Realistic optimism about the impact of social innovation is a breath of fresh air. This was particularly true when business executives, political leaders, policymakers, and technological innovators gathered at the Hitachi Social Innovation Forum recently in Delhi, India.

Hosted by Hitachi India and India’s Business Today magazine, the event provided an opportunity to examine issues and innovations impacting Indian society in the areas of urban development, manufacturing, transportation, water and energy. The Internet of Things (IoT), advanced data analytics, cyber security and the cloud dominated the tech discussion.

Dev Ramchandani, director, India Management Consulting, Hitachi Consulting, talked about how IoT is enhancing the capability of manufacturers. “Smart manufacturing addresses the core dimensions of scale, speed and sustainability to drive business transformation. Because market dynamics are changing at such a fast pace, it is critical to focus on ‘which’ disruptive forces could impact your value stream, and not any particular ‘who’ that might pose a disruptive threat.”

Attendees were realistic about the challenges facing India at the threshold of a huge socio-economic transformation — rapid urbanization, digitalization, a huge youth population, strained infrastructure, low per-capita incomes and unbalanced urban/rural growth.

But there continues to be optimistic discussions about the power of information technology and operations technology to address those challenges.

  • Cities around the globe are using IoT innovations to enhance their services, reduce costs, improve citizen communication and interaction, facilitate smarter traffic flow, expedite garbage collection, save natural resources and increase citizen safety.
  • High speed rail networks have the potential of becoming the engine of economic transformation for communities and entire regions.
  • In healthcare, technological innovations have huge potential for improving the quality of life. For example, connected wearables, ingestible sensors, and activity trackers will contribute to early disease detection and management. Doctors will have access to robots for surgery and artificial intelligence (AI) for diagnosis.
  • Digital banking is supporting a more open, inclusive, and transparent financial system in India, and making financial services more widely available across the vast continent.
  • Energy demands will be met with a combination of supply chain improvements and environmentally sound sources such as solar, wind, and bio-gas.
  • Manufacturers are deploying smart sensors, machine vision, and IoT devices to collect data that helps managers increase efficiencies, reduce machine downtime, and improve worker safety. Such improvements are already delivering higher product quality, lower costs and greater energy savings.

As the convergence of digital transformation and innovations continue to gain importance with our clients, a global consulting, solutions-led strategy particularly in areas like industrial and social infrastructure, is a key focus. And the theme of the event was fitting: “Catalysing Societal Transformation via Technology.”

Hicham Abdessamad, president and CEO of Hitachi Consulting, reminded the group that transformation is essential to survival. “Consider that in the past 15 years 52% of the companies among the Fortune 500 are no longer on that list,” he said.

Mr. Toshiaki Higashihara, president & CEO, Hitachi, Ltd., reinforced the power and importance of social innovation. “Hitachi is helping resolve a wide range of social issues through our Social Innovation Business which combines our traditional strengths in operational technologies with expertise in IT including big data analysis, AI and IoT. In India, and around the world, we are responding quickly and effectively to those issues through collaborative creation with our customers.”

If you’re interested in seeing some more reasons for optimism, I invite you to watch the stories of a farmer, a medical researcher, a sous chef and an analyst who are driving social innovation.