New technology horizons in social infrastructure
Fujitsu’s Dr Martin Schulz outlines how changing societal priorities in Asia are stimulating opportunities for innovation in healthcare, education, transportation and beyond.
A fresh set of societal priorities is taking shape in Asia. Faced with the prospect of rapidly aging populations, relentless urbanization and the depletion of agricultural expertise — among other dramatic changes — economies across the region are showing new patterns of industrial development, underpinned by advanced technologies.
According to Dr Martin Schulz of the Fujitsu Research Institute, from Japan and Thailand to Indonesia and Malaysia there is a fundamental shift underway towards the creation of more social, human-centric infrastructure that is progressively changing the industrial bases of those countries.
With elderly people requiring more services focused on their well-being, megacity dwellers demanding more effective, reliable transportation, and the agriculture sector needing greater yields with fewer workers, companies and policy-makers are looking to digital technologies to help them to focus on activities that better reflect the priorities of more mature economies, observes Dr Schulz.
Those new imperatives have triggered widespread investment in social infrastructure by governments and socially oriented businesses — and the results of that are already very evident in changing commercial fortunes.
Spurred by the rising opportunity for healthcare services in Thailand, for example, the share price of healthcare companies in the country over the past five years has easily outstripped that of automotive and other ‘classic’ Asian industries, outlines Dr Schulz. The senior economist and research fellow from Fujitsu’s Tokyo-based think-thank, says similar patterns of strong growth among companies providing services focused on people are being mirrored across Asia in countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Take the example of services company SECOM Security Systems, says Dr Schulz. The Japanese property security company has been branching out into at-home healthcare services. It’s a logical move: as it is already guarding the properties of aging populations, it is well-placed to provide health monitoring and communication services oriented towards the elderly, alongside nursing and other healthcare services.
“There is a huge opportunity to innovate around social infrastructure,” says Dr Schulz — especially when Internet of Things technologies are deployed, big data systems are in place to make sense of the vast amounts of information gathered and systems integration capabilities are delivered through cloud platforms.
As well as spanning areas such as transportation, security, energy, healthcare and education, Japan’s social infrastructure ambitions extend to agriculture, where rural depopulation and an aging agricultural workforce has created a pressing need for smarter solutions. For example, the ‘Akisai’ cloud for the food and agricultural industries, launched by Fujitsu in late 2013, is being used to bring together different companies and farming groups in a shared environment in order to optimize the management, production and sales of produce, as well as to capture the expertise of experienced farmers.
“To execute such programs effectively,” says Dr Schulz, “what is needed is a very efficient cloud and Internet of Everything strategy.” The technologies are already out there, he observes, in the form of public and private cloud services that can combine to provide a hybrid IT environment that not only supports open interfaces for those participating in such platforms, but can also be highly secure when appropriate.
• Dr Martin Schulz will be speaking on ‘Improving Society through Technology — the Japanese Way’ at Fujitsu Forum 2015 in Munich (18-19 Nov).