17 Jan 2018
Social Media and Cyber-Security Systems Loom Large at Japan IT Week
An unusually energetic and optimistic Tokyo-hosted trade event, the autumn iteration of Japan IT Week showcased bespoke business social-media networks, ransomwear-proof security protocols and all the latest in data-storage.
While most trade shows cover a clearly demarcated range of products or services, charting the evolution of a sector and tracking changing consumer preferences, Japan IT Week is a bit different. Tethered to one of the most dynamic industries, it is forever playing catch-up with new technology, emerging specialisations and applications apparently undreamed of just the year before.
It is for this reason that the show has an energy and an excitement that is far from common in Tokyo's growing array of expos. For the show's autumn iteration, this excitement was further enhanced by a mood of economic optimism, again a sentiment not usually synonymous with the country's trade-event sector.
Inevitably for an IT event, social media loomed large across the showfloor, with many companies keen to claim they could weaponise it, transforming it into a potent marketing tool. Among the more convincing was Crossring, a Tokyo-based social-media agency that recruits online influencers as product ambassadors as part of its Spray service.
Outlining its current approach, Soichiro Itoh, the company's Chief Technical Officer, said: "Whereas before we focused primarily on Twitter and Facebook, most of our engagement now takes place via Instagram. This is largely because it has such a huge following among young women, the optimum demographic when it comes to driving social-media trends.
"Last year, when we attended this event, we basically just offered to broker deals between brands and influencers. Now, though, we have a new facility – Insight – that allows us to data-mine Instagram users' response to particular product placements, while also tracking their subsequent interaction with any given page. We believe that this data-driven model will give us an edge over our competitors."
While many of the exhibitors at the show hoped to find just such an edge by providing new solutions to old problems, others were focused on tackling the more recent challenges thrown up by new technology. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the security sector, one of the fastest-growing and more lucrative IT disciplines.
Offering a solution to one of the most high-profile security challenges to have emerged of late – ransomware, software that basically holds computer systems hostage until its originators have been paid off – was Takara Joho, a Tokyo-based high-tech business. This year, it was particularly keen to promote Check Point, an Israeli cyber-security system that has been optimised for the Japanese market.
Expanding upon the routes into systems exploited by ransomwear gangs, Hiroshi Yamashita, the company's SME Channel Manager, said: "Hackers know just what kind of email is likely to be clicked on, often creating messages that appear to be from Apple or Microsoft technical support. In some cases, they send what seems to be a query from an airline over a recent booking.
"Somehow, a hacker will always find a way to get through. Then, once the ransomware is activated, it can shut down the whole of a company's network, costing it thousands of dollars in downtime before any ransom has even been requested.
"This year, we're recommending the use of Checkpoint Sandblast. This basically creates a restricted operating system as a bulwark every time an unverifiable process is detected."
Another tech-created problem is the blurring between professional and private lives created by social media, with many people accessing their preferred channels during work hours. Blocking it entirely, however, is not always the best option, as it can also function as a valuable networking tool. One solution that has proved particularly popular in Japan is Talknote, a work-specific social-media network.
Explaining the benefits of the system, Anna Hosokawa, a member of Talknote's management team, said: "Essentially, it blocks people from using their own social-media channels, preventing a loss of otherwise productive time and ensuring that personal and business lives remain distinct. From an employee's point of view, it also means that clients and colleagues don't have inappropriate access to details of their out-of-office lives."
One of the key selling points of Talknote is that it retains a permanent record of all communications, a huge boon when it comes to settling in-house disputes. The app-based service costs as little as US$10 a month per employee and, according to Hosokawa, thousands of companies across Japan have already signed up to it. The company is now keen to create non-Japanese language versions, seeing it as crucial to expand into new markets before the giants of the social-media sector, notably Facebook, launch an equivalent service.
Another system that majored on its facility for retaining permanent records was Freeze-Ray, a new data-storage facility on offer from Panasonic. At present, the Osaka-headquartered electronics giant sees universities, big corporations and other large private / public bodies as the most likely end-users of its new technology.
Expanding upon the system's USP, Kohei Kuwata, General Manager of Panasonic's Data Archive Sales Division, said: "Basically, you can think of it as a write-once-read-many-time system. While you can update it, a record is kept of all the overwrites, allowing you to see what was changed and when.
"The system is already widely in use in the United States, particularly by many of the larger social-network services. We are also working on a big project with a Chinese broadcaster, as well as with a lot of universities here in Japan."
Freeze-Ray is also a good illustration of the dichotomy that exists at the high-end of the IT sector. While the system is reassuringly secure and private, making it suitable for the long-term storage of sensitive data, it also complies with very public concerns over environmental integrity. A distinctly green device, Freeze-Ray is said to use far less power than alternative systems, such as linear tape-open or cold archiving. Confirming its planet-benefitting credentials, Kuwata said: "While the system is on standby, it doesn't use any electricity – it's that good at power conservation."
Taking this interplay between public and private interests to the next level, while retaining a patina of environmental responsibility, was Toysmith, a South Korean games-company-turned-tech business. Over recent years, it has been working closely with the Seoul Municipal Government on the development of a citywide IoT network that can monitor traffic and pollution levels on the capital's streets, then optimise the local lighting and air purification systems as required, while also activating any other public utilities deemed necessary.
Summarising how such developments point the way forward for the IT sector, Dong-Eun Won, a researcher with the quasi-governmental Korea Internet and Security Agency, said: "The key characteristic of all information technology is that it connects things. While, initially, we had mobile phones that connected people, it has now gone well beyond that.
"Through the application of IoT, we are now connecting people with devices, as well as devices with other devices. This allows us to harvest a huge array of public information – traffic data, environmental data, and so on. We can then analyse that data and ensure our resources are properly aligned with changing needs and evolving situations."
The autumn edition of Japan IT Week 2017 took place from 8-10 November at Tokyo's Makuhari Messe. Some 49,345 visitors attended over the course of the three-day event.
Marius Gombrich, Special Correspondent, Tokyo