SAN FRANCISCO — March 28, 2012 — Last week at IDC’s annual SMART TECHnology World conference, Windows Embedded General Manager Kevin Dallas provided a state of the union for enterprise IT and the impact of intelligent systems.
Since last year’s inaugural event, Dallas said, Microsoft has developed and launched its road map for the space, partnered with companies such as Intel and industry analysts IDC, and laid out a cohesive strategy for the industry. It has been the sole focus of the Windows Embedded team over the past year, a level of commitment that he said reflects the importance of this emerging market.
“Through intelligent systems, we have an opportunity to consume and drive new value from machine-generated data,” Dallas said. “In today’s marketplace, the ability to efficiently gather and intelligently analyze data will be the single make-or-break element within every company’s IT infrastructure.”
Through their work with enterprise customers over the past year, Dallas said his group has seen intelligent systems emerge as a core business strategy, with broad potential to help companies in retail, manufacturing, healthcare, finance, logistics and other industries. Indeed, the market is already robust and rapidly growing: According to IDC, intelligent systems currently represent a $649 billion market, which is expected to increase from 1.1 billion unit shipments today to 2.6 billion unit shipments by 2016.
“Data is the new currency,” Dallas said. “The information has always been there, but it was either out of sight or well out of reach. What has changed is our ability to find it, to process it and understand it.”
Even though the category is still new, many companies are already reaping major benefits from applying the intelligent systems approach to their business processes. Highlighting how far the space has come, Dallas was joined on stage by representatives of restaurant giant Kentucky Fried Chicken, tech-savvy healthcare network Hillcrest Medical and Ford Motor Co.
“These leaders represent the cutting edge for top businesses within industries where the embedded market has typically been strong — namely retail and medical, and also our next big industry, auto,” Dallas said. “These are industries where the focus has changed from solitary, standalone devices to interconnected intelligent systems.”
Dallas said the primary reason KFC, Ford and Hillcrest have been so successful with intelligent systems is that they have moved away from the traditional IT focus on user-generated data, and thought about how integrating the user with machine-generated data can deliver richer, more contextual experiences that help the companies drive real-time decisions. It is a shift in mindset that he sees more and more customers making with the help of solutions partners skilled in applying the latest technologies to enhance business processes.
“To build these new intelligent systems, you really need to select the right partners, with the right industry knowledge, who know the business change you’re trying to drive,” he said. “Understanding the business and how you want to morph that business to increase value is absolutely critical.”
For Microsoft’s part, Dallas said the company has been working hard over the past year to reimagine its product portfolio for intelligent systems. From the Windows Embedded platforms and enterprise services such as Azure and SQL Server to security technologies like Forefront and identity technologies like Active Directory, Microsoft offers a complete, cohesive stack of technologies to build an intelligent system from end to end.
With all the work that’s gone into the stack, however, Dallas said there is still much to do. Microsoft is bringing the functionality offered by Kinect, for example, into the world of Windows Embedded devices to enable voice and gesture-based interfaces. The company is also investing in the back-end infrastructure that processes the data generated by connected devices.
“We’re making a big investment in how to process unstructured data to deliver the insight that many customers need,” he said. “These investments are happening in SQL, Azure, and StreamInsight for analytics, all the way through to software-as-a-service offerings like Dynamics.”
With many of the attributes already here today, Dallas said he is seeing more customers like Ford, KFC and Hillcrest that are reimagining their own business processes and using Microsoft technologies to build out intelligent systems.
“What’s required now is a new way of thinking about the impact intelligent systems can have on your business,” Dallas said. “There is a very real question that companies have to ask themselves — and that is, ‘What forward-looking, strategic steps am I taking to really differentiate myself right now?’”
In a market that is evolving so rapidly, he said, if companies aren’t thinking about this today, they can bet that a competitor will be.