Japan Post, IBM and Apple Announce Initiative for Japanese Senior Citizens

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. April 30, 2015

The Japan Post Group, IBM and Apple announced a first-of-its-kind initiative to improve the quality of life for millions of Japanese senior citizens (over 65 years of age). The new effort will deliver iPads with IBM-developed apps and analytics to connect millions of seniors with services, healthcare, community and their families. After piloting iPads and apps custom developed for the elderly, Japan Post Group will expand the service in stages with the objective of including 4 million to 5 million customers in Japan by 2020.
The initiative includes:

  • Apple iPads and their intuitive built-in apps, capabilities and features including settings for vision- and hearing-impaired users.
  • Custom-built apps specifically for the elderly by IBM Global Business Services for reminders and alerts about medications, exercise and diet, and direct access to community activities and services such as grocery shopping and job matching.
  • Exclusive cloud services of the IBM MobileFirst for iOS platform, for data integration and security, analytics, and management of millions of devices.
  • Text analytics and accessibility technologies, many invented in IBM Research – Tokyo, including Japanese natural language analysis and tracking.
  • The Japan Post Group’s nationwide infrastructure and its ability to cover the “last mile” to virtually every citizen of Japan.

In addition to 24,000 post offices and a workforce of 400,000, Japan Post Group has existing financial relationships with nearly all of the 115 million adults in Japan. In addition, its operations include the Watch Over service where for a small fee postal personnel check in on elderly customers and assure families about the well-being of their relatives. The Group plans to extend and enhance the Watch Over service’s capabilities with Apple iPads.

Japan Post Group will begin the pilot service in the second half of this year, which will be offered in conjunction with the Watch Over service. The service will expand in stages, ultimately aiming to reach 4 million to 5 million customers in Japan by 2020.

The pitch

Japan Post, IBM and Apple use iPads to enhance the quality of life for millions of Japanese elders.

Final analysis

Providing support for elderly people is usually complex, typically costly and often stressful. That goes for virtually everyone involved, including family members and workers at public sector agencies, as well as the elders themselves. Unfortunately, it is a situation whose myriad challenges defy easy answers and one whose problems are on track to get far worse in the near future.

The problem is often discussed the U.S. due to the mass of the 75M Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. In 2012, that group made up about 14 percent of the U.S. population but the figure is expected to rise to 20 percent by 2029. Globally, the elder population is projected to increase from 11.7 percent in 2013 to more than 21 percent by 2050.

But what would the situation look like if the number of elders was growing more rapidly or significantly? That’s exactly the case Japan faces where the percentage of elderly citizens is on track to rise from roughly a quarter of the current population to 40 percent in 2025. That will impact government and social programs massively and further strain already stressed individuals and families.

It is also the challenge that IBM, Apple and Japan Post plan to address. In essence, their initiative aims to expand and enhance the Japan Post’s popular Watch Over service by incorporating Apple iPads into the program. On first glance, that may seem like a simplistic fix for a hugely complex problem but IBM and Apple are taking care to enhance the iPads with applications and features developed specifically for elderly end users.

The iPad’s intuitive interface and common applications like Face Time, Messages, Mail, Photos and photo sharing should help family members stay in touch and share news, even with seniors who have hearing or eyesight challenges. In addition, IBM has developed custom apps for keeping seniors connected with healthcare professionals, community activities and local services. IBM is also providing scalable cloud-based services for managing, maintaining and securing the millions of iPads that Japan Post plans to distribute.

This certainly sounds intriguing but are there caveats or pitfalls to consider? Actually, yes. Any plan as large and ambitious as this one is bound to encounter problems along the way, including adequately training Japan Post employees and engaging with elders who are often technology-challenged. Bringing hundreds of national and local agencies into the mix, along with millions of family members will also have to be effectively managed.

But at the same time, Japan is one of the most technologically sophisticated countries in the world, and has both the skills and infrastructures needed to support the program. In other words, if Japan Post can’t make the initiative succeed, who can? Given the importance of the issue and its gravity over time, we’d put our money on things working out for the best.

In addition, the program is likely to act as a valuable test bed for IBM and Apple that could lead to additional, similar projects. As noted above, the continuing growth of senior citizen populations is impacting countries around the world. If this initial effort succeeds, it could eventually impact tens of millions of elders worldwide and provide lucrative lines of business for the two companies.

Overall, we consider the new initiative between the Japan Post Group, IBM and Apple an intriguing effort that offers potentially valuable benefits for everyone involved. If the program succeeds, it is likely to be replicated in numerous other markets by IBM and Apple, and copied by numerous other vendors.

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