Hitachi Wrapping IoT in Social Innovation

The company's Social Innovation unit is creating IoT-based solutions to solve problems in a wide range of industries.

Hitachi HQ

Hitachi Ltd. in one form or another has been making Internet of things (IoT) devices for the past several years, according to Sara Gardner, CTO of the Social Innovation unit at the massive, multi-billion dollar conglomerate.

The company casts it shadow on a wide and disparate range of verticals worldwide, from construction machinery and automotive systems to financial services, health care, telecommunications and power systems. As with other huge multinational companies, like, GE, each of the independent business units that operate in these far-flung industries have engineers working for them, and over the years have created various connected devices, systems and sensors that help their customers gather, store and analyze data from their operations.

However, those connected devices tended to be optimized for their particular industry segments and for particular customers, so while Hitachi may have been making a range of systems that would comfortably fit within the Internet of things definition, not many people outside of the larger company associated Hitachi with such connected devices, Gardner said.

At the same time, Hitachi did little to promote what its various businesses were creating, and its IT business—which primarily is Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), with consulting services and the newly-acquired Pentaho data analytics company—did not have much of a reputation in IoT, Gardner said.

But that is all changing, she said. Hitachi officials are pulling together the IT capabilities of HDS and the various technology efforts of its vast number of businesses under the umbrella of the company's Social Innovation business unit, and are now beginning to promote their efforts.

"We've been doing IoT for a while," Gardner told eWEEK. "Over the last year or so, you've started to see Hitachi make a lot of noise [about the Social Innovation initiative and its IoT capabilities]. You're going to see more of that in the coming years."

Hitachi has annual revenues of more than $81 billion, more than 950 subsidiaries, 333,000 employees and an R&D budget of $2.8 billion. It already makes the systems and devices that generate huge amounts of data, the hardware and software infrastructures to gather, manage and analyze the data and the domain expertise to turn the data into valuable information, Gardner said.

The Social Innovation unit is designed to draw from the massive pool of resources already inside Hitachi Ltd.—from its industrial and IT companies to its labs and centers for social innovation—and to acquire whatever other capabilities are needed to create products and processes that are aimed at specific industries, but that are repeatable and can be leveraged elsewhere. The unit encompasses HDS, Hitachi Consulting, Pentaho (which Hitachi Ltd. bought in June) and its Energy Solutions unit.

The goal is to be more efficient and innovate more quickly by sharing the same infrastructure and data, and using tools like Pentaho to drive core analytics, Gardner said. The result will be the development of connected solutions that will be aimed less at the home and more at the business and industrial spaces, and to address problems within those verticals, she said, pointing to Hitachi's motto: "The Internet of Things That Matter."

"We want to do something, to solve a problem and get [the product] to market," Gardner said. "Then use it to see how it can be applied elsewhere. Everything we're doing is about solving a problem."