The IoT vendor ecosystem is a confusing, quickly evolving, and already crowded space. To say the least…
The ‘IoT’ vendor landscape– like its ‘umbrella term’ of a name: the Internet of Things (IoT)– is hardly a single field of basically similar competitive providers. Rather, it is comprised of multiple strata of various types of providers. Providers of sensors, actuators, hardware, servers, networking, analytics, software, security,etc.comprise the myriad layers of this complex ecosystem. To build the connected systems to which “the Internet of Things” refers requires a ‘suite’ of components and configurations. Need proof? Have a look at this (admittedly not comprehensive) IoT Lumascape from earlier this year.
Today, one of the largest software companies in the world, Salesforce.com launched the latest addition to its family of ‘clouds,’ the IoT Cloud. To those who follow the space, this was hardly a surprise– Salesforce coined its “Internet of Customers” phrase at Dreamforce 2014. Salesforce also has a track record for diving face (or cloud)-first into emerging digital trends– SaaS-based approaches to social media, collaboration, mobile are recent examples.
The question really isn’t why Salesforce launched the IoT Cloud; the question is what does this launch do for the IoT ecosystem? What does it do for the entities both supplying and adopting IoT experiences? Does Salesforce’s IoT Cloud help ‘part the clouds’ on a confusing space or just add to the noise?
IoT Cloud connects
To say Salesforce’s IoT Cloud connects wouldn’t much differentiate it from its competitors, nor other platforms capable of data integration or connectivity. But it doesn’t just connect the components of a connected device, infrastructure, customer, or experience, it actually connects with other relevant data sources relevant, or even identical to those same devices, infrastructures, customers, or experiences. For example, a company providing a connected thermostat won’t only be able to view the performance data of the device (thermostat) against other devices, but also connect that data to customer usage, sales, service, and repair data by connecting it to Salesforce’s other clouds- Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Analytics Cloud, etc. which are already designed to work across device types. Additionally it can pull in external data sources, such as weather data to provide rules-based actions to enhance the product’s (thermostat’s) utility. It can therefor enable the connected thermostat manufacturer to offer services that transcend the product itself, such as a notification of changing weather patterns and offer for appropriate changes like turning the heat up at a specific time. Taking this a step further (beyond the scope of IoT as we know it today), One could conceive of a future scenario in which weather data could inform opportunities to notify other connected entities, such as lighting, cooling, energy, home entertainment, pools, cars, and so on.
Conceptually, this connectivity is not unique. But the reality is that today, these data sets (e.g. device, marketing, customer, sales, etc.) exist in disparate silos that do not talk to each other at all… nevermind provide opportunities to extract insights and new services. Salesforce aims to take the burden of managing complex data processing off of businesses, and provide this as part of the service– broadly speaking, the same strategy they pursued in other historically on-premise, hardware-based, or multi-tool markets. Not just connecting, but mining the data from the millions (soon to be billions, one day trillions?) of devices with respect to the data about the very customers interacting with those devices, and the environments in which they exist will be critical for extracting value from a connected world. Easier said than done, however.
IoT Cloud contextualizes
Perhaps the most important impact of the IoT Cloud, when viewed shoulder to shoulder with its sister SFDC Clouds, is that it helps contextualize the Internet of Things to business practitioners… not just IT practitioners. Powered by Thunder, SFDC’s highly scalable real-time event processing engine, the IoT Cloud is able to connect billions of events happening every day in a connected world. But the critical part of this is not that it can count; rather that by viewing it against other data sets (outlined above), it can derive insights from this data, “empowering anyone to take the right action, for the right customer, at the right time.” Yes, the Internet of Things offers the greatest potential leap towards marketers’ proverbial holy grail. As Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO describes “The IoT Cloud will allow businesses to create real-time 1:1, proactive actions for sales, service, marketing or any other business process, delivering a new kind of customer success.”
Helping businesses think beyond operational efficiencies and explore why and how IoT creates an entirely new paradigm for customer experiences and relationships is core to my research as an analyst covering consumer-side IoT. It’s also the central focus of a report I recently published called Customer Experience in the Internet of Things: How Brands can Use Sensors to Build Better Customer Relationships (access the full report here). Contextualizing how the Internet of Things can empower, even transform customer experiences from reactive to proactive, through use cases such as service, innovation, information and decision-making, and other marketing, service, and sales functions is core for understanding why to adopt IoT in the first place.
Considering the potential IoT holds for its existing (already huge) customer base, Salesforce realizes this imperative
Yet, this contextualization is not central to how many other vendors in the landscape market their offerings. Rather, value propositions from IoT vendors often focus broad concepts like business transformation, intelligence gathering, operational efficiencies, reliability, etc. And while these are all valuable notions for procuring support and investment in IoT initiatives, they do little to help contextualize it in the first place.
IoT Cloud collaborates
To be successful in the Internet of Things requires integration, partnership, collaboration. Businesses which adhere exclusively to proprietary, homegrown, ‘walled garden’ approaches will fail. Interoperability is, after all, the Internet part of the Internet of Things. Salesforce has built its IoT Cloud with clear understanding both of its strengths and its areas where partnership and integration is more appropriate than reinventing the wheel. Its initial launch partners include other notable IoT platforms such as ARM, Etherios, Informatica, PTC ThingWorx, and Xively by LogMeln… with a growing list already in collaboration. Beyond ecosystem partners, Salesforce has already demonstrated its commitment as a true platform, offering up software development kits (SDKs) and Application Program Interface (API) documentation and resources for any company that wishes to develop on top of the Salesforce1 app. The company recently announced the first 20 companies with which they partnered to develop employee productivity apps designed for the Apple Watch.
Connecting the dots… from enterprise to consumer
Although Salesforce has a compelling story to tell, the Internet of Things (whatever that actually ends up meaning) won’t rely on any single platform, business, device type, software, or anything else. Worth noting, Salesforce won’t be live with the tool until ‘sometime’ in 2016, a date no doubt left vague on purpose. But, while the technology charges ahead, the market as a whole will continue to stumble clumsily through its infancy. Why? Because to date, the focus of IoT has been on the enterprise, not the consumer. Yet customer experience will dictate the adoption of IoT– not only in terms of areas of friction (e.g. user interface, design, or privacy), but also in the ways we collectively redefine how connectivity can improve our lives.