While Amazon has dominated the consumer-focused Internet of Things market by pushing smart speaker devices — like Alexa and Echo — and other connected home products, Microsoft is focusing on developing IoT for corporate clients.
"Most people, when they think about IoT, they think about smart speakers in their home, or smart connected devices," Sam George, the head of Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service for IoT, told Cheddar Wednesday.
"And what is really happening is that we're seeing this incredible proliferation of devices being deployed by businesses — about 42 billion by 2025 alone — that are powering some really incredible business innovations," he said. "When all of this works really well, consumers just have a better experience, and frankly, don't notice. But the businesses sure notice, because it directly impacts their bottom line."
IDC estimates that spending on IoT technology could reach $1.2 trillion by 2022. To meet that growing demand, Microsoft announced in 2018 that the company would drop $5 billion on developing IoT technology over the next three years.
The company wagers that IoT connections will help companies boost efficiency, streamline production processes, and enable remote monitoring. For goods and services-centered firms, they say, IoT can help track products, customers, and inventory.
George pointed to Unilever, the consumer goods manufacturer behind Dove and Ben & Jerry's, that has used Microsoft's IoT service to build an online, data-powered simulation of its factories and manufacturing plants, which the company hopes to use to draw insights.
Another Microsoft IoT cloud client is supermarket chain Kroger, which is piloting IoT-based connected retail stores. "They're able to stock their shelves better using AI out at the edge. They're able to do dynamic pricing," George explained.
The Microsoft executive also pointed to the potential of IoT applications for agriculture, where the deployment of the technology could help optimize — and ultimately, reduce — the use of pesticides, power, and water. The company also has several clients in the auto industry, including Volkswagen, BMW, and Toyota.
Now Starbucks is using Microsoft's IoT devices to directly collect data from its coffee machines.
Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Cheddar that Azure is just one part of Microsoft's broader business, but emphasized that streamlining these services is key. "Data is everything. If all we do is create more data silos, they're not really going to be able to get the return on their investment," he said.
"What's really interesting is that when everybody realizes when something is not working, but they never realize when it's working better. And that's one of the reasons why we call this an invisible revolution," George added.