The Internet of Things (IoT), is a collection of technologies which give computing devices embedded in everyday objects the ability to send and receive data from cloud applications. Over the past few years, they have redefined the technology landscape.
With the IoT market expected to grow over 28% and reach an estimated value of $457 Billion in 2020, businesses operating in every industry should take a closer look at the opportunities this shift in the technology paradigm has to offer.
IoT technology solutions provide a wide variety of business benefits to organizations which include opportunities to build better products, create better relationships with customers and build ancillary revenue streams. Dubbed the 4th Industrial Revolution due to the way it is expected to fundamentally change every aspect of society, the impact IoT is likely to make on humankind will far exceed any previous macroeconomic shift which has preceded it in both scale and complexity.
IoT’s growth and its projected impact present an overwhelming opportunity for businesses with the right technology platform to implement endless solutions touching every aspect of society.
The IoT Solutions Ecosystem
Any IoT solution needs to build on an IoT ecosystem which consists of three distinct parts – the device, the network and the platform.
The device is the edge of an IoT solution and can include anything from a surveillance camera, or IoT enabled light sensor to a smart building center or even an internet connected automobile. The critical distinction is that the ability to connect to a network and send and receive data is what defines an IoT device.
The network is the next component of the IoT ecosystem. A key factor in any IoT solution is the data. Data generated by the end device transmits to the IoT platform, and the platform sends data instructions to end devices. The network is what makes this data transmission possible and could be as large as the Internet, or as small as a Local Area Network housing the three components of the IoT ecosystem.
The platform is the final component of the IoT ecosystem, and one could argue it’s the most important. The information obtained from IoT devices is arguably the most valuable business benefit of an IoT solution, and the platform is the component which makes this possible. This part of the IoT ecosystem generally has a service which is capable of consuming large amounts of streaming data, a data store and an analytical engine to accumulate and process the data, and finally some form of reporting interface which presents the analyzed information for business consumption.
IoT Business Benefits
IoT has a wide range of business benefits, but like any other technology implementation, you should envision your IoT solution in the context of the business and customer market the service will benefit. For this reason, every IoT solution developed is essentially unique as it is serving a specific business and customer market. However, if we look at the IoT solution space holistically, there are a few broad business benefits which IoT has to offer.
Product Development Enhancements
The data obtained from IoT-enabled devices can help manufacturers and their secondary suppliers build better products.
The ability to get real-time data from devices is invaluable to device manufacturers as it gives them a clear view of how the device is operating in the field. This information can be used to help the manufacturer enhance their products to serve their end customers better. Enhanced product customer alignment leads to improved customer relations and increased revenues. However, IoT-gathered data can also lead to other benefits such as market differentiation, shorter manufacture times, reduced costs and enhanced innovation.
IoT devices in the field feeding performance data back to the device manufacturer can also help improve operational efficiencies.
Obtaining real-time data from devices can help reduce the time taken to detect and remedy equipment faults. You can identify operational efficiencies through shorter detection cycles and the ability to proactively locate and anticipate failures before they occur. Ultimately, preventative action is always better than repairing equipment which has failed, and IoT data enables this.
Improved Customer Relations
IoT solutions can also help improve customer relations due to the insights obtained from device usage and how they perform in the field.
Real-time data obtained from customer’s IoT devices can help improve service delivery through instant communication and enhanced support options like remote repair assistance. Also, the insights obtained can help manufacturers identify customer pain points and anticipate future needs. This data can be fed back into the product development process to enhance future products and services.
Ancillary Revenue Generation
The data obtained from IoT devices can also be used to create new business models which can help organizations generate additional revenue.
Data is the currency of the information age, and IoT data is a valuable commodity due to its relevance and applicability to a specific product market. Developing revenue generation models for IoT services include subscription, outcomes-based and cross-selling. In a subscription-based model, device data is sold back to the end user of the product or a third-party who would find value in the data. An outcomes-based model uses the data instead of the sale of the product to generate revenue such as billing customers for the generated electricity instead of selling the generator itself. Finally, cross-selling is another revenue generation model for IoT solution providers where the insights gained from IoT data can help businesses target customers with complementary products and services.
Microsoft Azure’s IoT offering
Microsoft Azure offers a wide variety of IoT-related services which businesses can use to build the platform component of their IoT ecosystem.
An ideal IoT platform should offer a service that can seamlessly connect to millions of devices and consume a large amount of data, give a repository to store the data, some form of analytical engine to interrogate the data, and finally, a reporting interface to present the data back to the business dynamically. Microsoft Azure has all these components and, in many instances, lets you choose more than one option.
Connection and Consumption
Azure IoT Hub gives businesses the ability to connect, monitor, and manage billions of IoT assets. With built-in features such as enhanced security for IoT devices, automated provisioning, and the ability to scale globally, this service forms the connection component of an IoT solution built on Azure.
The next component needed by an IoT platform is a repository to store all the collected data. Microsoft Azure has a wide range of data storage services catering to any conceivable IoT solution. These include structured data solutions such as Azure SQL Database, MySQL and PostgreSQL, NoSQL key-value stores provided by Azure Table Storage, and scalable, high-performance solutions like Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Redis Cache.
Data Analytics and Insight
The true value of an IoT solution efficiently analyzes data received from devices in the field. Azure has a host of analytical services which range from SQL Datawarehouse and Azure Databricks to Data Lake Analytics and Azure Analysis Services. Also, Azure’s Artificial Intelligence offerings, with services such as Machine Learning Studio, can help take any IoT solution to the next level by extracting even more analytical value from the data generated.
The final component needed by an IoT solution platform is the ability to dynamically report the data which has been stored and analyzed. As with the other IoT components Azure offers, there are multiple options with several business Intelligence solutions catering to any reporting scenario needed.
With data centers on every continent except Antarctica, Azure has a global reach ensuring an IoT solution can be deployed and managed from anywhere. This scale, in addition to its multiple data stores, analytical offerings and reporting capabilities, make Microsoft Azure the perfect choice for an IoT solution platform.