In episode 15 we spoke to Remco Ploeg, Director- IoT & Digital Twin Europe at Avanade, helping customers find innovative Digital and cloud services, as well as IoT Solutions for their business. As a highly experienced IoT Architect, Remco has led a wealth of successful IoT projects.

Remco is the founder of the Azure IoT Community which shares knowledge and challenges between partners and end customers.

In this episode, we discover the world of IoT Architecture!

 

      • His background as an IoT Architect and the Microsoft Azure Platform.
      • The operations of Avanade within the IoT space.
      • What the Microsoft Azure IoT Community is and the benefits of this community.
      • How IoT is re-shaping business models and why it is important for companies to start considering IoT in their supply chain.
      • The process of creating an IT Roadmap.
      • The qualities that make up a successful project manager.

     

    Episode Transcript

    Tom White:
    Welcome to the IoT Podcast. I’m your host, Tom White. We are joined today by Remco Ploeg. Remco is the European IoT lead for Avanade. Avanade helps customers find innovative data, AI and IoT solutions for their businesses. Remco is also the founder of the Azure IoT Community, which shares knowledge and challenges between partners and end customers. Remco, thank you very much for joining us today.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Thank you for having me here, Tom. I really appreciated that you invited me to this podcast.

    Tom White:
    You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. I know we’ve been trying to find a slot for a couple of weeks now-

    Remco Ploeg:
    Exactly.

    What is your background at Avanade?

    Tom White:
    … so it’s good to get you on here. As we’re recording this, I think we’re just about 10 days out from Christmas Day. So thanks again for your time. Remco, thank you so much. For our listeners, can you explain your background within the Microsoft Azure platform and the position that you hold with in Avanade?

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yes. So I think the past 20 years I’m involved with the Microsoft partner landscape. So I’m involved with the Microsoft partnership for a long time now, I think since the start of the Azure platform. I’m involved at several projects with clients and I think my first connection with the cloud was in 2003 already, also with Microsoft, before Azure, with a solution called Live EDU that was in cloud solution from Microsoft to the education market.

    Remco Ploeg:
    It was in an branded Hotmail environment for education. So I started my cloud journey very early. I think this past 10 years, I’m quite involved with the product teams at Microsoft. So I’m collaborating with them, with feedback on the current projects. I’m involved with new facilities in certain products on the Azure platform, especially of course in IoT and yeah, that’s really great.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Where in Avanade I will be leading IoT in Europe from the 1st of January, so in a couple of days. I’m part of an acquisition from Avanade at a company called Altius where they are focused on data and IoT solutions. And they bought us at the beginning of this year. And I will be part of a new team in Europe for IoT, especially focused on IoT. And I will help there the regions and the countries within Europe, and also the UK of course, from the 1st of January, with their IoT propositions and IoT help at their customers.

    What is the Microsoft Azure IoT Community?

    Tom White:
    Okay, fantastic. Yeah. And the Azure IoT community, is that just within the Netherlands or is that wider? Do you have lots of different members from elsewhere?

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah, so I think a little bit more than three years ago… I did already a lot of community work, especially around the Office 365 and then other communities, but there was no IoT related community. There were of course, but not focused on Azure. So from that the point being, I thought, okay, let’s start an Azure IoT community, focused community to share knowledge within partners, but also with customers and other people that are interested. If you look at the countries, it’s at the moment, really focused on the Netherlands, and sometimes a little bit of Belgium people, but the Netherlands is quite international.

    Remco Ploeg:
    So if you look at the presentations at Azure IoT community, it’s all English, because I think 50% of the audience is English speaking people and the other ones are Dutch. And so it’s quite international. At the moment. We are looking around to expand it to other countries in Europe. Especially now with the online movement and communities are getting more and more online. We want to see how we can extend that even further.

    What are your visions for the Azure IoT Community?

    Tom White:
    Right. Yeah. And I guess that ties in quite nicely to my next question. Obviously, having founded the Azure IoT community, what are the benefits of people joining and where do you see it going in the future?

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah, that’s a good, and of course also a difficult question, but I think if you want to learn something and share your knowledge around IoT, especially with Azure related IoT stuff, it’s great to be part of that community. So you can of course learn from a technology perspective, but you can also meet. You can meet the presenters, you can meet Microsoft people presenting there, online of course.

    Remco Ploeg:
    So that’s a little bit difficult, because in the previous community evenings we went to a Microsoft partner, we get some eating with each other, then some presentations, after with some beer and drinks and et cetera, et cetera. So, yeah. Then of course, a totally different dynamic of us really meeting each other, collaborating, thinking about new stuff around Azure IoT. And now with online focused, it’s a little bit different. I’m struggling really with that.

