Everything is connected whether you know it or not.
Beyond just Nest smart thermostats or Fitbit fitness trackers, big businesses are putting connected smart devices to work in their manufacturing plants, their machine equipment, and even their dairy farms.
This means huge opportunity for some of tech’s biggest companies: Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all have initiatives to help enterprise customers take advantage of the rising tide of smart devices and the so-called Internet of Things, or IoT.
Microsoft is certain that this is the “new normal,” says Microsoft Partner Director of Azure IoT Sam George, and that the company has the keys to helping businesses get there.
“It’s not hype, it’s a real benefit,” George says.
But then, there’s an endgame that most people haven’t considered yet.
Smart devices are going mainstream in fits and starts. Consumers don’t always understand the value of things like connected refrigerators, but businesses are farther ahead George says that he sees the move happening in the enterprise on a “daily basis.”
But it took a while to get there. “I think a lot of people ignore it because they’re daunted by the technical challenge,” George says.
That’s why Microsoft sells the “IoT Suite,” designed to be a complete system for connected devices to report back up to its Microsoft Azure cloud, helping customers sift through the immense amounts of data that they generate and actually get some use out of that data.
The technical work is mostly done on the backend, so companies don’t need teams of experts just to get started connecting everything.
“We can provision these things so you don’t have to guess,” George says.
For instance, elevator company Thyssen Krupp uses Microsoft IoT Suite to help do preventative maintenance on over 1 million elevators. The company attached smart sensors to its elevators, tracking everything from door-opening speed to the alignment of the shaft, so technicians can come fix an elevator before it breaks, not after.
You, as an elevator rider, would never even notice. All you’d know is that there were fewer elevator outages than there were before.
The cool but creepy part
The part that’s equally cool and creepy is what happens after everybody and their competitor gets on board with smart devices: a big secondary market for data.
“We think data is going to play an important role,” George says.
George gives an illustrative example. A weather company wanted to refine its models for predicting rain. But to check its math, it would need to match its predictions against reality to see where it’s been raining. And it only has a finite number of weather stations to gather that data.
The solution this company found, George says, was clever. By partnering up with an auto manufacturer that had been gathering data on customers’ windshield-wiper usage, the weather company got access to a goldmine of research material.
Similarly, if you install one of those trackers in your car that lets the insurance company see how fast you drive and other safety stats, they also get tons of data on other stuff, including when you’re in the car and where you like to go.
That data could be valuable to a whole lot of companies, and it has the potential to be a “secondary revenue source” for any company riding this wave, meaning a huge marketplace for data.
Microsoft currently has no plans to get into that space, and George expects companies will go straight to each other for this stuff.
If this sounds creepy, George says it’s not like any company would be dumb enough to try to sell your personally identifiable data, and this isn’t wildly different from companies like Facebook, Google, or Microsoft itself passing your data to advertisers.
“It’s the internet of your things, and the internet of your data,” George emphasizes.