Hitachi has a long history of innovation. Initially established as a manufacturer of electric motors, the company has expanded to include power plants, construction machinery, railways, medical and chemistry equipment, and household appliances. Now, Hitachi has a vision to transform the global future through social innovation.
Social innovation is all about creating solutions that improve the quality of life through technology—specifically, Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and advanced analytics. It focuses these powerful technological tools on solving global societal issues such as rapidly aging populations, clogged transportation systems, and scarcity of water and natural resources.
Moving Beyond Products
As general manager of the IT Services Division at Hitachi, Seiji Tanaka’s challenge is to translate this high-level directive into an executable strategy. Complicating that task is the scope of his area of responsibility. “The IT Services Division provides services to Hitachi, Hitachi Group companies, and related companies around the world,” Tanaka says. “All together, that adds up to about 864 companies and 303,887 employees.”
Because of the breadth of Hitachi’s operations, every initiative that the IT Services Division undertakes needs to be considered in a global context. “For example, our current projects include expanding our Exchange email services geographically, enabling global access to virtual computing resources and improving cloud connectivity,” he says.
Tanaka sees significant business opportunities in social innovation, but taking advantage of them requires examining the market in a different and more complex way. In particular, the focus must be broader than products. “If you offer televisions and air conditioners at the right price, they will sell,” he explains. “However, as markets become more global, it’s important to become more socially active and aware. It’s not simply about developing individual products, but rather creating a network of stable, high-quality services that is the same for anyone, anywhere in the world.”
Establishing a Social Infrastructure
Hitachi’s commitment to social innovation aligns with the industry’s broader trend to redefine the relationship between the enterprise and the society in which it exists. Tanaka sees a vital role for IT to help build what is often called the social infrastructure—that is, the infrastructure assets needed to deliver social services such as schools, universities, hospitals, and community housing. “Bringing together our technological expertise in information processing and manufacturing allows us to build the base for social innovation,” he says.
What does that look like in practice? “The IT system that supports this kind of business requires a great deal of flexibility,” says Tanaka. “What’s important is the ecosystem, by which I mean a Software-Defined Data Center environment that is integrated with public and private cloud services.”
Partnerships are crucial to building ecosystems. “Our job is to work with world-class, trusted providers and partners to promote the kind of innovative business that will advance our goals,” he explains.
IoT Drives Social Innovation
Much has been written about how IoT is dramatically reshaping the world in which we live. Analysts predict that we will have 75.44 billion connected devices by 2025 —far more than the number of people on earth—which will create enormous amounts of information. This mountain of data holds valuable insights that can further the social innovation vision, but only if it can be gathered into a coherent whole. “Our biggest technical challenge is to bring together all of our internal data—both from information processing and production operations—and use it to innovate within the company,” says Tanaka.
As enterprises look to exploit the potential of IoT, they will encounter the significant complexities of creating IoT solutions. While a few global enterprises will have the needed expertise in-house, many will need outside help. To that end, Hitachi has announced Lumada, an IoT core platform that marries big data processing and advanced analytics with a broad partner ecosystem.
What does the future hold for Hitachi IT? In Tanaka’s mind, it comes back to social innovation. “Contributing to social innovation using Hitachi’s IT technology is the major challenge before us,” he says. “Using data to innovate within the company and, at the same time, delivering information services to the outside—that’s what will be necessary.”
In the video above, Tanaka discusses how Hitachi delivers an IT infrastructure that supports social innovation.