Microsoft’s Smart buildings use IoT-driven experiences to make life easier for users. To unify the thousands of IoT devices needed to power these experiences, Microsoft Digital created the Digital Integration Platform.

Microsoft Digital case studies graphic.

Microsoft is always looking for ways to make employees' lives more productive and enjoyable. In leveraging IoT sensors, the company can convert real-world data into user experiences, like wayfinding, hotdesking, and room occupancy. But these outcomes rely on thousands of sensors originating from different IoT devices and designed by different suppliers. And no two buildings have the exact same IoT services. Consequently, there is no easy way to power fast and consistent IoT-supported benefits for employees and visitors.

Fortunately, a new approach to integrated IoT device management allows Microsoft to standardize the process, introducing new efficiencies, seamless innovation, and positive outcomes for employees. The Digital Integration Platform (DIP) accepts inputs from all IoT devices and exposes data in a uniform way, making it possible to support IoT-driven employee experiences at scale.

What IoT means for employee experience

As you enter a conference room an occupancy sensor triggers, signaling a series of services and real-world events.

Based on this activity, a light turns on. Elsewhere, a kiosk displaying a digital twin of the floorplan marks the room as “in use.” Simultaneously, a colleague looking to reserve a workspace checks for vacancies from a mobile app and sees which conference rooms are currently available.

This network of sensors, services, and systems working in unison showcases some of the ways Microsoft uses IoT devices to create world-class environments. Microsoft Digital, the organization that powers, protects, and transforms Microsoft, aims to shift more of its physical spaces into smart buildings; workplaces that combine IoT devices, automation, and the latest in cloud technology to enable modernization. Each connected innovation enhances the various user experiences, giving beneficiaries optimal conditions to stay productive.

Finding the right experiences for IoT

IoT-driven employee experience, like finding the nearest open workspace, is built on a wide array of sensors, devices, and services, all tied to a specific benefit or outcome. Wayfinding is one of many IoT-driven experiences Microsoft relies on to solve a user problem or makes life easier. Productivity, movement, wellness, access—all these pillars are supported by IoT solutions. Microsoft’s Global Workplace Services team (GWS) and Microsoft Digital have a tight partnership to determine which IoT devices are needed to improve building operations and user productivity. By encouraging this dialogue, the company is able to design outcomes that can be supported by IoT. To get there, GWS conducts surveys, interviews, and research to match pain points to a solution.

Once the experience is mapped out, Microsoft can work with suppliers to identify the devices and sensors that make up the IoT ecosystem. But these IoT devices all come from different suppliers, express insights in different ways, and don’t always work well together.

Unifying the devices that power employee experiences

If there was a single global IoT supplier for devices, everything would be easier.

Due to a variety of circumstances, including building and device age, region, availability, and use, it’s impossible to procure IoT devices from a single source. Since each supplier provides slightly different sensors and devices for tracking similar real-world events, Microsoft Digital needed to create solutions and standards for integrating IoT systems. Thus, the DIP was born.

Consolidating a fragmented system

Before Microsoft had a centralized approach to exposing data with the DIP, hotdesking, occupancy density, and other experiences were a lot more difficult to create. IoT devices are provisioned from a variety of suppliers, which complicates the ecosystem of devices across Microsoft’s global smart buildings.

Each supplier’s device functions in a different way, creating variations into how data is generated and shared with Microsoft. Some suppliers push data to the cloud, others use APIs which require Microsoft to ping for the data. There’s no single complication or challenge to plan for. Instead, GWS must regularly adjust based on the IoT system they’re working with.

In order to be vendor agnostic, Microsoft Digital developed the DIP. By abstracting the data coming from the vendor, Microsoft Digital can later expose that data downstream, creating a centralized interface for employee experiences to engage with.

Building an integration platform

Instead of managing thousands of different sensors and devices that facilitate wayfinding, hotdesking, and occupancy throughout Microsoft smart buildings and campuses, Microsoft Digital relies on the DIP as an abstraction layer. The DIP gathers data and device telemetry into one place. By building a gateway with components and patterns, Microsoft Digital can enable productivity through common and familiar services—whether they be kiosks, mobile apps, or websites.

The DIP is the glue that ties the physical infrastructure, buildings and IoT devices, to employee experiences. It also brings together the Microsoft services that power the platform, including Azure Digital Twins (ADT), Microsoft 365, Azure Maps, Time Series Insights, and Azure Data Lake.

With ADT, Microsoft Digital is able to create a digital model of the global enterprise, from the largest campus down to the individual occupancy sensor. This model sits at the heart of the DIP and is kept live and up to date through sensor telemetry flowing into IoT Hub.

The DIP supports multiple gateway models to integrate data from disparate subsystems. An IoT Edge gateway hosts Edge Modules bringing in data from previously siloed on-premises devices. Another IoT Edge module is used to integrate HVAC and other data from the Building Management System. Finally, a B2B gateway integrates telemetry from vendors with cloud-hosted infrastructure.

Once ADT is updated with new data, the platform ensures that the Azure Maps state is updated in real-time and reflected in the employee experiences. Updates also flow into Time Series Insights for real-time visualization and analytics.

: Graphic showing Microsoft’s Digital Integration Platform.

Figure 1. The Digital Integration Platform serves as a gateway between IoT devices, buildings, and employee experiences.

