Data makes Internet of Things more than ‘tinkerer’s dream’: Microsoft

Is Internet of Things just another buzzword for big data?

What makes Internet of Things special? It’s not the things, according to a Microsoft official.

Defining the Internet of Things (IoT) can be difficult as it is a broad category that can include just about any object with sensors and an Internet connection. It is also sometimes referred to as the machine-to-machine (M2M) market, and by Cisco as the “Internet of Everything.”

But while many have focussed on adding sensors and Internet connections to ordinary objects, Microsoft has downplayed the connected objects in favour of the data they produce.

“The Internet of Things is a great buzzword,” Lee Hickin, Internet of Things group lead at Microsoft Australia, said at a media lunch Wednesday.

“It defines a great move and shift in the IT industry today and across manufacturing and all these areas, but it only really adds any value to a business ... when you take the value and use the data.”

“Beyond that, it’s just a great tinkerer’s dream.”

Others in the tech world have taken a more things-focussed view of the Internet of Things.

“It’s a massive blurring of the edges where the Internet industry is wondering what is possible if anything is connected to the Internet,” Phil Morle, CEO of the tech startup incubator Pollenizer, said in a recent and separate interview.

“This is the next platform wave after PCs and mobile. Now it’s going to be stuff.”

The Internet of Things need not be limited to objects that didn’t used to be connected, according to the Microsoft definition.

Illustrating the breadth of this term, the company presented an “Internet of Things” case study about how Dental Corporation, part of BUPA, integrated data from invoice systems across many different dental practices and gained insights. Dental Corporation has yet to connect any actual medical devices to the Internet, in part due to privacy concerns about public health data.

“It’s not just about the things,” stressed Hickin. “The real transformative business value of the Internet of Things approach is going to be using that data.”

Without the things, the definition begins to sounds a lot like big data, and this was a point that the Microsoft official acknowledged.

"Big data ... fundamentally underpins the value strategy of doing anything in the Internet of Things because the Internet of Things is about getting lots of data and understanding it.”

Telsyte analyst Foad Fadaghi agreed the Internet of Things concept builds off of big data.

“It is the same thing. It is the evolution of the same thing. It is literally the same thing … It’s the same vendors. It’s the same partners and integrators.”

In a report commissioned by Microsoft, Telsyte found that Internet-connected things like the Nest thermostat are much less important to businesses than the insights gained from data.

“At the end of the day, for businesses those things are very much commodities,” said Fadaghi. “Those things are just part of the fabric of the Internet of Things. They’re not where the value is contained.”

“The surveys showed that the value is contained in the ability to make better decisions.”

The report found that two-thirds of Australian organisations that have deployed and measured IoT solutions have achieved 28 per cent cost reductions in their day-to-day operations.

However, only 26 per cent of the more than 300 Australian organisations surveyed said they have deployed Internet of Things solutions, and nearly half said they had no immediate plans to deploy.

Barriers to adoption include technology challenges, cost, security and lack of in-house skills, the report said.

Telsyte surveyed 306 Australian business decision makers, spread evenly across IT, C-level and business management roles. Telsyte looked across all major industries and spoke with organisations that had at least 20 employees, said Fadaghi.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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