Toshiba CTO: ‘The possibilities of digital twins is game changing’


6 May 2022

Hiroshi Yamamoto. Image: Toshiba

Hiroshi Yamamoto discusses security challenges in industrial IoT, sustainability in tech and the possibilities arising from digital twins.

Hiroshi Yamamoto joined Toshiba in July 2018 as corporate digitisation chief technology officer. He is responsible for driving the execution of the company’s digital transformation strategy and the expansion of digital assets and technologies.

Prior to Toshiba, Yamamoto worked at IBM, where he was global electronics industry CTO. He is a leading expert in advanced digital technologies and IoT, including big data processing, service-oriented architecture and the promotion of the capabilities necessary to achieve industry 4.0.

Future Human

As part of his current role, Yamamoto leads the refinement of Toshiba’s Spinex IoT architecture, which is a framework that helps the company deploy its industrial internet of things (IIoT) services.

“We often see when setting up an IIoT framework that different parties use the same terminology, but they are referring to different things,” he told SiliconRepublic.com.

“This can get complicated not only for us but for third parties using our services to build ecosystems, so my role is to standardise that.”

‘We must start looking at the ways technology can help fuel sustainability initiatives’
 – HIROSHI YAMAMOTO

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

Our biggest challenge is to make IIoT and cyber physical systems (CPS) a business initiative for our customers – to show the value of this service when the return on investment might not be immediately apparent.

This means that we must understand the business imperatives and challenges our customers are facing. We do this by meeting our customers in the middle, carrying out the organisation’s business imperatives top-down and implementing the technology bottom-up at the same time.

We aim to always show our customers a return on investment as quickly as possible so the impact on their business is clear and that is one of the shared challenges in the broader tech industry as well, to show the return on investment even when the investment is not tangible.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation within your industry?

Digital transformation is inevitably coming across all industries and the question is how quickly and efficiently companies can adopt it to meet the needs of their niche.

At Toshiba, we have evolved from a general electronics manufacturer to a global infrastructure systems and services company and our focus is enabling and accelerating the digital transformation initiatives of our clients.

Our Spinex service (a customisable IoT architecture interface) combines operational technology (OT) from the physical world with IT to maintain equipment and devices that support essential infrastructure. This is the ultimate evolution from a focus on hardware solutions to using data and digital software to fuel our customers’ business decisions.

We have taken to approaching business with a hybrid strategy. A manufacturer like Toshiba who owns OT DNA needs a hybrid business strategy, both to sell a product and a service subscription.

Most companies we are working with today are not heritage. This means our customers are also looking for our skill in using our hardware, which is what we provide with the Spinex interface.

Additionally, in terms of IoT services or subscription services, only dealing with our hardware is not enough, so we also have expanded our scope to work with third-party hardware and competitor hardware as well.

How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?

To approach sustainability from an IT perspective means we must start looking at the ways technology not only itself must be more sustainable, but also how technology can help fuel sustainability initiatives.

For example, social infrastructure is in Toshiba’s DNA and management philosophy of ‘committed to people, committed to the future’, and the social infrastructure support that Toshiba services offer impacts many target areas for sustainability, including energy, social infrastructure, water treatment.

While there are certainly ways that sustainability can be directly addressed from an IT perspective, like reducing/recycling hardware or limiting energy consumption, it is also important that the IT industry considers how our services can be used to bolster the sustainability efforts of companies in the future using data, services and analytics.

Toshiba Group committed to a plan for sustainability in 2007 called Toshiba Group’s Environmental Future Vision 2050, a new long-term vision with a global perspective that responds to the drive for decarbonisation, the transition to a circular economy and a society that lives in harmony with nature.

We are focusing on three areas: climate change, the circular economy and ecosystems. Toshiba’s approach is two-fold: to approach sustainability in terms of the energy used and how that affects climate change, and then to create Earth-conscious products that are based on an assessment of customer value and environmental impacts.

We aim to enhance our eco-efficiency (measuring the environmental impact of a business process or product relative to its value) in both its energy services and electronic products worldwide.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

One of the most exciting trends to me is digital transformation and how we can utilise cyber physical systems to expand our data and analytics capabilities. We already have seen the widespread adoption of CPS in critical infrastructure – things including oil and water treatment.

As a part of CPS, we work with digital twins that allow us to improve our predictive capabilities and merge our physical systems with digital data, as well as apply AI technologies to solve complex hurdles.

Once we can mirror the physical into a digital space, the possibilities of the data and planning we can do with these models is game changing.

How can we address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

In the IIoT space, we are often working with social infrastructure – power plants, nuclear power plants, water plants – which are obviously critical pieces of society. Because of this, one major concern for our industry is how to keep up with the ever-developing world of security.

At Toshiba, we believe that this requires a multifaceted approach. As we see more companies adopt digital transformation, our security must evolve too to cover not only the secure management of data but also to make security a key consideration during the design of any product or service.

We also can and should use technology to our advantage in remotely monitoring products and services for security threats and quickly communicating for rapid response to issues.

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