One Year In: How our $5B investment in IoT and intelligent edge is accelerating customer, partner and solution innovation

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One year ago, we announced our commitment to invest $5B in IoT (Internet of Things) and intelligent edge – technology that is accelerating ubiquitous computing and bringing unparalleled opportunity for transformation across industries. Our commitment is to a build trusted, easy to use platform for our customers and partners to build solutions – no matter where they are starting in their IoT journey.

Our customers are embracing IoT as a core strategy to drive better business outcomes, improve safety and address social issues – from predicting and preventing equipment failures, optimizing smart buildings for space utilization and energy management and improving patient outcomes and worker safety. From the intelligent cloud to the intelligent edge, this year has been one of tremendous growth – in IoT technology portfolio, partner ecosystem and customer momentum – and we are only just beginning.

Accelerating customer innovation in IoT from cloud to edge across industries

What’s truly exciting is seeing our customers achieve real business outcomes with Azure IoT and intelligent edge-based solutions. Our IoT platform is powering customer solutions with thousands of devices, at scale, and the number of devices supported has grown nearly 150 percent year-over-year. This year, many customers such a Starbucks, Chevron, Walmart, Walgreens, BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota Material Handling Group and more are leveraging Azure as their cloud platform with IoT and AI services to accelerate their digital transformation.

Starbucks is using Azure Sphere to connect select equipment, enabling its partners (employees) more opportunity to engage with customers. This includes everything from beverage consistency, waste reduction, the management of energy consumption and predictive maintenance.

With Azure and our IoT services, Chevron is connecting a critical piece of equipment – heat exchangers, which manage the heat from fluids flowing through it as part of the plant’s fuel processing – to do predictive maintenance and ultimately prevent unscheduled outages.

In Walmart’s technology center in Austin, Texas, which is designed accelerate digital innovation, the retail leader is embracing IoT as a way to save energy and prevent product loss. Walmart is using thousands of IoT sensors on HVAC and refrigeration systems that process a billion daily data messages from stores worldwide.

As part of Microsoft’s partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) to make health care delivery more personal, affordable and accessible for people around the world, WBA will use a portfolio of connected IoT devices for nonacute chronic care management, delivered by Microsoft’s cloud, AI and IoT technologies.

This week with BMW Group, we announced the Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP), a new technology framework and open community to share smart factory solutions across the automotive and manufacturing sectors to significantly accelerate future industrial IoT developments.

This year Volkswagen announced a partnership with Microsoft to create the Volkswagen Automotive Cloud with Azure and Azure IoT Edge to create a seamless experience for drivers from the moment they enter, use and leave their vehicles. From 2020 onwards, more than 5 million new Volkswagen brand vehicles per year will be fully connected and will be part of the IoT cloud.

By infusing solutions with artificial intelligence, mixed reality and the IoT, Toyota Material Handling Group is providing solutions to customers meet the global rise in ecommerce, and move goods quickly, frequently, accurately and safely. With Microsoft technologies, the solutions range from connected forklift and field service systems available today to AI-powered concepts that pave the way for intelligent automation and logistics simulations – all designed with Toyota’s standards for optimizing efficiency, operation assisting and continuous improvement.

The stories continue to roll in.

New innovations in our IoT platform

In the last year, we launched more than 100 new services and features in our IoT platform, designed to make IoT solutions more secure and scalable, reduce complexity, make our platform more open and create opportunities in new market areas. Our core focus has been to address the industry challenge of securing connected devices at every layer, as well as advancing IoT to create a more seamless experience between the physical and digital worlds.

Simplifying IoT and securing IoT endpoints at scale

IoT is complex, requiring deep knowledge of cloud, security and devices, but the business benefits are significant. With Azure IoT Central, which became generally available this year, we have created a way for businesses to get started in IoT by quickly provisioning a solution in just a matter of hours and with built-in security features. With valuable data moving closer to the edge, IoT security demands a holistic approach. This year we introduced Azure Sphere, a world-class security solution for connected microcontroller devices (MCUs), which go in everything from smart-home and medical devices to equipment on the factory floor. Windows 10 IoT Core Services includes security and reliability updates for the operating system to keep device security up to date. Azure Security Center for IoT now includes support for Azure IoT services to proactively monitor IoT devices, enabling businesses to implement security best practices for detecting and mitigating threats.

