How To Start Your Exciting Journey Of “Connected Field Service” And “Azure Iot Hub”?

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After my last article I spent some time to explore Azure IoT and Connected Field service. I have been watching presentations and demos on YouTube and I saw many good demonstrations about the capabilities of Azure IoT Hub and Connected Field service. However, I wanted to explore more and see how things really work under hood of the platform. So, in this and few upcoming posts I am summarising my key learnings for the benefit of fellows who want to start.

Note: I structured this blog series based on my learning journey. It is designed based on questions of CRM consultants who wants to start their Connected Field Service Journey.

Let’s start by some key definitions which you will hear a lot in your journey and better be familiar at the start:

IoT Device

IoT Device is a piece of hardware with a small circuit (called Microcontroller), capable of connecting to the internet using WIFI or Mobile services. The purpose of the microcontroller is to capture data from the surrounding and send it to consume services over the internet. In other words, IoT device is a minicomputer capable of sending (and sometimes processing) data over the internet.

Raspberry PI / Windows IoT

The IoT device mentioned above can be a small circuit to react to an event like switch on/switch off or can be very powerful to process images in the device itself. When we develop very powerful devices capable of processing data and applying complex logics, we will need a program to run the logic or process data. To enable this processing, we need a lightweight operating system to host our application. The operating system suitable for operating these powerful devices could be Raspberry PI or Windows IoT.

Azure Internet of Things (IoT)

Azure IoT is series of managed services combined to connect, monitor and control smart IoT enabled devices. So basically, the device’s sensors detect events from surrounding environments and pass the event and data using Microcontroller to Azure IoT service. Azure IoT receives the data from millions of devices and sends it for further processing services for giving the data meaning.

Azure IoT Hub

IoT Hub is a central message hub for bi-directional communication between devices and Azure IoT. So, imagine Azure IoT hub as a heart of Azure IoT service.

Azure IoT Edge

As we move towards future, we will have more IoT devices connected to the Azure IoT hub. Each of these devices will send raw messages to Azure IoT hub for processing. This is ok since the Azure IoT hub is a scalable service, but would not it be more efficient if we use the powerful hardware to pre-process data in devices before sending it to the Azure IoT hub? Azure IoT Edge enables us to write programs to process data inside device before sending it to azure and/or send only the necessary data/events. This will help to offload processing in Azure and reduce traffic. If you have a powerful tool why not use it?

IoT Device Twin

Device twin is logical representation of the device status in Azure. For example, you have a smart bulb which is installed in the Branch A. The device twin can contain the location so you can query twins and identify installed devices in the Branch A.  Or you can store the firmware version in Device Twins and at the time of firmware upgrade, you can upgrade only old firmware versions.

Connected Field Service

The Azure IoT gives you the technology enablement to interact with devices. However, the real value of IoT emerges when you give a business context to it. The connected field service gives the business context to your IoT data. The connected field service comes with an accelerator. When you install the connected field service from the AppSource, you will get all entities and required components in your Dynamics environment. It gives you the ability to configure Dynamics to interact with devices, listen to them and be notified when they don’t feel right.

I have seen IoT Central. What is it and how different is it with Azure IoT Hub?

According to the Microsoft documentation, Azure IoT Central is a software as a service (SaaS) solution that uses a model-based approach to help you to build enterprise-grade IoT solutions without requiring expertise in cloud-solution development. However, Azure IoT Hub is the core Azure PaaS that both Azure IoT Central and Azure IoT solution accelerators use. IoT Hub supports reliable and secure bidirectional communications between millions of IoT devices and a cloud solution.

So, in summary if you have Azure Skills and you want flexibility to expand/manage your solution go for IoT Hub. But if you want an accelerator without extension requirement, then IoT Central is the way forward.

Where do I start my journey?

Where to begin
Where to begin – Learning Path

If you want to start directly from Dynamics you simply can follow instructions here

Otherwise follow the following steps:

  1. Provision your Azure IoT Service (Link)
  2. Create a simulated device (Link)
  3. Send and receive messages (Link)

I have a smart door lock. I want to be notified when it is unlocked. Where do I start?

Azure IoT Hub integrates with Azure Event Grid so that you can send event notifications to other services and trigger downstream processes.To implement this scenario, you will need to register your smart door lock in Azure IoT as mentioned above. Once the device is registered, you will need to define Unlock event in IoT service to enable the service to receive Unlock events. By default, the Azure IoT provides 4 event types:

  • Device Created
  • Device Deleted
  • Device Connected
  • Device Disconnected

However, for our scenario we will need to create a custom event Unlock. To define the custom event you can follow this link.

How do I route incoming message to Dynamics?

Once you define your events above, you will need to create a routing channel for the desired events. Once the Unlock events is detected in the IoT, you can define your routing to send your messages to an endpoint. You can configure your routing as per this link.

How to detect if my device disconnects from IoT?

It is very simple, as mentioned above, the Disconnection event is a default event which is triggered once your device is disconnected. All you must do it configure a service to react to the disconnection event.

How to orchestrate events from IoT to Dynamics?

If you are not using Connected Field Service solution from AppSource, you can configure a Flow to send messages across. There are triggers for IoT hub and events which you can use.

IoT Flow Template
IoT Flow Template

What kind of messages can be transmitted between device and IoT?

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