Microsoft announced in 2018 that they were investing US$ 5 billion globally in IoT innovation and research for the next 4 years – the focus being on secure IoT, creating development tools and intelligent services for IoT and the edge, and on growing their partner ecosystem.
Last year Microsoft’s industry updates showcased several IoT implementations across industries and their edge-based solutions portfolio, customers and partner ecosystem. The tech giant revealed nearly 150% YoY growth with customers such as Starbucks, Chevron, Walmart, Walgreens, BMW and Volkswagen added to the Azure platform, leveraging IoT services to accelerate their digital transformation journey. Microsoft also announced more than 70 partnerships with some of the big names in the IoT ecosystem, such as Universal Electronics, SAP, and Cradlepoint to extend solutions and support for the Microsoft IoT business.
Extending IoT Capabilities with Strategic Partnerships
There were several recent announcements which indicate that Microsoft is focused on strengthening their IoT and industry capabilities – and this is a timely move. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “COVID-19 has brought to the fore the need for managing risks better. And the key to managing risks is to have better visibility and drive data-driven decisions; the sweet spot for IoT technologies. IoT is at the core of the Industry 4.0 story where deep domain expertise in industry verticals is a pre-requisite to success. It is heartening to see that Microsoft is taking the lead in building a powerful ecosystem by developing key partnerships with leading providers of Industry solutions.”
Last week, Microsoft and Hitachi announced a strategic alliance to accelerate the digital transformation of the Manufacturing and Logistics industries across Southeast Asia, Japan and North America. The first solutions are expected to be made available in Thailand as early as this month. Hitachi brings to the table their industry solutions, such as Lumada, and their IoT-ready industrial controllers HX Series. These solutions will be fully integrated with the Microsoft cloud platform, leveraging Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365.
The three areas where the Hitachi solution is expected to bring strength to Microsoft’s industry offering are:
- Process optimisation and increased manufacturing productivity. Hitachi Digital Supply Chain and Azure IoT leveraged to analyse 4M data collected from manufacturing sites for visualisation/ analysis of production processes
- Logistics optimisation. Digital technologies such as Azure Maps and Hitachi Digital Solution for Logistics/Delivery Optimisation Service to analyse data on parameters such as traffic congestion, storage locations and delivery locations, to enabling smart routing
- Predictive maintenance and remote assist. HoloLens 2, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and other smart devices, to empower first-line workers
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee feels that with projections of 43 – 100 billion IoT connected devices in the next few years, IoT is obviously a hot space. “We can think of IoT as a stack with four layers – the devices/sensors, the connection layer, the cloud and computing layer and the business apps layer. With Azure, Microsoft is very well positioned in the cloud and compute layer and can grab a large chunk of this fast-growing market. Tying with players like Hitachi allows Microsoft to integrate with the business apps layer and perhaps also some devices. It is absolutely the right strategy and I would expect them to go for many more such alliances. With Microsoft’s strength in the enterprise market, IoT gives them a great opportunity to increase their share of cloud workloads with customers.”
Addressing the Challenges of IoT Adoption
Ecosystm research shows that the biggest challenges in IoT adoption are security and integration concerns (Figure 1).
In 2018, when Microsoft started actively focusing on IoT, they also launched the Azure Certified for IoT program to maintain consistency and enhanced interoperability across their device partner ecosystem. This addresses the integration challenges that organisations face when deploying IoT. Microsoft continues to grow their IoT ecosystem, ensuring faster IoT deployments, with hardware and software that has been pre-tested and verified to work with Microsoft Azure IoT services. Last week also saw Cyient joining Microsoft Azure as a certified partner for IoT. Cyient IoT Edge Gateway 5400, their flagship IoT gateway product is now Microsoft Azure Certified for IoT. This is expected to accelerate IoT deployment for Cyient customers and enable a seamless integration of edge devices to the cloud.
Ghatak says, “To scale up their IoT business, Microsoft would need to develop a substantially large ecosystem, beyond few key players such as Hitachi, who dominate at the large enterprise segment of the market. That is where partnerships with smaller and niche industry solutions providers such as Cyient fits in. More niche providers such as Cyient will increase Microsoft’s reach into medium and smaller segments of the enterprise market.”
Addressing the Increasing Threat Landscape
Recent cyber-attack trends and security breach statistics reveal a huge increase in cybercrime activities, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the number of IoT sensors, devices and gateways increase, so does the risk of security breaches. As shown in figure 1, cybersecurity concerns are real and can act as a barrier to IoT adoption, despite the benefits that the technology brings. Automated vulnerability management capabilities, that allow risk assessment and patch installation where necessary will see an increase in IoT adoption.
To complement Microsoft Azure IoT security, Microsoft acquired IoT security specialist CyberX, last month. The acquisition will enable greater security for the IoT devices connected to the Microsoft network and will help their customers to gain visibility through a map of devices thus allowing them to gather information on security risks associated with thousands of sensors and connected devices. This will enhance smart grid, smart manufacturing and digital assets and profiles and reduce vulnerabilities across production and supply chain.
Mukherjee says, “The key concern for the expansion of IoT into more and more use cases in the next few years is really going to be security. New areas like VR and AR are emerging from futuristic fantasy to real-world reality. These will tempt many enterprises – but security will be the key concern to address. And so, Microsoft’s simultaneous push on security completely aligns with this. As the Ecosystm MSSP VendorScope results show Microsoft’s strategy on cybersecurity seems to be working.”
Talking about Microsoft’s go-to-market strategy, Mukherjee adds, “Microsoft is obviously spreading its net far and wide for all cloud applications including IoT, to go-to-market with partners. One of the key focus area here is the SME segment, which is forecast to be one of the hot growing segments for IoT in the next few years. The more offerings from the business apps layer that Microsoft integrates, the more they enable their partners to sell to their customers.”