It’s time to take advantage of the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is going to be huge. Colin Masson, Microsoft’s global industry director for manufacturing and distribution, talks to IT contributing editor Malcolm Wheatley.

Colin Masson, global industry director for manufacturing & distribution, Microsoft.
Colin Masson, global industry director for manufacturing & distribution, Microsoft.

How should manufacturers respond to the Internet of Things?

For some, the temptation has been to simply ignore it. But that could be an expensive mistake – because the Internet of Things turns out to be a powerful enabling technology for many of the strategies that manufacturers are presently contemplating.

Servitisation, for instance. Customer-led product design. Predictive analytics for maintenance and inventory replenishment. And the development of compelling digitally-leveraged customer experiences.

“In every case it’s the Internet of Things that actually unlocks the door to such developments,” says Colin Masson. “Right now, there’s a lot of confusion around the Internet of Things,” he points out.

“To date, there haven’t been enough widely accessible use cases for manufacturers to really see its full potential – but that is changing fast.”

So what exactly is the Internet of Things? For manufacturers wrestling with how to best respond to it, the question is obvious enough.

IoT PQ“Think of a vending machine that tells you when it’s running low on supplies,” says Masson.

“Think of a piece of equipment that can report when it needs maintenance, or is being operated in out-of-specification conditions.

“Think of servitisation, and the ability to sell the use of a generator by the hour, or the ability to charge ‘per injection’ for the use of an injection moulding tool.

“In each case, what you’ve got is a device – out there on the internet – providing real-time reporting.”

“And for ‘out there on the internet’,” emphasises Masson, “Forget compulsory wires and cables. In today’s mobile and wire-free world, internet access can be inexpensively added to almost any piece of equipment.”

“The potential is enormous,” he stresses. “Think in terms of billions of connected devices producing huge amounts of data – data that currently is not driving either very much business insight, or delivering very much customer or business value.”

But where it is driving that value, the results are impressive. Take Chrysler Group, where 246 robots connected to 60,000 devices on the factory floor build a new Jeep Wrangler body every 82 seconds.

Or ThyssenKrupp Elevator, which uses the Internet of Things to enable ‘intelligent elevators’ in high-rise buildings to report back to call centres on their maintenance requirements.

“It’s not science fiction,” insists Masson. “It’s happening, and it’s happening right now.”

So how to start exploiting Internet of Things? Microsoft’s message is simple, it turns out: start small, connect a few devices, gain business value, and expand from there.

Steve Dunbar, UK Internet of Things commercial lead, Microsoft.
Steve Dunbar, UK Internet of Things commercial lead, Microsoft.

“Moreover,” adds Steve Dunbar, Microsoft’s UK Internet of Things commercial lead, “Key Microsoft products fill critical technology gaps: the Cloud-based Azure Intelligent System Service and Azure Machine Learning solutions, for instance.

“And Microsoft Windows Embedded to turn equipment and devices into intelligent equipment and devices.

Additionally, many manufacturers are turning to Microsoft Dynamics to act on that intelligence with their customers and also optimise their operations.”

“Most manufacturers already have a lot of the Microsoft technology ‘stack’ in place, so adding such technologies and building connections is straightforward,” he continues.

“Plus, we’re a part of the open standards bodies such as the AllSeen Alliance and Industrial Internet Consortium that are shaping the Internet of Things.

“So if you’re thinking about how to exploit the Internet of Things – as you should be – then talk to Microsoft.”