Managing security across the ecosystem

At Microsoft, security is always the top priority. This extends to IoT devices, where physical and digital security is a crucial selection criterion for GWS. Prior to installation, everything is network and hardware tested at a separate lab, verifying that devices meet Microsoft’s strict standards.

Once introduced into a building, Microsoft keeps its IoT devices isolated to its own network, as part of its Zero Trust Networking strategy. Network segmentation isolates potentially vulnerable IoT devices, keeping all of Microsoft safe.

Rethinking how devices are onboarded

Today, onboarding devices across campuses can be time consuming due to manual testing and supplier variability. In the future, Microsoft Digital will be able to automate device onboarding to the DIP.

Mass adoption of Azure IoT standards, including industry guidelines from the RealEstateCore, a consortium focused on technology features in real estate, will further transform IoT onboarding into plug-and-play. Once standardized integration is introduced, GWS will be able to install, scan, then onboard IoT devices with less effort. Telemetry will then flow seamlessly from the devices, and engineers will no longer have to spend time building intermittent gateways to light up employee experiences.

Maintaining system health

In addition to onboarding new devices and sensors, there will be times when IoT systems go out of commission and are no longer supported by the IoT manufacturer. This is true for both existing and new buildings. To keep the IoT environment modern, GWS regularly replaces and upgrades devices.

Installed devices must be checked for compliance, device health, security, and continuing support.

Seamless integration of telemetry will eventually allow Microsoft to analyze IoT system health with automation, testing, and alerting at scale. When an error is detected in a device, a ticket can be created, pointing technicians in the right direction. Since one device can trigger multiple system health alerts, machine learning can be used to help separate and prioritize real issues from noise.

By ensuring that devices are maintained, renewed, and that incorrect data does not populate in employee experiences, Microsoft Digital is able to build confidence with users.

Transforming IoT data into employee experiences

With the DIP consolidating inputs through an abstraction layer, Microsoft Digital can now quickly and easily create employee experiences at scale. Within the DIP, the Microsoft Azure Digital Twins and Azure Maps components enable Microsoft Digital to create a consistent look, feel, and environment for users to interface with. This uniformity empowers productivity.

Bringing everything to life with Microsoft Azure Digital Twins and Azure Maps

Microsoft Azure Digital Twins allows Microsoft Digital to represent physical spaces and devices in a digital environment. Everything from temperature sensors and air quality sensors to cameras and occupancy sensors can be represented in Azure Digital Twins. The first stage of developing an employee experience is to build the digital twin. Digital Twin Definition Language (DTDL), part of the Azure Digital Twins modelling platform, helps describe the physical spaces where users will need a wayfinding application to help navigate a campus.

Integration between Azure Digital Twins and Azure Maps allows Microsoft Digital to visualize data. Once a physical space is represented, it’s possible to funnel information in from Azure IoT Hub.

After data from the DIP is connected, Microsoft Digital can enable employee experiences. This ecosystem of IoT devices and platforms also supports monitoring efforts, empowering Microsoft Digital to easily maintain system health at scale.

Controlling access

Does a user controlling the temperature in a room with an app have permission to do this? And how are they making this change? Through valid code? That’s one of the challenges Microsoft Digital has to address as more and more experiences roll out across campuses.

The objective is for employee experiences to be available to the right users at the right time, but controlling access keeps Microsoft and its users safe.

The future is a modern campus

No longer restricted by a complex IoT ecosystem, Microsoft Digital can now service employee experiences at scale, irrespective of the devices and sensors that facilitate those user benefits. Deploying experiences can be done through a standardized framework, where devices can easily be monitored and maintained for security updates and device health.

All of this investment creates stronger employee experiences, but there’s a secondary benefit as well; it improves products like Azure Digital Twins and Azure Maps.

More smart buildings to come

Microsoft continues to develop and expand its real estate properties, including new smart buildings and upgrading existing infrastructure to meet the expectations of employees and visitors. While the scope and turnaround time of keeping pace is a challenge, Microsoft Digital sees an opportunity to install devices, solutions, and experiences that will support modern technology and innovation for the long run.

Different buildings will have different capabilities based on age, operating scenarios, and leased versus owned properties, but Microsoft Digital and GWS wants users to have positive outcomes. These efforts translate to engagement and increased productivity, with devices and experiences being launched and updated at scale.

Encouraging a standardized way to create employee experiences

The size and scope of Microsoft’s smart campuses, specifically how they integrate IoT devices to make lives more productive and enjoyable, is informing the way suppliers develop new technologies. Partnerships with industry groups, including the RealEstateCore, and innovation throughout Microsoft buildings help support industry standards, reducing the burden on other organizations relying on an abstraction layer for integration. The Real Estate Core has launched DTDL-based models, establishing common ground for IoT suppliers and smart buildings. As more companies develop IoT systems that expose data in a uniform way, vendors will be able to better integrate with each other, allowing enterprises to build even greater employee experiences.

Becoming less reliant on the Digital Integration Platform

The DIP gives Microsoft Digital a way to expose data and work with disparate devices to create wayfinding, occupancy, hotdesking, and other employee experiences. However, as IoT suppliers begin to conform with industry standards, such as Azure IoT Device Certification, the need for such an abstraction layer gets smaller and smaller. Eventually, Microsoft Digital will be able to rely less on an integration platform, as standardized devices replace legacy hardware.

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