The internet of things as an agent of change

As business leaders look to new markets and government agencies leverage technology to engage citizens, where will IoT, and the tools it can power, take us next? Microsoft’s Rodney Clark shares his thoughts

The internet of things as an agent of change

While its roots may be firmly planted in manufacturing, the internet of things (IoT) has grown in significance across all types of enterprise, including those in the public sector. Market research firm IDC predicts there will be 55.7 billion connected IoT devices by 2025, generating 73.1 zettabytes of data, growing from 18.3 zettabytes in 2019. It also forecasts worldwide spending on IoT to pass the $1 trillion mark in 2022. 

Microsoft and its ecosystem of partners are working to further drive the pace of innovation of IoT and help industry leaders to reap the rewards of the technology.  

“IoT is playing a critical and expanding role for businesses, especially as they continue to navigate new experiences and challenges as a result of the pandemic,” says Rodney Clark, corporate vice president of channel sales and channel chief at Microsoft. “We are seeing customers expand from simply connecting assets, such as manufacturing equipment, to connecting entire environments, including factories, the supply chain and distribution networks, to further optimise productivity, operations and security.” 

Many partners are building on these opportunities by creating industry-specific solutions to accelerate emerging opportunities, ranging from worker safety and automation to retail data and analytics. “We are also seeing even greater acceleration on solutions that represent a convergence of the physical and digital worlds – leveraging Azure digital twins, HoloLens and solutions such as Mesh, to accelerate time to value,” says Clark.  

Take Bentley Systems for example. The infrastructure engineering software firm has built software solutions on Microsoft Azure which leverage digital twins. They are used by professionals and organisations worldwide for the design, construction and operations of roads and bridges, rail and transit, water and wastewater, public works and utilities, buildings and campuses, and industrial facilities. 

Hybrid working, edge computing and the cloud have become integral factors of the modern business, and Clark believes that organisations could benefit hugely from using IoT in conjunction with these.  

“Cloud and edge computing are coming together to create new opportunities for organisations around the world, and we’re seeing increased innovation through connected environments that place digital twins, mixed reality and autonomous systems at the core,” he says. “We can apply modern software techniques like analytics, simulation, autonomous control and interactions to digital replicas of physical environments to achieve previously impossible benefits that span across sectors.  

“A retail store can ensure inventory is tracked and shelves are always stocked, a supply chain can track and reduce carbon emissions, and a city plan can simulate various growth proposals to ensure the locality is making the best use of energy sources. This convergence of physical and digital spaces creates an abundance of opportunities for new, transformative solutions.” 

With IoT becoming more commonplace, businesses and public sector organisations must address the challenge of managing and using the rapidly increasing amount of data that is available to them. This is where other technologies, like those related to the cloud, can work hand-in-hand with IoT.

Microsoft Azure and Teams are two products that not only fit into Microsoft’s Industry Cloud strategy seamlessly, but have also seen immense growth. In the third quarter of FY21, Microsoft saw Azure revenue grow by 50 per cent and Teams usage continuing to rise, by 26 per cent. “This speaks to both their impact and role in ensuring business continuity over the past year,” says Clark.  

Microsoft currently has specialised clouds for healthcare, retail, financial services, manufacturing and non-profit. “We believe that digital transformation can benefit any industry and our Industry Clouds allow customers to hit the ground running with industry-specific solutions, whether they are in early stages of their cloud journey or increasing their investment in cloud,” says Clark. “Post-Covid-19, in particular, we are finding a lot of companies that made that initial leap to the cloud are starting to ask themselves what’s next and what more they can be doing.” 

Microsoft’s partners can be key to this next step, as Clark says: “They are a fundamental part of our Industry Cloud strategy since they are on the ground working day-to-day with customers and creating solutions, whether that’s through customised applications, analytics templates or collaboration models.” 

While business continuity has been the main focus over the past 18 months, organisations are also increasingly focusing on operating more sustainably.  