Delivering spatial intelligence at scale

IoT is no longer just about connected endpoints. It’s the sum of the endpoints – the digital objects – that create a holistic solution. We see significant opportunity for our customers to use spatial intelligence to manage physical assets and spaces with digital models and mapping across smart spaces, cities and buildings. This fall, we introduced Azure Digital Twins to enable customers and partners to query data in the context of a space – rather than from disparate sensors – empowering them to build repeatable, scalable experiences that correlate data from digital sources and the physical world. Azure Maps provides developers from all industries powerful geospatial capabilities, and new MR services including Azure Spatial Anchors and Azure Remote Rendering enable customers to create precise points of interest in with mixed reality in physical space as well as enable interactive, high-quality 3D models.

Bringing AI to the edge

The proliferation of IoT devices and resulting massive amount of data requiring real-time intelligence are fueling the need to move compute and analytics closer to where the data resides. This year, we open sourced the Azure IoT Edge runtime, providing developers have even greater flexibility and control of their edge solutions, enabling them to modify the runtime and debug issues for applications at the edge. Over the past year, we added five new Azure Cognitive Services that can run locally on an edge device, and we’ve made it easier to deploy your own Azure Machine Learning models on Azure IoT Edge. We’ve also enabled high-speed inferencing at the edge with Azure Data Box Edge.

 Growing the Microsoft IoT partner ecosystem

We’re proud to have one of the largest and fastest-growing partner ecosystems with more than ten thousand IoT partners from intelligent edge to intelligent cloud. Partners are critical to our customers’ success in IoT, bringing rich domain expertise across industries so customers can see clear value to their business, as well as integration for critical apps and infrastructure to increase time to value.

This year, we announced more than 70 new partnerships in IoT, which help our customers build IoT solutions faster. At CES we announced our collaboration with Universal Electronics to launch a new digital assistant platform for the home built on Microsoft Azure using AI and IoT services. PTC announced ThingWorx Industrial Innovation Platform on Microsoft Azure to deliver a robust solution for Industrial IoT and digital product lifecycle management. At MWC, we announced new partnerships with SAP, and Cradlepoint. SAP Leonardo IoT will integrate with Azure IoT services providing our customers with the ability to contextualize and enrich their IoT data with SAP business data within SAP Leonardo IoT to drive new business outcomes. With Cradelpoint, we are helping customers bridge the IT/OT divide by providing secure private LTE networks connected directly to Azure IoT Central for OT customers to consume.

We’re also working with several device partners to accelerate development at the intelligent edge. With Qualcomm, we created an Azure IoT Starter Kit to enable developers vision AI solution and run their AI models on the device. With NXP, we announced the public preview for Windows 10 IoT Core with built-in Azure connectivity, to enable secure, power-optimized devices for the intelligent edge. We’re also partnering with NVIDIA and DJI to integrate third-party SDKs to simplify development and increase time to value of AI applications at the edge.

Looking ahead: Industry opportunity in IoT

We are one year into our four-year investment. Our priority over the next three years is clear: make it easy for any company to create scalable, secured IoT solutions. We partnered with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to better understand the trends and opportunity for the industry at large. Our findings, captured in the whitepaper here, indicate IoT is moving into broad adoption and yet, some of the greatest barriers to success are not just about technology – it’s also about business strategy and executive leadership. More than 60 percent of executives we surveyed indicated these to be bigger elements of success than technology. One in four executives we surveyed indicated that their companies’ IoT initiatives underperformed expectations. The findings highlight key ingredients for a successful IoT innovation project. You’ll continue to see more announcements from us and our partners and customers to help our customers and partners in their IoT journeys. You can read more about adoption of IoT across industries in the BCG whitepaper.

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