HITACHI has been talking about its commitment to software-defined infrastructure (SDI) and how it relates to the future of transport.
At an event in London this week, the company talked about its plans to move away from being a pure hardware player, with acquisitions representing a move into the software game.
The most recent acquisition was pure-play analytics firm Pentaho, indicative of an acknowledgement that there is more to life than hardware.
Bob Plumridge, CTO for the EMEA region, said: "The change in Hitachi is based on a much tighter alignment between divisions, largely driven by analytics and big data, whereas for the last 15 years or so we've been known as a storage hardware company.
"Hardware will always be needed, but you won't be just selling hardware to most customers. What they want is end-to-end solutions. People want to know how we're going to analyse all this data we've collected over the last 20 or 30 years."
At the heart of the change is the company's £5.7bn contract with the Department for Transport to manufacture and maintain Intercity Express Programme trains on the East Coast Main Line and Great Western Main Line from Paddington.
Plumridge explained: "The new generation of rolling stock gathers a lot of data, everything from where they are, to how fast they're moving, to monitoring all the systems on board, power consumption, vibration of the wheels. When they stop at a major station that data is offloaded."
Technical sales director Steve Lewis chimed in: "A real-time analytics process means that we can detect if there's a problem brewing on the train and if it needs to be taken out of service or attended to before the failure has taken place, so it's less likely that people get trapped between stations."
Stranger than self-diagnosing trains is the deal which has been done to the soon to be electrified line. Hitachi won't be selling the trains but rather providing a software-based lease service.
Plumridge said: "The deal done with the train operating companies is that the trains remain the property of Hitachi. We're talking about trains-as-a-service. We get paid by the reliability of our trains.
"The other things these trains can do is replace the maintenance trains which run on the network at night testing the state of the track, the points and the line. Hitachi's trains do that analysis from the passenger trains."
Network Rail is in the process of running high-speed fibre networks along all the main rail lines, and critical data is sent in real time.
The result, it is hoped at least, will be a more reliable train service to Bristol and on to Wales, based on the power of software working in harmony with hardware.
But multi-billion pound trains are just the beginning, as Lewis explained: "It's happening in automotive too, with real-time analytics looking at how fast you accelerate, how fast you brake, how often you fiddle with the radio."
Plumridge continued: "At the moment it's only in high-end cars, but soon you won't be able to buy a car without them. Insurance companies will be interested in that data, and the police.
"Soon, you might have an accident and the authorities will be able to tell if you were playing with the settings on the air conditioning at the time."
When we interviewed HGST president Mike Cordano last year, he told us that "there's no such thing as a hardware company".
With an inherent understanding of the need to move towards a software-based world to power the hardware, Hitachi has proved just that. µ
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