CES 2016: Panasonic argues consumer brand will be its edge with enterprises

Nowhere is Panasonic so eager to push its B2B products as the Internet of Things - even more specifically, for building smarter cities.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

LAS VEGAS---Apple might have surprised quite a few followers as it made a stronger commitment to the enterprise over the last few years, but perhaps the iPhone maker sparked an unexpected trend.

Panasonic, another tech company primarily known for consumer-friendly products such as digital cameras and home electronics, is making its enterprise ambitions known at CES this week.

And yet it is exactly that reputation for being a consumer brand that has Panasonic executives confident about attracting corporate customers to its emerging portfolio of B2B solutions. Many of those new B2B options pull directly from other pieces of Panasonic gadgetry, such as the Toughbook laptop family.

"Panasonic, as you know started, with consumers," remarked Richard Hsu, vice president for Panasonic's Innovation Center North America, during an interview with ZDNet on Thursday.

Hsu underscored the brand's mix of consumer products with B2B endpoints, which he argued most other B2B companies don't have, equipping it a platform with multiple different vertical strengths.

From there, Hsu believes customers will prefer to have a single provider for handling every step from pre-sales to deployment to post-sales service and future scalability. Nevertheless, Hsu stressed connectivity for these products won't be limited to only other Panasonic hardware and software.

Nowhere does Panasonic appear so eager to push its B2B products as the Internet of Things -- even more specifically, for building smarter cities.

Smart cities are a hot topic at the annual consumer electronics show this year as tech titans from Intel to AT&T have been busy unveiling their own strategies to connect everything from digital displays to the pavement on roadways.

Panasonic's approach appears to start with retailers and restaurants as these venues are ubiquitous from airports to athletic stadiums. An easily recognizable example already in the works is taking digital display technology and turning those screens into kiosks.

But Panasonic is taking things further, Hsu elaborated, tacking on a security camera. The facial recognition software in that camera, he continued, could serve up data for gender and age groups, offering new data about customer demographics that could influence how managers adjust inventories, cooking times and when they should schedule more or less staff.

Looking closer at the smart home, Hsu clarified integrations here will be more consumer-focused but noted ties with carriers will be essential as he listed off existing B2B relationships with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.

When asked about how Panasonic's approach to IoT compared to its consumer tech competitors LG and Samsung, Hsu sat back and shrugged, admitting he is not familiar as with their technologies. He reiterated Panasonic will ensure compatibility with other systems via a common interface, if not open source methods.

Beyond relying on its existing tech, Panasonic is also innovating based on new deals already being established -- including a rather unexpected one with Facebook announced on Tuesday.

According to Panasonic, the world's largest social network was looking for a more efficient way to store user photos and videos -- especially older content that might not be accessed as often.

Panasonic answered with optical-drive storage technology, dubbed Freeze-Ray, building off Blu-ray optical disks as an alternative for managing storage in a new way that should be both more cost- and energy-efficient.

Hsu said the project has been going on for the last two to three years, describing constant communications between the two companies (usually on a daily basis) to deliver upon and resolve operational issues.

Pointing out that rotary hard drives today are expensive, Hsu stressed that the laser Blu-Ray drives offer a robust alternative that can last (and more importantly, be secured) for years.

"The scalability of our solution is another differentiation," Hsu insisted. "It's not just an investment for next few years, but the next 15 to 20 without having to replace the platform or hardware."

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