In general, Japanese tool vendors are optimistic about ES technology. Hitachi appears optimistic about ES as a business. Although "AI fever" has receded, there is now a better understanding of the strengths and shortcomings of the technology. There are fewer exploratory users and more users demanding practical systems. There is also a steady increase in business.
The majority of Japanese ES tools are developed, sold, and applied by computer companies. They have the resources to conduct research, develop new products, and persist in the business.
Because of the close relationship between industrial research, system development, and sales personnel in Japanese companies, solutions to customer problems are identified cooperatively, and then quickly find their way into ES tools.
Many Japanese tools under development are at about the same level of sophistication as American tools. Although many new ideas originate in U.S. research laboratories, Japanese are quick to develop the technology and transfer it into products.
The predominant application areas have been equipment diagnosis, planning and scheduling, design, and process control. As in the United States, the Japanese companies are developing task- or domain-specific tools for diagnostic, planning/scheduling, and real-time control problems. These tools are often combined with knowledge acquisition aids.
As in the United States, Japanese computer manufacturers are moving towards open, client server architectures. The impact on the tools business is an increased demand in workstation tools, especially UNIX-based tools written in C. Concurrently, there is a slowdown in the demand for mainframe tools.
All the major Japanese computer companies conduct research in knowledge-based systems. Most of the research is in applying or integrating new techniques to customer problems. The industrial research laboratories serve as technology transfer agents for both imported and internally developed techniques and methodologies. At the same time, as in consumer products, Japanese companies are spending research money on improving and refining ideas and products.
On the negative side, the Japanese suffer from a proliferation of tools that reflects their computing industry: (1) there are several large computer manufacturers whose hardware products are incompatible; (2) customer loyalty keeps end users from shopping around; (3) customers tend to desire custom systems; and (4) there does not appear to be any movement towards standardization. However, with the move toward open systems architectures, these patterns may be significantly altered, and one or two dominant players may appear. Hitachi, with its UNIX workstation tool, is beginning to show signs of being one of them.