TOKYO -- Major Japanese companies increasingly are forming departments to analyze "big data" as part of efforts to cut costs, raise product quality or otherwise improve operations.
The Nikkei Inc. group annual survey on big-data use targeted company chiefs including presidents and chairmen, collecting responses from 86 businesses. It found that 67% of the companies use big-data analysis to improve operations, up 14 percentage points from 53% in 2014.
And of those businesses, 54% have dedicated departments that centrally manage the data, while another 20% plan to create them.
Such data analysis is applied to sales and marketing by 70% of the companies, while 46% said they use it to cut design and production costs. Among those citing product development as a use, 62% said the goal is to increase earnings while 31% focus on cost reduction -- highlighting the growing variety of uses.
Internet of Things technology, which provides network links for industrial or consumer equipment, is gaining momentum. Virtually all companies surveyed use the technology or plan to do so, with 47% saying they already do.
Of companies collecting this IoT data, 48% say they apply it to streamlining design and production costs while 46% target earnings growth by honing operations such as sales and marketing.
"Big-data utilization is an important undertaking for us to come up with new services as a railway operator," said President Tetsuro Tomita of JR East, which serves eastern Japan.
Top challenges include a lack of ideas for applying the data, cited by 68% of the companies, as well as a shortage of data analysts -- rated as an obstacle by 62%, up 5 percentage points from last year's survey.
"We need people capable of analyzing and explaining the data," Showa Denko President Hideo Ichikawa said. And 51% of the companies want the government to help develop such talent.
To deal with the lack of analysts, 84% of the companies said they educate staffers in-house, 53% rely on outside experts to study the data and 39% use analysis tools easily wielded by regular employees.
Artificial intelligence is seen raising the efficiency of data use. More than 90% of the companies said they use or plan to use AI in the future, including 30% that do now.
"By utilizing the IoT and AI, we hope to enhance and advance the functions of buildings," said Yoichi Miyamoto, president of construction company Shimizu.