We’ve all heard how “data is the new oil” that powers the global economy. The truth, at least according to a McKinsey Global Institute report, is that most companies struggle to make sense of data but some digital natives are using it adeptly to rapidly grow their businesses. How big data is helping new companies get off the ground and expand into new markets was the focus of a panel discussion at the 2018 New Economy Summit (NEST) conference in Tokyo.

Participants at the event talked about how new businesses in Japan are making new advances with big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence. Moderator Gen Isayama, co-founder and CEO of startup incubator World Innovation Lab (WiL), noted that this surge of new technologies has sparked high expectations from the public, inviting comparisons with science fiction.

“Our ultimate goal is for this to be as simple as using Excel or a tabletop calculator,” said Ghelia President Ryo Shimizu.

“Our ultimate goal is for this to be as simple as using Excel or a tabletop calculator,” said Ghelia President Ryo Shimizu.

AI tools for everyone – Ghelia, DataRobot

Ghelia is a Tokyo joint venture founded in 2017 by WiL, Sony Computer Science Laboratories and AI venture company UEI that uses deep learning techniques to develop an AI platform encompassing everything from operating systems to hardware.

“Our ultimate goal is for this to be as simple as using Excel or a tabletop calculator,” said Ghelia President Ryo Shimizu, who’s also a representative at UEI. “For instance, AI could be used to give advice about recruiting or job-hunting.”

Akira Shibata, chief data scientist at DataRobot Japan, described how his company’s machine learning platform can help people use the popular AI technique even if they don’t have expertise in programming or statistics. Based in Boston, DataRobot has AI solutions that can be used for everything from detecting fraud and anomalies in blockchains to predicting and preventing terrorist attacks.

“We don’t want to be telling people, ‘This is the problem you should be solving,’” said Akira Shibata, chief data scientist at DataRobot Japan. “We want to enable companies to identify and apply the technology to solving their own problems."

“We don’t want to be telling people, ‘This is the problem you should be solving,’” said Akira Shibata, chief data scientist at DataRobot Japan. “We want to enable companies to identify and apply the technology to solving their own problems.”

In Japan, DataRobot has been working with manufacturing companies, and Shimizu noted that they have lots of data but may not know how to get the most value from it. DataRobot has been focused on applications such as analyzing a given component with machine learning algorithms and determining if it’s more or less likely to fail because of production conditions. But the firm is more interested in improving clients’ existing processes instead of developing specific new solutions.

“We don’t want to be telling people, ‘This is the problem you should be solving,’” Shibata said in an interview on the sidelines of NEST. “We want to enable companies to identify and apply the technology to solving their own problems. What’s interesting about DataRobot is that our tool isn’t for data scientists, but people who have a much less sophisticated understanding of technology.”

Secure, low-cost IOT connectivity – Soracom

Panelist Ken Tamagawa, CEO and cofounder of Tokyo-based Soracom, told attendees how IoT technology is powering the growth of his company, which was launched in 2015 and fully acquired by Japanese telecom KDDI last year. Soracom offers pay-as-you-go, low-cost, secure IoT connectivity that terminates in the cloud, avoiding the internet. It’s available in over 120 countries with a wide range of use cases; palm-sized interpreting device Pocketalk is an example of a consumer device using Soracom connectivity.

We designed this system so that security is already embedded… Our vision is connecting all people and all things, and now we’re trying to build a global platform,” said Ken Tamagawa, CEO and cofounder of Tokyo-based Soracom.

We designed this system so that security is already embedded… Our vision is connecting all people and all things, and now we’re trying to build a global platform,” said Ken Tamagawa, CEO and cofounder of Tokyo-based Soracom.

Soracom offers SIM cards that can be installed on just about anything, and the company has over 400 partners in Japan. For instance, DyDo DRINCO is instrumenting thousands of vending machines in Japan with Soracom SIM cards, allowing each to send data directly to the cloud, where it can be used to enhance the efficiency of operations as well as the customer experience. The Soracom SIM cards are also being used on WHILL smart wheelchairs to connect to the cloud while minimizing battery use, allowing users to travel farther. Another example is Tokachi Bus, a Hokkaido bus operator that’s using GPS data via Soracom to help riders find where and when they can catch their bus via an app.

“We try to be a horizontal platform without sticking to a specific industry, and we’re targeting everything from companies to startups, SMEs and individual developers,” Tamagawa said on the sidelines of the conference. “The data goes from things right into the cloud. We designed this system so that security is already embedded… Our vision is connecting all people and all things, and now we’re trying to build a global platform.”


Read more reports on NEST 2018 here.