Microsoft’s Next Big Challenge? Location, Location, Location

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Microsoft announced Tuesday it is launching a location-based services feature that will give its enterprise customers access to geographical data captured from the millions—and growing—connected sensors found on cars, commercial trucks, and other smart devices. Companies can then use that location data to solve problems like traffic congestion, improve fleet management, or even track hospital beds.

The location-based services will be integrated into Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. TomTom, which partnered with Microsoft last year, is supplying the location data on Azure Location Based Services. Microsoft made the announcement during Automobility LA along with two of its customers, Cubic Telecom, a telecommunications company, and Fathym, an Internet of Things company.

Fathym will use Microsoft location-based services for its weather forecasting, which can be overlaid on maps to help cities, government agencies, and transportation companies see current road conditions. Cubic Telecom, which manages cell towers in Europe, is using the service to analyze data from electric charging stations to determine how they’re being used and where to place new ones.

As the number of connected devices grows, enormous amounts of data from those sensors flows up into the cloud. Microsoft is now offering customers an easy way to access that information and use it to improve their own businesses.

“We’re addressing a pretty big problem,” Chris Pendleton,principal program manager for Azure IoT, told Fortune. “There’s a lack of connectivity through infrastructure as well as the vehicles themselves. The idea is that we start chipping away at a strategy, and at the heart of that strategy is location.”

Consumers today depend on mapping and navigation—services that are available thanks to connected sensors on devices like smartphones and now cars. Now that vehicles are getting connected, Microsoft says it wants to start leveraging some of that data and start better tracking assets and fleets, Pendleton said.

But, he noted that this extends well beyond vehicles. The richness of the sensors and the multitude that are showing up on all sorts of products means Microsoft, or its enterprise customers, can start using location data from them to analyze position, movement, and patterns.

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