Skip to main content
Smart Life Solutions that Improve Quality of Life by Solving Societal and Lifestyle Issues
Today’s drastically changing customer lifestyles, social environment, and competitive environment in the world are making it increasingly difficult to release competitive products and services just by continuing to make small improvements to existing items or by analyzing current conditions to create conventional forecasts that predict the future. Hitachi Global Life Solutions, Inc. is adopting a set of vision-driven development processes that use the backcasting approach. Backcasting involves anticipating the world and lifestyles of the future, and the values of customers in the future. The results are used to infer needs that will arise, so that the specifications and technologies of tomorrow’s products and services can be derived. By adopting these vision-driven development processes, the company wants to become a people-focused solutions company that creates appealing value ahead of competitors.
Hitachi Global Life Solutions, Inc. (Hitachi GLS) is a Hitachi Group member working in the Smart Life sector and aiming to become a solutions company that enriches the quality of life (QoL) of people around the world by solving customer lifestyle-related issues. The company has started to adopt a set of vision-driven product/service development processes as a way to release appealing value ahead of competitors by leveraging the experience and track record it has gained from its conventional home appliance and air conditioning businesses.
This article describes Hitachi’s backcasting-based vision-driven product/service development processes and an original Hitachi method of identifying future trends called Kizashi*.
Aging population, declining birth rate, and growing number of dual-income and single-member households are transforming family life, approaches to household chores, and other customer attitudes and behaviors. Customers are also buying home appliances in new ways as electronic commerce (e-commerce) websites become increasingly popular shopping sites alongside brick-and-mortar stores. Some home appliances have recently started supporting the Internet of Things (IoT) and are increasingly being used with smartphone app services, while subscription services and services connecting different businesses have also appeared. The approach to providing products and services is also shifting from the conventional hardware sales-based model, to models involving ongoing relationships with customers such as operation or maintenance provided by digital means.
These trends have produced an urgent need for the creation of product- and service-based solutions that play a large role in customer lifestyles, address latent lifestyle issues, and are first to identify issues that will arise as the societal changes in the future.
Hitachi GLS has responded by starting to adopt a set of vision-driven product development processes that use the backcasting approach. Backcasting involves creating a vision depicting the preferred lifestyles of customers 10 years in the future, and using the results to infer the needs that will arise, so that the specifications and technologies of tomorrow’s products and services can be derived (see Figure 1).
The visions created with backcasting are developed by identifying future signs of potential changes in customer and societal values and are used by HitachiGLS to develop attractive solutions that will suit those future customers. The products and services described for these visions are shared as future targets with development staff, and product/service master plans and technology roadmaps are created and incorporated into research and development. At the same time, the business planning or sales department gets involved with the project to start researching business feasibility.
The Kizashi method is an original Hitachi method HitachiGLS uses to identify future trends based on future changes in the values held by customers(1), (2).
The Kizashi method starts with the collection of environmental analysis data on political, economic, social, technological factors. These data sets are then combined to anticipate the future and extract changes in customer values in the form of precursors (kizashi in Japanese). The new lifestyles that could arise from the changes identified are defined, and the corresponding business opportunity areas are envisioned so that appealing solutions can be devised. Some of these processes are described in the next section (see Figure 2).
Fig. 2—Kizashi MethodThe Kizashi method is a method of analyzing data and generating ideas from source information that covers a wide range of areas such as policies, market estimates, and other economic trends, customer product demand surveys, and forecasts on the rise of cutting-edge technologies.
Yearly data on average household size given by standard statistical population surveys show trends such as the growth of single-member households and senior households. But identifying today’s diversifying consumer trends and lifestyle attitudes requires a qualitative method of classifying consumers based on differences in values that cannot be categorized by demographics alone. The precursors of the future derived by Kizashi method may provide an effective way of classifying consumers.
Looking at the macro trends of demographic changes, growing urbanization, and reduction of environmental impact, Hitachi GLS worked on identifying future trends up to about 2028. The new lifestyles the company came up with are described by the consumer categories below. These consumers will be passionate about living lifestyles that reflect their personal identities, and will emerge mainly in urban areas.
While clothing, food, and shelter are the three traditional areas of lifestyle focus, Hitachi GLS has added two more areas—health and work. Th e ‘health’ area looks at health, and mental and physical healthcare. Aging population has made it an area of greater concern. Th e ‘work’ area was added because today’s increasingly diverse work styles and workers may mean that the workplace and ways of spending time at work should naturally be considered aspects of lifestyle. Some examples of precursors of the future (new values) are described in the excerpts below (see Figure 3).
Fig. 3—Precursor ExamplesEach of the precursors of the future that Kizashi method derives is a set composed of keywords created from the consumer’s perspective, a narrative of changing values, and evidentiary data.
This article has described Kizashi, Hitachi’s original method of identifying future trends related to lifestyle and housework solutions. Along with the areas currently covered by Kizashi, Hitachi GLS may also need to expand its scope to include aspects such as new digital-era product/service purchasing behaviors, and the role of maker culture and prosumers in future production and distribution.
Anticipating multiple aspects of the future from the customer perspective to identify changing customer values (precursors of the future) is an important marketing activity for planning and developing products and services. It is also an important step toward creating a vision that depicts the type of company Hitachi should try to be, and the type of future customers want.
By adopting vision-driven development processes, Hitachi GLS will continue striving to create new value ahead of competitors and proposing appealing products and services to customers around the world. It also wants to grow as a company that works to improve the QoL of the employees and development partners who generate this value, that provides social value such as by reducing environmental impact, and that helps ensure sustainability.