“Microsoft is deeply committed to sustainability and we are working closely with our customers and partners to drive change,” says Clark. “We collaborate with our partner ecosystem to develop solutions that enable customers to achieve business and sustainability goals. From reducing energy consumption, streamlined processes, waste management and much more, there are plenty of sustainable partner solutions available that are using technology such as Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Power BI, Power Platform, data and artificial intelligence (AI), to help organisations achieve more through their sustainability goals.”  

And IoT, data and the cloud also have an important role to play here. “A great example of this is the work being done by Accenture, Avanade and Microsoft,” says Clark.  

The three organisations are combining their expertise in cloud, data, AI, IoT, digital twins and digital transformation to help utility and energy companies in the UK transform their energy system and lower the cost of decarbonising electricity, with the goal of achieving a net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050.  

To do this, the businesses will encourage the use of open industry data to provide secure and accessible information that will drive efficiency, support cross-industry innovation and improve asset performance. Renewable energy developer and operator SSE Renewables is working with the companies to reimagine its own operations. 

“The scale of the net-zero challenge is so great and the significance of achieving it so important, we need all hands on deck,” says Rachel McEwen, SSE Renewables’ chief sustainability officer, in a Microsoft article about the partnership. “The energy system – electricity in particular – must be completely decarbonised very quickly, so that trickier sectors like heat and transport can reach zero carbon emissions. 

“The answer to all the technological, market and regulatory challenges that result cannot possibly come from a single organisation or sector. Partnerships, like the one between Microsoft and Accenture, are essential in bringing together an electricity utility like SSE with business and digital technology transformation specialists.” 

Partner perspectives 
We asked a selection of Microsoft partners how they are using the internet of things (IoT) to delivery agility, resilience and scalability to corporate and public sector organisations worldwide. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 45 of the digital edition of the Summer 2021 issue of The Record

Jason Smith, vice president of alliances and product marketing at Liquidware, said: “Liquidware’s Digital Workspace Management suite of products supports the build-out of an agile, state-of-the-art workspace infrastructure that quickly delivers the resources workers need, on demand.” 

Ravi Gopinath, chief strategy officer and chief cloud officer at AVEVA, said: “Microsoft and AVEVA are committed to working with engineering, procurement and construction businesses and owner-operators to ensure efficient and sustainable intelligent operations are a reality through advanced connected solutions.” 

Ioannis Vriniotis, senior product manager of platform and vendor alliances at interworks.cloud, said: “The aspiration for our platform at interworks.cloud is to combine independent software vendor solutions and provide the opportunity to incorporate different data sources through cloud technologies. Ultimately, this will enable our IT sellers to convert ‘the internet of things’ into ‘the internet of thinks’, which will then evolve into ‘the internet of abilities’.” 

David Dewhirst, vice president of marketing at Mariner, said: “Our Spyglass Visual Inspection (SVI) solution uses deep learning and a hybrid edge/cloud architecture to dramatically improve manufacturers’ defect detection and elimination.” 

Gijs Geurts, CEO of Anywhere365, said: “How do we deliver agility, resilience and scalability with IoT? By managing all your sensors, agents and bots in one unified communications platform.” 

Melissa Topp, senior director of global marketing at ICONICS, said: “ICONICS has enjoyed a multi-decade working relationship with Microsoft, so its IoT solution is especially suited to Microsoft’s Azure cloud services and applications for maximum efficiency, security, and scalability.” 

Saar Yoskovitz, CEO and co-founder of Augury, said: “Augury’s machine health solution uses IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) to predict and prevent machine failures, and improve machine performance.” 

Stefan Schweiger, head of IoT/AI solutions at Bechtle Switzerland, said: “We are supporting corporate and public sector companies to scale IoT projects by providing them with know-how about efficient development, deployment, management and decommission as well as partnership when it comes to the logistic, installation and management of IoT solutions.” 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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