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November 16, 2017

Azure Functions, Internet of Things, and the Future of Business Intelligence

Posted By
Aureus Tech Systems

While we have all come to accept mobile apps as a fixture in B2C marketing, most businesses and industries have barely begun to explore the immense power of machine learning and business intelligence available through the use of mobile apps.

We have previously blogged about the benefits of using Azure and Xamarin to easily develop mobile apps. As we've mentioned, Xamarin allows mobile developers to use C# to quickly develop apps that can be deployed on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices, all using a single codebase within Visual Studio. With Xamarin, developers can work on any platform using a single language, cutting time-to-market and easing upgrades and iteration. Xamarin reduces time spent recruiting coders who know specific languages, or retraining existing team members on new skills. Rather than investing in recruiting and training, coders can immediately get to work on developing the solutions you need, using tools they already know.

Azure is a powerful, cloud-based, back-end solution, allowing serverless app deployment, thus simplifying IT and infrastructure management. And, using Azure Functions, apps can be seamlessly scaled within seconds, and companies only pay for the time and resources necessary to run their code.

Azure Functions are event-driven, compute-on-demand, PaaS services. Azure Functionsare both powerful and versatile:

  • Support multiple coding languages. Functions can be written in C#, F#, Node.js, Java, PHP, and other executables.
  • Are inexpensive to run. The pay-to-compute model means that you don't have to pay for a server or virtual machine to operate your app. You pay only when the code is executed, and then only for the resources the code consumes, down to the sub-second.
  • Offer flexible development. Functions can be coded in the built-in portal, or deployed through GitHub, Visual Studio, or other development tools.
  • Are open source. Functions runtime is available on GitHub.
  • Are secure. Functions are compatible with OAuth providers including social media logins.

Azure Functions supports triggers, which are different ways to start the execution of your code, and bindings, which are ways to simplify coding for input and output data. They can be triggered within the Azure application, by third party services, or by on-premises systems. Azure Functions provides templates and sample code for developers to learn and explore key scenarios. Typical Azure triggers include:

  • HTTP and webhooks. Functions can be triggered by an HTTP request or a service that supports webhooks
  • Time-based triggers. Batch tasks can be performed on a set schedule.
  • Database triggers. Functions can operate when items are added or updated in a NoSQL database.
  • Message and topic triggers. Functions and services can be triggered by subscribing to specific messages or topics on a service bus.
  • Event hub triggers. Functions can respond to events when delivered to an Azure Event Hub.

With powerful, portable Azure Functions, apps can easily capture and process real-world, real-time data. These services can be accessed on an as-needed basis, reducing cost to build, deploy, operate, and leverage the information.

Using these tools, companies can swiftly build and deploy apps that fulfill a wide variety of real-time data-driven functions, such as:

  • Vehicle analytics. OBD-enabled vehicles can be monitored for location, performance, diagnostics, and other factors. Machine learning can intelligently store, analyze, and report trip information such as mileage, route, fuel consumption, traffic and weather conditions, and hard starts and stops, and apply predictive analysis for recurring routes or conditions. This data can also be customized for the individual driver, route, or cargo, on an as-needed basis.
  • Status monitoring. In systems without an onsite human operator (like water pumps, security devices, or remote stations), devices can continuously communicate current conditions and operational status. Devices can indicate when maintenance is required, or intelligent analysis and scheduling can trigger operational or maintenance activities.
  • Item and shipment tracking. IoT apps enable retailers and manufacturers to oversee their entire supply chain. Shipments and inventory can be analyzed for location, rotation, route, and storage conditions. Items may also be monitored for temperature, vibrations, tipping, and hazards. Intelligent monitoring can be triggered to notify users of shipment delays, improper handling, or improper storage. Machine learning may be applied to optimize routes, product management, and inventory controls.

Many of these capabilities are already in place in many industries, as we expand the range of connected devices and further exploit machine learning. However, the dual capabilities of Azure functions as a light weight, cloud-based, data storage and processing solution, and Xamarin to streamline the creation of mobile apps for multiple devices and operating systems, makes these advanced tracking and analytic functions more accessible than ever before.

Furthermore, the IoT means that devices are constantly generating more data than any human could analyze or make use of. However, machine learning and artificial intelligence can swiftly process and analyze this data, providing real insight and oversight that simply hasn't been possible in the past. Using these advanced analytic tools makes it easier than ever to apply predictive models and enhance business intelligence. These data streams can now can be leveraged for smarter, faster, more efficient, and more effective decision making at every level of the organization.

As the ability to create, customize, and iterate apps becomes easier and less expensive, the range of real-world capabilities and usage scenarios increases exponentially. We are now able intelligently use and apply massive datasets to create accurate predictive models and execute business decisions instantaneously. Costs and risks are lowered, and the ROI is greater. Contact us to see how we can leverage these powerful tools to make your business operate more efficiently and profitably for years to come.