Too much time is often spent on the technical aspects of computing, and while important, it means any discussion can end up becoming mired in complex jargon. That was not the case in late May at the Hitachi Social Innovation Forum Americas 2021, which as the name suggests focused on how data can be used to create a “better society, environment and economy.”

In launching the virtual three-day conference, Toshiaki Higashihara, executive chairman and president and CEO of Hitachi Ltd. told delegates that both the world and society in general are changing dramatically.

“Customer needs and lifestyle are shifting due to COVID 19 and there is also an increased awareness of the need to protect the environment,” he said. “Given these circumstances, Hitachi’s focus is on creating value in the field of environment, resilience, security and safety.”

Higashihara was followed by Gajen Kandiah, the CEO of data storage systems provider Hitachi Vantara, who in a keynote speech drilled down on what social innovation means to him and why it is more important than ever.

“From the pandemic to inclusive economic growth, the complex problems we face as a society require the full attention of all our organizations,” he said. “The largest companies in the world must engage together with governments, NGO's and communities or we will not overcome these challenges.

“But I believe we all have the capabilities to make significant change in the world because the advances that are possible when you become data-driven are profound. Placing data at the centre of your organization significantly improves decision making, improves operational efficiency, democratizes insights and accelerates the performance of digital initiatives.”

Becoming data-driven, added Kandiah, is the key to creating economic, environmental and social progress.

An example of that is electricity.

“When electricity generation becomes data-driven, we can accelerate the transition to renewable power,” he said. “For example, we helped a utility customer in Japan reduce wind turbine outages from 60 days to five days per year using bearing performance data to predict and pre-empt failures. When you think about the fact that one wind turbine can power 1,500 homes for a year, reducing 55 days of outages has a big impact on CO2 emissions.

“We are keeping 200 extra homes running on clean, renewable electricity for every single wind turbine that becomes data driven. And when cities and public transportation becomes data driven, we can safely and securely get children to school and workers to their jobs.”

Kandiah also pointed out that the impact of the pandemic has been immense in many ways.

“It changed how we work, learn, shop, move, live, and manage our health. The pandemic also exaggerated the gulf between the digital leaders and laggards. The digital economy has become massive. Online consumer spending in the U.S. grew by 44%. During the first months of the pandemic, non COVID-19 doctor visits declined 40% but tele- health exploded.”

He added that 60% of manufacturers reported suffering a supply chain disruption due to COVID-19, but among those who had already started to roll out industry 4.0 initiatives, 96% said they were ready to respond to the pandemic.

“(It) has had a profound impact on the energy industry as well. Energy consumption decreased 5% last year. The silver lining was that CO2 emissions fell 6.4% as adoption of renewable power accelerated. We also saw dramatic transformation in the shift to electric vehicles and even in how we pay for goods and services. More than 100 million people are now using cryptocurrencies around the world.

“There were clearly winners and losers with these dramatic shifts, which resulted in the haves and the have-mores. And the reality is, for the data-driven transformation, this is just the beginning and what matters most right now is how we all respond. Without doubt, the hallmark of the have-mores has been their ability to adapt.

“They have harnessed data to pivot, to be resilient to stay relevant, and to innovate with speed and at scale.”

As for why it is so difficult to become truly data-driven, he said that “clients tell me they are now being squeezed between keeping up with the surge of operating data and the pressure to deliver new digital products, services and experiences to keep their organizations relevant and competitive. And this balancing act between keeping up and delivering new is changing how leading organizations are embracing technology and allocating capital.

“On one hand, we know that data is growing twice as fast as data storage budgets, and by 2025 there will be a five- time increase in the world’s datasphere. Just imagine a five-time increase in your organization’s data.

“Against that backdrop McKinsey reports many organizations use less than 1% of the data to generate insight. There can be no data driven agility without high performance data systems, automated storage provisioning, and world class data deduplication and compression.”

To accelerate digitization, said Kandiah, organizations commit to doing it better than their competitors.

“Said another way, stop seeing your technology investments as just another part of your SG&A. Start seeing these investments as a major contributor to cost of goods sold and driving your business performance.”

Additional coverage of the conference will appear soon.

Paul Barker