REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 20, 2011 — Imagine a city where every utility is Internet-enabled, where traffic is automatically rerouted and aid cars dispatched faster than a call to 911, or where gas pipes and power lines are nearly as easy to replace as a light bulb. This might seem far-fetched, but these ideas, and others like them, are taking shape in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere around the world.
Cities are a tangible, large-scale example of the intelligent systems that Microsoft began discussing with IDC, Intel and others a few months ago. And since then, the company has detailed its product road map for Windows Embedded and a related shift in how it approaches software development.
Intelligent systems are one of the key enablers for making a city “smarter,” made possible by embedding Internet-enabled devices into virtually every aspect of a city — utilities, streets, office towers, houses and cars, to name a few.
Once in place, these devices — many of which are powered by Windows Embedded — help generate data that can give citizens and city officials greater insight into where improvements can be made. The changes that Microsoft is making are all about giving software and hardware developers the tools to create solutions that can tap into that potential.
In addition to the smart cities being built from the ground up, isolated instances of intelligent transformation are also taking place as individual businesses and government agencies look for new ways to cut costs and enrich the quality of life. For Microsoft, the most notable examples of adoption are happening within the retail, healthcare and manufacturing industries:
. Whatever the size, and whether selling groceries, soft goods or hard goods, retailers are facing increased competition. Technology has become a critical tool to help them optimize merchandise purchasing and planning, manage warehouse and supply chain functions, and help store employees increase their individual sales figures and become more productive. Previously, these various pieces of technology ran independent of one another, but over time companies have tied them together.
Today retailers are using location-based services, social media and radio frequency identifiers, along with devices such as inventory readers, bar-code scanners and point of service (POS) systems, to generate additional growth through their past investments — driving customer loyalty through a more personalized in-store experience; increasing efficiency of store operations through POS systems, bar-code scanners and digital signage; and obtaining deeper insight into opportunities for improvement by tying all of their technology investments together on one common platform.
. When patients walk into a health clinic or hospital, they generally have one thing on their mind: getting cured of what ails them. But the actual process is much more involved. Someone admits the patient and files the paperwork; an intake nurse records vital statistics such as height, weight and blood pressure; and another nurse might take a blood sample to send in for analysis. The patient may only spend 15–20 minutes with the doctor, who may need to consult a specialist to ensure a correct diagnosis.
Intelligent systems are making it easier for healthcare facilities to connect medical devices such as patient monitors, blood pressure cuffs and portable ultrasound devices to the datacenter. As a result, healthcare professionals can spend less time processing the patient and abiding by government regulations, which leaves more time to focus on the most important task: curing the patient of what ails them without a repeat visit.
. Energy costs, labor costs, air quality standards, supply chain levels, finished good inventory levels and equipment life-cycles — plant managers and executives must monitor these and other manufacturing inputs as they compete with domestic and foreign competitors. Companies are using a combination of connected devices, customizable applications, and the cloud to oversee manufacturing , enable machine-to-machine communication and help executives respond to changes in real time.
Microsoft has a vision for providing business leaders in these industries with the knowledge to achieve greater efficiencies and identify new opportunities for growth. The company’s strategy includes working closely with partners that have a deep level of expertise in each of these industries and providing the technology platform and services that they need to develop solutions for their customers.
As part of Microsoft’s overall effort, Windows Embedded works with products such as Microsoft SQL Azure, Microsoft Office 365, Windows Azure, Microsoft System Center and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Collectively, they provide a platform from which partners can build an intelligent system that uses the power of cloud computing — public or private — to give customers greater business insight and control. For example, these software tools and services span the devices, enabling data to be transmitted between each other or sent back to the enterprise, while also running data analytics on each device to provide greater control.
Susan Hauser, vice president of Worldwide Industry and Global Accounts at Microsoft, views partners as taking the lead in driving demand for these solutions and in helping pursue the company’s top priorities. According to Hauser, the company’s success in these industries will depend on “having a strong partnership with our partners.”
Visit Microsoft in Health, Microsoft Industry Solutions and Microsoft in Retail & Hospitality for examples of the value that intelligent systems are already creating, and look for more details in January about how Windows Embedded is helping transform the retail experience with its partners, including demonstrations during the NRF 101st Annual Convention & EXPO in New York.