    Remco Ploeg:
    So it’s more timing, it’s structured. It’s a little bit more or less interactive in my opinion. But I think that that’s really the great part, to be part of an IoT community is, and every community, is to learn and meet. Those are the two important topics. Yeah. If you look at the future, I think it’s difficult now, especially with COVID, but I hope in the near future, we can meet again physically, because I think that’s very important for the community.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Of course, online part is important there where you can share your knowledge, but I think meeting each other is really important, especially to think about future IoT services, for example, or just vibe out with each other, to talk about something and, even better to meet the people itself. Online you don’t see each other quite well. If you’re going to eat with each other on a big table, you see people that you never knew. So I hope in the feature we will do that.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Communities is always difficult because you spend a lot of time in it, and I love to do that. But yeah, I hope in the future a lot of people will also of course attend. And normally we’ve got around 50 people in the community meetings. I hope we will go to 100. It’s not a target or something like that, but the more, the better, because then we can share again more.

    Remco Ploeg:
    And yeah, one of the ideas we had before COVID was to have an Saturday meeting, to do physical stuff, especially with IoT. And in the community evenings, we share a love of knowledge, but we don’t do anything. And it was ideas we had, and we hope to do it now, hopefully coming year, but else, the year after. Is to organize a really an IoT day where I can do with hardware like this and play with it, and it’s more tangible than listening to a presentation. I hope in the future we can do that. That’s one of the big topics we had before COVID.

    Tom White:
    Yeah, yeah. No. I completely agree. Last year I was at The Things conference and it was nice to actually see all the hardware on display as well as listening to speakers. Online is great, but actually being able to play, see some of this stuff in real life and get caught up in the energy of the day, of the conference and be around other people is something that can’t be replaced, so it would be really nice in the future if we can start to integrate this back in to our lives once more. Right?

    Remco Ploeg:
    Exactly. Really important.

    How are businesses deploying IoT into their supply chain?

    Tom White:
    Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Remco, obviously IoT is reshaping a lot of business models. In your opinion, why should businesses, both enterprise, small, medium, start to look to integrate IoT strategies into their supply chain, in your view?

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah. I think it’s, it doesn’t care if it is small business or big business. So I do projects in small businesses that have at least the same impact as in an enterprise implementation. So I think in every business IoT can help their strategies, or even change their strategies and their business strategies. If you look, especially at the supply chain, of course, where big companies like Maersk and others with container tracking for example, they give much more accurate information about your goods in the supply chain for example.

    Remco Ploeg:
    There’s a quite easy one but that has a big impact on the businesses in the supply chain. So I see a lot of changes there. But I think as every business in every sector, you have to look at IoT because that can mean different IoT for your vertical or your sector. And it will give you another look on your business.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Last year, I did a project at a coffee company, they were selling coffee machines and beans and they sell now coffee as a service. Of course, a simple example, but without IoT and especially in their business, because what is IoT? It’s along there for 20, 30 years, at least with M2M, we call it before, and all kind of other terms. But the big thing now is it’s affordable.

    Remco Ploeg:
    It’s quite cheap. We’ve got great connections, especially within the Netherlands. We’ve got LoRa based devices, M2M, narrow band we’ve got everything here. So for company’s supply chain, it’s so easily to add a sensor to a container or something else and then follow that sensor. And yeah, and if you look at the benefits, that’s of course, a little bit difficult to say, because it’s more vertical focused there so the benefits can of course be financial, that your supply chain is more efficient.

    Remco Ploeg:
    But the other benefit of course is because you have IoT and you can check your container, for example, yeah, you can maybe get more customers. Because you have those insights and your customers will have those insights and your competitor don’t have that. And so it can be a financial one, but also a more customer focused one with, I like the product more because I can follow it much better, and I know where my product is, and stuff like that.

    Tom White:
    Yeah. Coffee as a service, that sounds interesting. So we recently had-

    Remco Ploeg:
    Coffee as a service.

    Tom White:
    Yeah. So we recently, it seems that everything these days is as a service, right?

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah. Yeah.

    Tom White:
    We recently had a well-known chain in here in the UK offer a 20 pounds per month subscription service as well. Was it a similar model? Was that what you meant by coffee as a service in the Netherlands? So you pay, you pay a certain amount of euros per month and-

    Remco Ploeg:
    Per month, yeah. For the coffee machine, including coffee machine and beans. And there’s a gap on the beans I think. So they expect something like that, but it’s yeah, it’s really in price per month.

    Tom White:
    Right. I see. And there must be, there’s a sensor somewhere along the lines that when it runs short or something, it automatically triggers an update and a new delivery as such. Is that right?

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah. That’s exactly what we have built. So especially all the coffee machines, they have no connectivity. And we have developed together with a supplier in Poland, in a small device that we can put in the coffee machine and extract the data from the coffee machine so we know exactly how many beans are went through through the day for some, or how many milk, or chocolate or something like that. Yeah.

    Tom White:
    Right. Okay. Interesting. Because of course, your background Remco, was heavy in architecture, wasn’t it? So you’ve had a lot-

    Remco Ploeg:
    Construction. Yeah.

    Tom White:
    Yeah. Yeah. So you’re well versed with architecturing solutions and being able to put the sort of blueprint to roll this out as such.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yep.

    Tom White:
    And about for how long was that? Did you say sort of 15, 20 years or such before you got to your current position now.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah. Yeah. So I started my career 20 years ago. So I think solutioning, I think it’s around 10 years, something like that. 10, 12 years. And then in the beginning I was engineer developer and then moved away to consulting and then architecture. And then everything else in between.

