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Q&A with Justin Bean, global director of smart spaces marketing at Hitachi Vantara


April 15, 2020  


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Photo: Justin Bean

By Kavita Sabharwal-Chomiuk

 

Hitachi Vantara, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., brings together over 100 years of experience in operational technology (OT) and more than 60 years in information technology (IT) to provide data insights into a business’ operations, customers and machinery.

Hitachi Vantara’s global director of smart spaces marketing, Justin Bean, has always been interested in helping society become more sustainable, which led him to earn his MBA in sustainable business. He continued to gain more interest in finding ways of leveraging the dynamism of capitalism and innovation to solve both human and environmental challenges.

I recently sat down with Bean to discuss smart spaces and smart cities, the insights both can provide, and where this technology can be the most helpful.

What makes a smart city smart?

JB: Smart cities are a variety of different areas, whether it’s retail spaces, public areas, airports, transportation hubs and government operated areas, aggregated to create a smart city.

Basically, it comes down to three different things. One is safety and security. Second is making sure resources are being used efficiently, where operations, efficiency and sustainability are concerned. Then there’s quality of life, where you want to make sure that people are having the best experience possible. Those are the three value pillars of a smart city. It’s also using technology to advance those goals. There are new opportunities in terms of video analytics, LIDAR and other types of IoT sensors, plus blending all that data together and gaining all these cool insights from it to help you achieve those goals.

What are some ways a smart building can use data to improve operations?

JB: Retailers are a great example of using data from the digital world to optimize their online stores. They A/B test and multivariate test messaging and imagery to improve their conversion rates. They look at who puts products in the shopping cart and then doesn’t buy it, and then they send an email about the item in your cart. They’re using all this digital data to improve your experience, but also to improve their conversions.

Now because we’re able to take the security camera footage and run artificial intelligence on top of it, plus LIDAR data, we can give them similar insights about brick and mortar stores. For example, how many people have walked past the shop versus how many have entered? Does changing the clothing on the mannequin increase or decrease the rate at which people enter my store? When they come in, which products will they interact with? How long are people willing to wait in line before they abandon it? It’s the same thing as the shopping cart on the online store, but within the physical space.

To give you a cool example, Hitachi Vantara is working on a district in Bangkok, Thailand called One Bangkok. It’s basically a campus of multiple buildings that are commercial, retail and residential, as well as public space. They want it to be the most sustainable building district that’s ever been built, and they want to do that in a data-driven sense. We’re providing the smart city services for that district and all those buildings. We’re tying together all the data around the HVAC systems and the flows of people, parking and data for the retailers. That helps them to better manage those buildings and manage the experience, safety and the operations of the buildings.

If an organization wanted to take advantage of technologies aimed to make spaces smarter, where would be a good place to start?

JB: Often we find that safety is a great place to start, whether that’s with security, theft or worker safety. Often, you can use that same system that you installed for security purposes and build on top of it so that you can improve other things like transportation or environmental sustainability, for example.

The way we approach it is we do Value Engineering workshops with our customers. We try to figure out which outcomes they’re trying to reach and what their goals are and which highest impact outcomes they want to reach, and the highest ROI impacts that could be made. We’re starting with those values that are really going to help them. It could be with transportation, making sure that their passengers have the right number of trains or buses to get them to where they need to go, so their complaints go down and the efficiency goes up.

Starting with the end goal is, I think, the best approach, because unfortunately, I think we see a lot of this in the technology world where there’s a bright, shiny object, and people are like, ‘Oh, that’s such a cool technology. I want to do IoT. I want to do AI,’ but they have no idea what that means. That’s probably why some percentage of IoT projects fall on their faces and don’t continue, because companies haven’t started with the value or the outcome. We find that to be a much more effective approach for delivering value to the customers, but also for us to have more sustainable projects that are going to continue and expand and bring in more revenue and build stronger relationships with customers and partners.

Photo: Justin Bean

What are some of the insights that can be gleaned by an organization? Why would these insights be helpful?

JB: I think a lot of the time, we’re just running on a hunch or routine. While I think the gut can be very helpful, data is also extremely helpful. If you actually know what’s happening in the real world and you’re able to compare what’s happening with what you want to happen and what has already happened, then you can start getting a better idea of how to drive it towards where it should be.

Anything that you’re going to do, why would you do it with your eyes closed? The data that you can pull in and the insights you can glean from having information about what’s happening in the world is super valuable.

I think what’s different about the conversation that we’re having around smart spaces is there are new opportunities because of artificial intelligence that can turn all this data that’s already there. Anytime you go into an airport, or a shopping mall or a city, there are cameras basically everywhere already. If we can take that data and just transform it into counts of people, counts of bikes going in and out of bike lanes, analyses of traffic, real time parking data, inventory management and all this other stuff, those are really valuable insights.

It’s kind of being able to measure what was previously unmeasurable or very difficult to measure. Being able to have all those insights is invaluable in a lot of different ways. I think we just haven’t had the ability to measure some of these things before, but now with these technologies, we do.

What do you consider the most important aspect of a smart city?

JB: Privacy is a really important part of any conversation when you’re talking about using people’s data. So instead of avoiding the issue, Hitachi has come out with solutions to protecting privacy. With video especially, it’s something people are sensitive about. What we can do is we can pixelate or completely colour mask people, so we’re not exposing their identity information. If a crime happens in that area, someone who is authorized has a chip card and a pin number, and they can go in and access the original footage, but the system tracks all of their activity, so it’s actually auditable for things like GDPR and privacy regulations.

LIDAR is actually not collecting any personally-identifiable information. It’s got about a half inch of resolution. That means that the AI that’s analyzing the data can tell the difference between one person and another. If you’ve got 10 people walking into a store, it can actually tell the difference between each of the people and track them around the store and get all of that individual information without any identity information, so the user has no idea who they are.

What that does is opens up opportunities in places like hospitals, where we can do things like patient monitoring. If someone falls out of bed or slips and falls in their room, the staff can be alerted really quickly. Even in a restroom, if someone’s slumped over or displays dangerous behavior, we can alert the nurses and staff to help them in a place where a video camera would be completely inappropriate. So, it both opens up a lot of opportunities and it also solves a lot of the privacy challenges.

Where do you hope the smart cities movement will go next?

JB: I hope it moves more towards a human-centred design and away from flashy technology, better providing services to people who either have been left behind, especially with the march of technology, and people who aren’t getting the resources they need. I hope it trends more towards the empowerment of people and making sure that we all can participate in the world.

I also am seeing a lot of interest in the exchange of data between different organizations, so I’m hoping that it shifts more towards a holistic approach, where you’ll have more coordination between the local merchants, retailers, government and transportation agencies.

This article was originally published in the February 2020 issue of BIoT Canada.


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