has had an impact. What form has that advance taken?

In recent years, the cloud service format epitomized by Google and Amazon has become widely used. There has also been a massive increase in the use of Linux as the underlying system for these cloud services, as well as for televisions and other consumer appliances. Linux is open-source software (OSS)—software with its source code made available with a license enabling parties other than the copyright holder to freely study, use and change the software.

Shimane developers have a history of using open-source software to create new business. In 1996 the www.linux.or.jp portal site came online on a server in Matsue, the capital city of Shimane Prefecture. The site was the first to provide information about Linux in Japanese on the Internet, at a time when Linux was still not widely used for business applications. In the following year 1997, we established Network Applied Communication Laboratory Ltd. (NaCl) in order to maintain and manage that site.

That was also the year that Yukihiro Matsumoto, the developer of the Ruby programming language, joined the company.

At NaCl, we have continued work to advance and disseminate Linux, Ruby and other forms of OSS. Linux is an operating system—that is, software which communicates with the computer's hardware and allows other programs to run. Ruby is a programming language which stands out for enabling software developers to build small-scale systems faster than with other such languages. Ruby is used in Japan in products such as Cookpad, Ubiregi and Money Forward.

Network Applied Communication Laboratory's business activities include selling servers to small-scale Internet providers and subcontracting for systems development in a wide range of areas—office systems for municipal authorities, backbone systems for private companies, accounting systems for medical institutions, and Internet services for consumer use, etc.—using Linux and Ruby to build these. We also take on the contracts for the maintenance and operation of these systems, which has enabled us to sustain sales.

As the OSS-based market has grown, NaCl's business has also expanded.

Ruby has gradually taken off internationally, gaining real ground since 2004 when the Ruby on Rails framework for building Web systems was released. In 2006, taking advantage of this increasing uptake, the Ruby City Matsue Project was launched with the aim of revitalizing the region through Ruby and other open-source software. As part of the project, the Open Source Lab was set up in front of Matsue Station as a hub for OSS-related networking.

Another development in 2006 was the launch of the Shimane OSS Council, which operates from the Open Source Lab, marking the beginning of activities toward boosting technological and development capacity in Shimane Prefecture through open-source software, advancing and disseminating OSS, and revitalizing the region.

The author speaking at the Shimane OSS Council 100th Commemorative Salon

The author speaking at the Shimane OSS Council 100th Commemorative Salon

In 2007, in response to Matsue's Ruby City Matsue Project, Shimane Prefecture set up its Information Industry Promotion Office, which has been engaged in a number of activities starting with an IT human resource development support program targeting the information industry.

The way in which Matsue City and Shimane Prefecture have got behind the development of the IT industry and the dissemination of Ruby has encouraged around 30 IT companies to move into Shimane towns and cities in recent years. More widespread use of Ruby has expanded markets, and sales within the prefecture are steadily rising.

Where the Network Applied Communication Laboratory was an initial driving force behind Ruby, we decided that this support should be provided by a more neutral organization, setting up the limited-liability company Ruby Association in July 2007. The Ruby Association engages in support activities to strengthen the relationship between Ruby-related communities, businesses and support organizations, develop Ruby's ecosystem, and promote the Ruby programming language. The Association's activities grew steadily to the point where more capital and personnel were required, so in 2011, the organization was expanded from a limited-liability company into a general incorporated foundation.

In Shimane Prefecture, a shortfall in personnel able to use Ruby has emerged as an ongoing and chronic problem. Human resource development has been unable to keep pace with the needs of local IT companies, let alone the hiring plans of the more than 30 firms setting up operations here, making this an issue also for municipal authorities aiming to develop the IT industry.

The author together with members of an observation mission from India

The author together with members of an observation mission from India

The Sanin-India Association has begun efforts to resolve the personnel shortage by engaging in IT-centered exchange activities with IT giant India, including human resource development through intern intakes. The Association was set up to advance the industries, economies and regional cultures of Shimane Prefecture and neighboring Tottori through friendly economic and cultural exchange between the Sanin region and India. In addition to an IT exchange program with the state of Kerala, its activities include ODA-funded survey programs addressing, for example, water quality improvement, industrial waste processing, and the introduction of eco-friendly toilets.

These multifaceted efforts to develop and disseminate Ruby and other open-source software not only in the region but on a national and international scale have advanced the local IT industry and the region. Furthermore, the various IT promotion measures have made Shimane attractive to IT engineers and other members of the younger generation, leading, as I noted earlier, to more young people wanting to move to Shimane. I look forward to continuing to grow NaCl's business in tandem with the promotion of Shimane's IT industry.

Speakers at Ruby World Conference 2015

Speakers at Ruby World Conference 2015

Ruby World Conference 2015 is hosted yearly in Shimane

Ruby World Conference 2015 is hosted yearly in Shimane

Network Applied Communication Laboratory Ltd.(Japanese only)

The Sanin-India Association:
(Japanese)
(English)

(original article : Japanese)
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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