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Microsoft today launched a new research report — IoT Signals — intended to quantify enterprise internet of things (IoT) adoption around the world. The survey of over 3,000 IT team leaders and executives provides a detailed look at the burgeoning multi-billion-dollar segment’s greatest challenges and benefits, as well as related trends.

“We’re living amid an invisible revolution driven by IoT. This revolution goes far beyond the smart speakers and thermostats in homes and includes billions of connected devices and sensors that are transforming every industry on the planet, from manufacturing to energy distribution, from smart cities to smart agriculture, from smart buildings to smart medical equipment — and so much more,” wrote Microsoft head of Azure IoT Sam George, who recently spoke with VentureBeat about the company’s IoT and intelligent edge strategy. “IoT is also starting to have a profound and beneficial impact on the planet, reducing energy and natural resources and improving sustainability.”

Roughly 85% of respondents to Microsoft’s survey say they’re currently in the midst of IoT adoption, and three-fourths have projects in the planning stages. An equally high percentage — 88% — believe that IoT is “critical” to their business’ success, with a majority of those who’ve adopted IoT predicting they will see a 30% return on investment two years from now (inclusive of cost savings and efficiencies).

Those sentiments more or less align with third-party findings. IDC anticipates that by 2025, there will be over 41 billion connected IoT devices generating over 79 zettabytes of data. (Ericsson pegs the number at 29 billion devices by 2022.) As for McKinsey, it expects IoT corporate spend will grow at a compound annual growth rate between 7% and 15% this year, driven by emerging remote monitoring, asset tracking, and predictive maintenance applications.


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But formidable challenges stand in the way of industry-wide adoption. Microsoft reports that complexity and technical challenges are an IoT dealbreaker for 38% of the decision-makers surveyed, and it says that 47% believe there aren’t enough available skilled workers to build or maintain a network of connected devices. Meanwhile, a whopping 97% have security concerns about IoT devices and infrastructure, while 43% and 38% worry about creating strong user authentications and maintaining IoT devices, respectively.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that 30% of respondents say their IoT projects failed in the proof-of-concept stage, often because the implementation became too expensive or the bottom-line benefits were unclear.

To suss out the components of winning IoT strategies, Microsoft commissioned BCG Group, which jointly identified some key ingredients: business strategy, rationale, leadership and organization, technology roadmap planning, talent, operations and core business processes, partnerships and ecosystem, and security. According to BCG, the top-performing IoT projects started with an understanding of the problems to be addressed and the return on investment expected. Additionally, their implementers primed core processes affected by IoT to capture value. And BCG says that most of the successful IoT-adopting businesses didn’t neglect talent — instead, they concertedly built or acquired workforce capabilities based on gaps that need filling.

“IoT is transforming every industry from retail and agriculture to healthcare and manufacturing by harnessing AI, edge computing and emerging capabilities like 5G across thousands of sensors and devices,” added George. “We’re at a critical tipping point where industry challenges like skills shortage, security concerns and solution complexity will hinder innovation, and pose significant risk to business and consumer data. It’s imperative that technology providers, standards organizations and industry solutions partners come together to help simplify and secure IoT.”

Microsoft has a horse in the IoT race, of course — in 2018, it committed $5 billion to intelligent edge innovation by 2022 (an uptick from the $1.5 billion it spent prior to 2018) and pledged to grow its IoT partner ecosystem to over 10,000. It’s borne fruit in Azure IoT Central, a cloud service that enables customers to quickly provision and deploy IoT apps, and IoT Plug and Play, which provides devices that work with a range of off-the-shelf solutions. Microsoft’s investment has also bolstered Azure Sphere, its microcontroller unit management product; Azure Security Center, its unified cloud and edge security suite; and Azure IoT Edge, which distributes cloud intelligence to run in isolation on IoT devices directly.

Microsoft has competition in Google’s Cloud IoT, a set of tools that connect, process, store, and analyze edge device data. Not to be outdone, Amazon Web Services’ IoT Device Management tracks, monitors, and manages fleets of devices running a range of operating systems and software.

But the Seattle company has ramped up its buildout efforts as of late, most recently with the acquisition of Express Logic, a San Diego, California-based developer of real-time operating systems (RTOS) for IoT and edge devices powered by microcontroller units. Separately, it’s partnered with companies like DJI, SAP, PTC, Qualcomm, and Carnegie Mellon University for IoT and edge app development.

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