Confronted by the Internet of Things (IoT), industrial end users tend to immediately ask at least one of two questions: “How can I take advantage of this new technology?” and “Why should I care?” In his keynote presentation at the Smart Industry 2015 conference in Chicago, Kevin Miller, principal program manager, Azure IoT, Microsoft, told attendees how they can answer both questions.
“We’re at the inflection point on IoT,” said Miller. “Industry is ready, customers know they need it, and the technology is there.
“The tide is changing. It’s becoming a lot easier, and people are starting to take advantage of it—it’s changing business, from finding
new efficiencies to opening new markets.”
Nothing new about IIoT?
The connectivity, data collection and analysis concepts behind the Industrial IoT (IIoT) are not new—NASA and the U.S.
“The difference is that now it’s economical, with cheap radios and storage in the cloud.” Microsoft’s Kevin Miller on the practicality sea change in industrial data collection and analysis.
Department of Defense have been doing it for a long time. “The difference is that now it’s economical, with cheap radios and storage in the cloud,” Miller said. “You can put a sensor on things you wouldn’t have thought of before.”
We have connected house pets so we can answer the question, “Where’s Fluffy?” Connecting cattle, using very simple sensors, is giving us 20% higher beef production. “Rat traps have to be emptied or they start to stink,” Miller said. Now we have traps that tell us when they’re full so we’re not driving around checking empty cages. For the price of a 25-cent sensor and a dollar-a-month data plan, we can save thousands of miles and hundreds of hours, Miller said.
More and different data
“The number of connected ‘things’ used to correspond to the number of people—like laptops and cell phones,” Miller added. “Now, the number of IoT things is vastly larger than the number of people.” Having lots of connected things means we now have access to lots of data, providing we can talk to them. And we have to figure out what to do with it.
The wide variety of connected devices calls for highly flexible systems. “A quarter of these devices are running Linux,” Miller said. We have to connect with everything, so we can’t lock in a single platform. “There’s no platform for IoT, the planet is the platform.”
The need for pervasive connectivity also means information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) are no longer distinct. “It used to be, if you were in IT, you weren’t going to kill anyone,” Miller said. “Now you can,” for example, with connected cars, as recently demonstrated by Wired magazine on a Chrysler vehicle. “Five years ago, if you wanted to hack a car, you had to have the car. Now you can do it over the Internet.”
Industry is being inexorably drawn into the IoT, and it’s only a matter of time before your facility embraces IIoT, whether by carrot or by stick. “It’s a new landscape,” Miller said. “Google and Honeywell are now competitors, thanks to Nest.”
Answer your questions
Microsoft’s point of view on IoT is described by three steps: improved efficiency leads to innovation; innovation, in turn, leads to business transformation. First, “The Internet of Things starts with your things, where what matters to your business matters the most,” said Miller. Connect the devices you already have and “tap into the data that already exists.”
Then, use that data to make simple changes that can make a big impact. “When you harness your existing investments and connect your people and infrastructure, you can change the trajectory of your business in real time,” Miller said. “Get some data, analyze it and learn how to be more efficient, Make enough money to go from there.”
Innovate by using what you’ve learned to increase revenues using your existing assets and services, Miller continued. Then transform your business by finding opportunities to create new revenue streams and business models.
“The first step is a doozy: ‘I want to do IoT’” Miller said. From there, the path can be smoothed using a tool such as Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite to make integration easy. “These tools make is so that some smart person in your business group can get something running in a few minutes,” Miller said. “Go on the system yourself, play with it, and get a sense of what’s possible, perhaps with a standard example, like a connected refrigerator. So you know what you’re talking about.”
“Then, accelerate your progress with preconfigured examples” such as those in Azure IoT Suite, Miller explained. You can get started in minutes, take a preconfigured example, modify existing rules and alerts, then add your own devices, tailor the application to your needs, and integrate it with back-end systems.
“Integrate and transform business processes by having [your new cloud application] work with existing systems,” Miller said. For example, “Use it to get replacement parts and maintenance techs to the correct place at the same time.” By trying it out, you’ll see both how to access the capabilities of IIoT, and why you want to do it.
ThyssenKrupp is among those companies transforming its business with cloud connectivity. Read more about their plans to bring data from hundreds of thousands of elevators into the Microsoft Azure environment.