The Internet of Things (IoT) is shaping up to be complicated. I have touched on this before. And here. And here. (The list goes on.) I have made a case that IoT is going to be fragmented along industry vertical lines of the end-customer. The energy industry will have its way of doing IoT. Retailers their own. Trucking companies their way. And so on.
In fact, it really does not make much sense to call this fragmentation, it is just a new set of enterprise technologies. We should talk about this in the same way we talk about enterprise software. There are all kinds of specialty functions and industry-specific software products. Similarly, IoT will be a vague fuzzy concept, which only comes into focus when viewed more closely, at the customer level.
This is not a bad thing, but I think it will confound companies hoping to dominate a single IoT, as well as all those companies trying to build the one IoT operating system (OS) to rule them all.
But it also stands to reason that companies with deep experience selling to enterprise IT departments could have an advantage once the IoT market develops.
I have been thinking about this subject a lot the past few weeks, since Amazon announced its IoT software suite for Amazon Web Services (AWS). As with all big, impressive AWS announcements it made me think “Wow, this is going to be a big problem for a bunch of companies. Who could possibly challenge Amazon at this point?”. (Note: I own stock in Amazon.)
And then an odd thought occurred to me. As powerful as Amazon has become in the public cloud business, they actually do have one potential rival – Microsoft’s Azure. Admittedly, Azure is considerably smaller than AWS, but it holds a respectable second place in a market that still has a long way to go.
And then I realized that Microsoft has said basically nothing about IoT. Google (or Bing if you must) “Microsoft IoT” and very little comes up. I suppose it is possible that Microsoft could just sit this one out and miss out on the next great wave of computing. But somehow I doubt it. If they had no strategy, it would probably look like they have a half dozen strategies with different groups making their own IoT noise. Instead, there is silence.
Have you read Sherlock Holmes and the Hounds of the Baskervilles? No, me neither, but (#spoileralert) apparently the fact that the dogs were not barking is suspicious in itself. This seems like one of those situations.
Here is Microsoft, a company that has maintained an incredible grip on its enterprise IT relationships over 30 years. They have a sales force deployed across industries and countries. And here is this IoT thing which is going to need just this level of interaction. Seems like a good fit.
And of course, once I started thinking about this, I started finding examples. In the past 5 days, I have had three people tell me they are working on an IoT deployment using a software stack of some sort on Azure.
It has been a while since I kept track of the Microsoft event calendar, but I imagine the next time they host a developer conference they may have something to say about this.
Of course it is far too early to guess what the future of the IoT software landscape will look like. And Microsoft has plenty of internal cultural hurdles to overcome. But by the same token, the very fact that IoT is still so nascent leaves open the door for Microsoft to play its usual fast follower moves. This could end up as a great opportunity for them.