The Internet of things beckons, and Microsoft wants to help businesses realize its game-changing and potentially profit-boosting potential.
Gartner predicts that IoT will encompass 26 billion devices by 2020, excluding PCs, tablets and smartphones. Peter Middleton, research director at Gartner, said in a statement that IoT growth "will far exceed that of other connected devices. By 2020, the number of smartphones, tablets and PCs in use will reach about 7.3 billion units."
"The Internet of Things (IoT), one of the top enterprise trends of 2014, affects not only businesses but society at large," said Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Enterprise and Partner Group, in a May 21 blog post. Sparking a fundamental shift in how business is conducted, she argued that IoT is capable of "surfacing greater efficiencies, driving deeper customer connections and introducing new business models and revenue streams."
While Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 and innovations like Cortana took center stage last month at Build 2014, IoT emerged as a major underlying theme at the conference. During the event, Steve Teixeira, director of Program Management for Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, demoed a connected car concept to show how Windows can also serve as an IoT platform and open up new opportunities for developers. Microsoft followed up on April 15 by kicking off a limited preview of Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems Service (ISS), a new service aimed at IoT.
Now, the company is looking to get businesses onboard.
"At Microsoft, we believe IoT begins with your things—your existing devices and sensors, the data they produce, your cloud services and business intelligence tools," said Hauser. Moreover, IoT is quickly going mainstream.
"It's not a futuristic technology trend: It's here today, creating real, measurable value in businesses around the world," added Hauser.
Microsoft has released a list of the top 10 reasons (PDF) why organizations need an IoT strategy. First among them is the competitive advantage realized by smart, connected workplaces. "As more enterprises adopt strategies to capitalize on IoT, it's becoming increasingly important to do the same," said Hauser.
One Italian company, Lido Stone Works, increased "business 70 percent after connecting a factory floor to technicians," she noted. The company also realized a 30 percent increase in productivity after implementing IoT-enabled systems and cloud services.
Another top reason is that IoT can be used to enhance and extend an organization's existing investments in IT. "You don't need to rip and replace your IT to begin to see value from IoT."
Even a piecemeal approach to IoT can pay off. "Add a few new devices, connect them to the cloud and enable them to talk to each other, to your employees and to customers," said Hauser. Capturing the data generated by those systems and adding a dash of analytics provided by business intelligence tools helps businesses "gain deeper insight into what your customers and employees want and need," she asserted.
Rounding out the top three is increased efficiency. "The Internet of Your Things starts with identifying the one process, product line or location that matters most to you, then making small changes for big impact," said Hauser.