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UnaBiz makes foray into Japan

The Singapore-based IoT technology provider has opened an office in Tokyo to tap the groundswell of IoT deployments in utilities and other sectors

With Japan’s entrenched culture of presenteeism in the workplace starting to give way to flexible work arrangements amid the pandemic, employers and their landlords are now looking at ways to optimise the use of workspaces in buildings through facility management systems.

In some homes, sensors are being used to monitor the activities of the elderly who make up nearly a third of Japan’s fast-ageing population. To ease manpower shortages, some utilities suppliers are also using Smart meters to reduce manual labour and unlock consumption data.

This confluence of factors is turning Japan into a lucrative market for internet-of-things (IoT) technology which has a huge potential to address the challenges facing the country, attracting new players to the market.

Singapore-based UnaBiz, a supplier of IoT technology, recently opened a new office in Tokyo to seize the opportunity, having tasted success in a project with Japanese energy retailer Nicigas to deploy 850,000 IoT devices to convert traditional gas meters into smart meters in 2019.

Following the project, which helped Nicigas reduce costs by 40%, the Tokyo metropolitan government is now planning to deploy smart water meters on a larger scale, according to Pascal Gerbert-Gaillard, managing director of UnaBiz Japan.

“It’s no longer feasible to send armies of people to homes just to take consumption data,” said Gerbert-Gaillard. “You need to implement IoT to get the data and use the data to decrease cost and improve your quality of service.”

UnaBiz’s direct presence in Japan is part of a move to be closer to its Japanese investors, including telecom giant KDDI which led its Series A funding round in 2018. Doing so would enable it to leverage its Japanese connections to penetrate the local market and support the international expansion of Japanese companies, said Gerbert-Gaillard.

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But the tide has changed. While Japanese firms tend to export their technologies and experience overseas, many are beginning to learn from markets like Singapore which are ahead of the curve in technology adoption.

“Major Japanese companies in industries like banking and construction are looking at Singapore as a showcase to implement new technologies, including IoT,” said Gerbert-Gaillard. “These are things they will not launch at first in their own market, but they are doing research in Singapore before bringing them back.”

In other cases, Gerbert-Gaillard said Japanese firms may adopt IoT solutions that UnaBiz has already implemented in Singapore to complement some of their own solutions.

That does not mean that the technology is transplanted wholesale. UnaBiz has had to make tweaks to API (application programming interface) connectivity so that Japanese firms can access the data they need. It also has to support private cloud implementations which some organisations may prefer.

Regulations concerning data privacy are also becoming stringent, so the question of where their data is stored and who can have access to it is starting to become an issue in the current environment,” said Gerbert-Gaillard.

UnaBiz is currently working with several large corporations to develop IoT solutions targeting facilities management, utilities, supply chain and logistics, and healthcare in Japan. It is in the midst of securing a Series B funding round, after which it will shore up its engineering, sales and pre-sales teams.

The company’s footprint in Japan was established through the Tokyo metropolitan government’s “Invest Tokyo” programme, which provides business support for foreign companies that supply advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT, big data and analytics.

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