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Sensory perception in the enterprise

Initial forays into the IoT involve sensors on everything from appliances to HVAC systems. Here's how IT departments are embracing IoT hardware and consuming IoT data streams.

Initial forays into the IoT involve sensors on everything from major appliances to HVAC systems. We'll discuss some of the common use cases and explain how IT departments are embracing IoT hardware and consuming IoT data streams.

Monitor, measure, and control. For those who would paint the "Internet of Things" (IoT) to be as mystical as the cloud once was, these are the pragmatic purposes for connecting "things" to the internet. It's also not new. In 2011, Cisco reported that the number of "things" connected to the internet had exceeded the number of people on earth as far back as 2008.

One issue often overlooked when discussing IoT is what to do with all the data that is collected from the many sensors and connected devices. Obvious examples include the data collected for immediate processing at highway and crossing tollgates. Retail stores that used to collect one data point as customers entered their stores now collect thousands of data points per customer. Thousands of data points times thousands of customers per day times hundreds or thousands of store locations each day quickly becomes very big data that delivers valuable business insight.

Enterprise IoT use cases

Many people think of home automation when they think about IoT. Many solutions leverage emerging standards such as Z-Wave and Zigbee to monitor and measure motion, moisture, temperature, and even physical presence using cameras and sensors in and around the house. Users can toggle and adjust lights, fans, thermostats, garage doors, home theater, appliances, and more from their mobile device, or based on criteria from the various sensors. This has helped many homeowners to increase security while reducing energy consumption and associated costs.

But in fact, applications of IoT technologies go far beyond this:

Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are being implemented to sense presence, temperature, and other factors to determine how to set heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and other building systems to provide maximum comfort at minimal cost.

Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, according to Inductive Automation, allow industrial organizations to:

  • Control industrial processes locally or at remote locations
  • Monitor, gather, and process real-time data
  • Directly interact with devices such as sensors, valves, pumps, motors, and more through human-machine interface (HMI) software
  • Record events into a log file

SCADA systems are crucial for industrial organizations, since they help to maintain efficiency, process data for smarter decisions, and communicate system issues to help mitigate downtime.

The basic SCADA architecture begins with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or remote terminal units (RTUs). PLCs and RTUs are microcomputers that communicate with an array of objects such as factory machines, HMIs, sensors, and end devices, and then route the information from those objects to computers that process and display the data.

Vertical use cases are emerging across several industries:

  • Sales, marketing, and product development teams are using more connected devices to manage inventory and performance by sensing when shelf-supplies are low and correlating that data with transaction-based inventory. They are simultaneously promoting products while capturing data that will provide real-time insights into market preferences, customer desires, and feature upgrades.
  • Manufacturers are automating shop floors while increasing safety precautions using connected sensors and controls to improve process automation, track the paths of materials, and provide single-pane-of-glass monitoring of all operations.
  • Customer service and support operations are creating a far more efficient connection between field technicians, parts inventory, product information and more by attaching all of them to network-based field automation systems.
  • Healthcare organizations are leveraging constant improvements in wearable technology to more closely monitor their patients' vital statistics, enabling them to provide more targeted guidance and improve patient outcomes.
  • Utilities are using IoT-captured metrics to improve consumption and conservation efforts. Leveraging ICS and SCADA systems, they work to reduce customer utility costs while also identifying best practices based on captured experiences to optimize delivery of services.

Small gains yield big results

The Internet of Things Institute (IOTI) reports many small ways in which companies and municipalities are leveraging IoT technologies to make what appear to be small gains, though they eventually deliver tremendous return on investments. These use cases have important parallels in enterprise settings, too.

  • Cities are installing sensors in their trash cans which report how full each can is. The goal is to improve trash collection efficiency bypassing empty cans and only collecting when there is trash to be collected. They predict a savings of $4 billion over the next ten years.
  • Winemakers are deploying sensors across their vineyards that "upload data on such metrics as soil humidity, air humidity, sunshine, and intensity of sunshine, temperature and rainfall to the cloud." Others have deployed sensors to keep track of groundwater and microclimate conditions.
  • The Port of New Bedford deployed video surveillance technologies to thwart illegal fishing by identifying and tracking who was entering and leaving the port.
  • Law enforcement agencies in Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Arizona; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and elsewhere are trying out a system called StarChase. An air compressor launcher on the front of the patrol car fires a sticky GPS locator with a transmitter at a suspect's car. Police can then remotely track the vehicle instead of chasing it.

These are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of use cases we will see emerging as the IoT matures. For more IoT case studies, visit Microsoft IoT Customer Stories.

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