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Azure IoT Suite gets down to business

Mary Branscombe | March 24, 2016
Forget two-year IoT pilots. Prebuilt solutions and fast prototypes mean you can ascertain the business value of IoT quickly enough to stay competitive.

Whether your business is making jet engines, delivering towels or emptying rat traps, you need to be looking at how you can improve margins and customer satisfaction with the Internet of Things – because your competitors is.

Services like Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite mean you don’t have to become experts in distributed systems to make IoT work for your business. That’s handy, because it’s more often business leaders than IT teams buying IoT. It’s not about gadgets or wearables, but the fact that what you do with sensors and big data can change your business model. In fact, McKinsey & Company estimates that nearly 70 percent of the potential value in IoT – which it estimates as high as $1.1 trillion a year by 2025 – will come from B2B use.

When the team that created Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite looked at their customers in 2015, they found that only 2–5 percent of IoT projects were being run by the IT group. “It’s not the same people we usually talk to,” Microsoft’s Kevin Miller says. “Instead, they’re being run out of the business groups. They’re line of business decision makers. We typically see somebody whose primary goal is to get return on investment, to control costs, to drive revenues into a business. Some of these people have never really run software groups before, and now they're saying ‘I’ve got a thing, I can run the thing better if it’s connected to the internet, but my business unit doesn't have the skills for this’.” 

This adoption directly by the business side follows the same pattern as software-as-a-service. So rather than letting different business units adopt their own approaches to IoT, CIOs should have a solution to offer them. That way, they can get things moving faster than the typical pilot project, which can take a year or two, says Steve Hoberecht, who works on IoT Suite.

“Talking to businesses who’d done pilots, we found the first few phases – where you envision and do your planning and ROI calculation and moving on to vendor investigation and selection process, and looking at a proof of concept – an enterprise customer will take anywhere from three to 18 months,” he says. (Usually it’s somewhere between nine and 16 months just for the pilot, but actually rolling out the final production system takes much less time.)

The idea behind the IoT Suite, and the Microsoft Azure certification for IoT – which now covers 35 partners including Dell and HPE – was to simplify the choice of the dozens of different technologies and speed up prototyping, Miller says. “Customers were telling us, I don’t even know where to begin … and I really don’t want to start by hiring a system integrator and paying a million dollars and taking 12 months to create a prototype. I want someone in the business team to be able to spend a couple of days and stand something up, customise it to my business and look at it and say ‘OK, I see what this IoT idea really is’ is and then have that built out of real, at-scale components. I want to start with 10 connected devices, but I'm going to put a million in and I don't want to have to re-architect.”


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