    Tom White:
    Yeah. Yeah.

    Remco Ploeg:
    And different roles. So sometimes I do a little bit of strategy of the customer, especially now with IoT. So I can IoT change your company. And sometimes I do also the solutioning, it really depends on the needs. And always of course, together with a team.

    What qualities make a successful IoT Architect?

    Tom White:
    Yeah, sure. And that’s a really interesting question here, because, in your view, having obviously been an architect and worked in this for many, many years, what, in your view makes a successful architect within a team environment? What are the sort of qualities that would set someone apart from someone else, especially in IoT architecture?

    Remco Ploeg:
    So I think if you look more in general, it’s communicate, that’s number one. That is an important I think in every role, by the way, but especially if you’re in the role as architect or in the lead role at a client, and that’s within the team and outside of the team. So that’s really an important… If you look more from an IoT perspective, if I look there my biggest challenge is always hardware. So I go to a customer, sometimes they have already hardware and a supplier of that. And especially with IoT, it’s a combination of course, as you know, between the hardware connectivity and platform. And if you only do the platform, as an architect, as an IoT architect, that’s, in my opinion, not the right one. As an IoT architect, you should have knowledge about all three of them.

    Remco Ploeg:
    And of course you will have a focus, like myself, I’ve got a big focus on the platform side because that’s my history, but I know how it works on the device and connectivity sides. And that’s really important because those two worlds are not the best connected yet. The platform and the hardware. And supplies like Microsoft are putting a lot of effort into that to make that combination much better. With all kinds of SDKs on devices and a lot of support on important chip set like the ESP32 and others, from a Microsoft perspective, to bridge that gap because that’s always a big challenge.

    Remco Ploeg:
    And so from my IoT architect, of course it’s communication and consulting, et cetera, those skills are really important. But if you look specific to IoT, the whole IoT supply chain, you really need to know how does that work?

    Tom White:
    Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

    Remco Ploeg:
    And you need to be creative because especially with IoT, it’s really different than email. You can think about other business models for your clients. So you have to be a little bit out of the box thinking. And maybe a visionary is a big word, but okay, if you go to a coffee company, what can we do with IoT? How can the business be changed because of this technology?

    Tom White:
    Yeah. Yeah. I think so. Well, I think a perfect example of that was to talk about the coffee as a service earlier. Being able to predict and accurately view changes in consumption by use of sensors. And it’s going to have such a long lasting approach on many, many businesses. Which is why IoT really touches on everyone and everything.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Exactly.

    Tom White:
    And eventually, probably we won’t call it IoT anymore because it will just be technology, it will just be what we do and what we live through.

    What will the future of IoT look like?

    Tom White:
    On that note, Remco, I’m always interested to find out, and I know this is a little bit off piece, but I’m always interested to find out what people like yourself, thought leaders within this space. People that live, work and breathe IoT. What are you most excited for in the future for IoT? What types of things do you believe we can get to with this? And what would you like to see come out of this fourth industrial revolution, as people talk about it.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah. So I’m a big fan of digital twins. I think that’s quite related to IoT. And we see now in, I think in the last quarter, two quarters, half a year, that digital twin is really getting up there. It’s already there for years. It’s the same like IoT and years ago, services buses and et cetera, et cetera. But the hype is now over and people are implementing digital twins of almost everything. I’m involved with ships, with buildings, with locks, with. Yeah, you name of it.

    Tom White:
    The port of Rotterdam was one of the largest, wasn’t it? Digital twin initiatives of recent times.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Yeah. Yeah. And also at Avanade, we are doing a lot in that topic, and important of digital twin is a standard. So Microsoft is involved with the digital twin consortium. So worldwide, nonprofit organization to [inaudible 00:18:20] the digital twins. And how do you communicate with digital twins, et cetera, et cetera. So I’m looking very forward to the digital twin, the digital twin is growing up. They’re not baby anymore. They’ve gone to the next step and the next level, and already getting grown up now. And they’re not there yet, but it’s getting there I think in the coming two, three years. And IoT will play an important part in that topic. And of course for digital twin IoT is not always needed.

    Remco Ploeg:
    But if you look for example, from Industry 4.0, if you look at manufacturing and digital twin can play really in good act on of course having insights of that factory, but also things like simulations and how to make your processes more efficient, et cetera, et cetera. And digital twin can play an important role in that. That’s my hope and also my view on the coming one to two years, that digital twin will be important part of IoT.

    Tom White:
    Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Fantastic. Well, it’d be good to see what happens in the future with that. And I appreciate your views. I appreciate your time as well, so thank you so much for coming on, Remco. I know you’re busy with the upcoming changes and your new position starting in January. Good luck from all of us. But, yeah, we appreciate you coming on the show and yeah, it was good to talk.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Thanks for having me, Tom. Thank you very much.

    Tom White:
    All right. You’re very welcome. Thank you. Cheers.

    Remco Ploeg:
    Thank you cheers.

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