Microsoft IoT: Connecting Kitchens And Factories

In two new partnerships, Microsoft will work with Fujitsu and Miele to improve manufacturing and make smart ovens a reality.
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The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic at this week's Hannover Messe technology expo in Germany, where Microsoft has been highlighting use cases for its products. This year's event was the site of new partnership announcements from Microsoft, which will be working with Fujitsu and Miele on advances in IoT.

These and other advances may leave IT executives wondering how to approach IoT in their own organizations. Enterprise IT shops can prepare for a connected future by planning for an increase in business-led demand for IoT initiatives, wrote Forrester principal analyst David Johnson in an email to InformationWeek.

The latest Microsoft announcements are among the examples of how IoT is being used to meet particular business goals.

Fujitsu will use Microsoft tech as part of an ongoing project in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan, where it has converted its semiconductor manufacturing operations into the Akisai Plant Factory. Its facility leverages manufacturing and communication technologies, like the Fujitsu Akisai agricultural cloud, to produce low-potassium lettuce in a portion of its "clean room" for patients undergoing dialysis or suffering from long-term kidney disease.

The company recognized that it needed a solution to enhance processing by machines and employees. Fujitsu is addressing this by combining its Windows 8.1 Pro-powered devices, the IoT services of Fujitsu's Cloud A5 for Microsoft Azure, and Fujitsu's IoT/M2M platform. The goal is to improve functionality among managers, engineers, and scientists while simultaneously reducing costs. 

[ IoT devices aren't the only gadgets that need monitoring, Read: Microsoft Office 365 MDM: Hits And Misses]

A dashboard is designed to manage process efficiency, equipment performance, and product quality. As part of the solution, scattered data will be entered into the Microsoft Azure database, which will analyze the information using advanced analytics and natural user interfaces. Other manufacturers may duplicate the solution, making this a significant step in helping companies utilize data to improve productivity.

"Leveraging the Fujitsu Eco-Management Dashboard solution alongside Microsoft Azure and the Fujitsu IoT/M2M platform, we are able to deliver real-time visualization of the engineering process for big data analytics to improve the entire production process and inform decision-making," said Hiroyuki Sakai, CEO, EVP and head of global marketing at Fujitsu, in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Miele are cooking up an IoT-focused initiative with collaboration that's intended to build new customer experiences. As part of their partnership, the maker of high-end domestic appliances and commercial equipment is debuting a proof-of-concept study, based on Microsoft Azure IoT services, which will allow consumers to avoid culinary mishaps by programming their ovens.

The idea is that users will be able to choose recipes from Miele's website then download the ingredient list and instructions for meal preparation onto their smartphone or tablet. At the same time, a copy of the step-by-step process is loaded onto the oven via Azure. The oven analyzes the instructions and automatically adjusts its settings to reflect the correct temperature, operating mode and humidity for the chosen recipe.

Microsoft noted that while meal prep is the current focus with Miele, this technology can also be used in other ways. "This is just one example of how the Internet of Things and cloud technology are moving from enterprise experiences to personal experiences," said Caglayan Arkan, worldwide manufacturing and resources general manager at Microsoft, in a prepared statement.

"'We're still a ways from being able to say 'Cortana, whip us up some tuna casserole tonight,' but that kind of future is a step closer," Forrester's Johnson said. The Miele project serves as a source of inspiration for product lines that will generate business-led demand for IoT assistance; the Fujitsu initiative showcases the potential for gains in production efficiency that can be made possible by cloud and IoT.

How Can IT Prepare For IoT?

Johnson cited a recent IoT research report, written by Forrester's Michele Pelino and Frank Gillett, which noted that, even though many IoT software platform vendors are young, CIOs shouldn't wait for enterprise vendors to catch up. They will never offer the same support for connectivity, security, and manageability as the upstarts can; further, it will take years for enterprise vendors to extend their applications and analytics deep into the IoT space.

Aside from IBM's vertical IoT solutions, enterprise vendor support for IoT is still in its early stages. It's recommended that businesses choose the best IoT platform for their short-term business needs, with the knowledge that enterprise platform integration will improve over the next five years. CIOs should request and track the product road maps and strategies of their enterprise platform vendors to learn when their IoT integration might improve. Businesses preparing for a connected future should also develop new policies for managing massive amounts of structured and unstructured sensor data.  

The future of IoT is fast approaching, and its speed may pose problems. "The demand for IoT-enabled infrastructures is ramping up faster than enterprise software vendors can react," says Johnson. Consequently, "IT shops will get forced into hasty implementations that look more like used cars with bolt-on aftermarket parts than purpose-built IoT platforms."

This doesn't bode well for the future of operations, as unique IoT implementations may likely prove tough to change or upgrade. In the long term, he continues, investing in new platforms built to accommodate IoT may be unavoidable.

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