Microsoft recently announced its first nine partners for its newly launched Azure Internet of Things (IoT) suite. We discussed the new programme with Microsoft Australia’s IoT lead, Lee Hickin.
The first partners announced were global partner of the year, Readify, alongside 2015 ARN Award Winner Ignia, and Microsoft’s other leading IoT partners, Bizdata, CDM, Empired, Mexia, Oakton, MOQDigital (Breeze) and RAMP.
Hickin stresses that the new partner programme is in its early stages, and there will be much scope for the software vendor, and its aforementioned partners, to learn from each other in what is a immature, rapidly emerging market.
“We’re still trying to fit together our ecosystem, but all the partners are talking, it's a new market, and we are working to figure it all out,” he said.
The new Azure IoT software allows these partners to effectively ‘rapidly prototype’ IoT ideas to present as proof of concept to potential customers, before they build their IoT solutions formally.
The ecosystem partnership is less about financial support, than it is about assisting partners in staff training, building business strategy, and potentially in the future, marketing opportunities.
One of the key focuses of the IoT for Microsoft is a focus on Big Data, or the data analytics side of the technology, which partners such as BizData have already made a priority. Hickin says the new Azure IoT platform allows this integration end to end.
“The data and insights are vital to making IoT a success," he said.“We are platform agnostic. The very nature of IT now is heterogenous.”
This means partners can use whatever hardware and external software platforms they need to to get the job done, be it Linux, Java, IBM hardware or Raspberry Pis.
Microsoft will not be building its own hardware, such as endpoints, and wants to focus on standards based options, including secure opensource platforms.
The biggest problem for partners involved in the programme is making the pitch to non-traditional IT clients, a problem that remains ongoing with the last generation of Cloud technology. It also means that these partners, and Microsoft itself, have to reassess their business priorities and look to partner with not just non-IT partners, but actually work together in partnerships with each other to get deals across the line.
Microsoft is also working on its own certification standard for IoT, but Hickin said no firm date had been set for this. For now, it falls under its various Cloud platform IT certifications.
The company will also provide backend services as part of its support. This means partners will have access to Hickin’s engineering teams, and business groups across the board. Pushing the limits of IoT technology will inevitably involve ‘breaking’ the system, and Microsoft will ensure its team is on hand to keep the software platform, and its support mechanisms up to speed.
However, Hickin said there would be a possibility for high-end financial and marketing support for big deals, decided on a case by case basis – such as if an Australian company pulled in a massive international client.
Hickin also says Microsoft will not be claiming IP ownership of any IoT projects, that will remain with the partner – nor would Microsoft direct sell past partners.
The focus on youth in IT and early startups in the IoT field will fall under Microsoft’s Developer Experience (DX) programme, which has a dedicated team work on IoT and enablement.
As much of the media has speculated, security concerns of IoT remain a challenge. Hickin says that Microsoft is aware of the security concerns regarding privacy and other hacks, and its education programme will also work through that.
“We aren’t going to risk it while we embrace IoT. Security is very important,” he said.
As a result Microsoft will be doing due diligence on any partners involved in any IoT solution transaction, and that there has still yet to be any standardisation concerning security in the IoT market.
Its policy concerning privacy and ethics of the Azure IoT programme ties into Microsoft’s broader Code of Ethics, which runs across the entire organisation. No system is every fully secure, but Microsoft will be working hard to ensure any problems are addressed.
“We are supremely confident in the security of our platform,” he said.