Starting small to reap big rewards with the internet of things

Rebecca Gibson speaks to Steve Dunbar, intelligent systems lead, EMEA, about how Microsoft aims to help retailers through its Internet of Your Things strategy

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson on 28 April 2014
Starting small to reap big rewards with the internet of things

This article was first published in the Summer 2014 issue of Speak

How does Microsoft define the internet of things (IoT)?

There is no one single definition, which is why retailers find IoT so overwhelming. However, Microsoft believes that instead of thinking about the IoT as billions of devices and sensors connecting to systems and the cloud, retailers should think about it as the Internet of Your Things. Rather than thinking about the large amounts of data being produced by billions of devices, they should think about how one piece of data can provide a lot of value to their organisation.

What are the main trends driving the IoT?

While the IoT is not a new concept, it is gathering pace in today’s marketplace as companies try to gain more valuable insights from their data. One of the main reasons for this is that previously self-contained industry devices are increasingly being used as part of an internet-enabled, connected system that spans the company’s infrastructure. Each of these devices produces vast amounts of actionable data and now that computer processors are cheaper and more powerful, it is much easier to harness and analyse this information to help transform the customer experience.

What makes the retail industry well-placed to adopt Microsoft’s Internet of Your Things strategy?

Retail is one of the most richly diverse industries and many companies within this sector already have an abundance of different data-producing devices and systems. At the moment, most retailers already have devices and systems that are producing vast amounts of valuable data, but they don’t know how to capitalise on it. Many companies believe that to harness IoT they need to rip and replace existing systems, but in reality they simply need to join up the data dots and make small improvements to their existing infrastructure. Through the Internet of Your Things strategy, Microsoft and its partner ecosystem aims to help retailers identify key pain points and determine new ways they can connect their devices to their existing systems to create an intelligent system that will add real business value. While adding a couple of new devices may be necessary for some companies, for many, making small changes to the way data is transferred and processed will have a profound impact.

How will Microsoft’s Internet of Your Things strategy benefit retailers?

Around 75% of global retailers have invested in Microsoft embedded devices and are already running their infrastructures on our operating systems. Through the Internet of Your Things strategy, retailers can leverage Windows Embedded and the Microsoft Azure cloud platform – as well as software such as Dynamics CRM or Dynamics ERP – to capture and analyse the data produced by these traditional devices. By doing this, they can identify how to improve back-end processes to customer facing systems– including enterprise resource planning, supply chain and inventory management – and streamline their operations. In addition, data analysed through intelligent systems enables retailers to visualise emerging behavioural patterns and anticipate key industry trends to ensure they can quickly cater to demand and engage with customers, employees and partner networks in the most beneficial way. 

What advantages does this have for the employees and the customers?

One of the most powerful, yet simple, ways of driving brand loyalty is to make individual customers feel valued by offering a personalised service that recognises their previous interactions with the brand. Retailers using intelligent systems can analyse various pieces of customer data from across their enterprise to provide a true omni-channel experience, where both in-store and online customers received tailored promotions and targeted product recommendations based on their purchase history. Not only does this make customers feel as though they have been rewarded for their loyalty, it also increases the opportunity for up-sell and cross-sell. In addition, by capitalising on the IoT and intelligent systems, retailers can offer customers more interactive shopping experiences within the store and increase the productivity of their store associates. For example, they can introduce kiosks that connect with customer devices and enable personalised self-service, or facilitate mobile payments from the consumer’s personal smartphone.

How do Windows Embedded devices help to execute an intelligent systems strategy?

Windows Embedded enables retailers to leverage industry devices and systems to deliver a consistent, targeted experience that meets the needs of both their staff and their customers. The latest Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry platform has various integrated filters and embedded lock down features, which allow retailers to provide staff and customers with easy access to secure internet-enabled devices, while ensuring they can create and control a targeted user experience.

How do the Windows Embedded filters help to improve the customer experience?

When a customer uses an interactive kiosk or in-store display, retailers need to ensure that they can only access certain secure pages of content. To do this, they can enable both the platform’s embedded gesture and keyboard filters to prevent users from typing certain key combinations on both physical and on-screen keyboards. Similarly, if they want employees to use mobile tablets but do not want them to copy restricted data to an external storage device, they can use the write filters in Windows Embedded to create a read-only device. In addition, the new app launcher module enables them to automatically start specific applications for different users. This ensures a consistent user experience across all of an enterprise’s devices and systems and helps to drive brand loyalty.

Windows Embedded also provides retailers with an easy and efficient way to monitor and manage multiple display screens, kiosk and other devices within a store through its remote device management feature. The filter enables administrators to monitor and resolve any malfunctions, update software and alter applications in real time regardless of their location. When combined with dialogue filters that prevent system and application pop-ups, this provides the customer with a seamless, uninterrupted user experience. Moreover, the retailer enhances the consumer experience but remains in complete control of their data and the brand’s image.

The intelligent system category offers both retail customers and Microsoft’s partner ecosystem a real opportunity to unleash the potential of the IoT. 

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