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Why IoT needs a CRM platform

The Internet of Things needs a CRM platform to corral the intelligence that these devices generate.

CRM is at the start of a significant transition, and it's due to a new idea: the Internet of Things.

You've probably heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), a world where devices of all kinds hook up to the Internet to send data about their situation and condition. But there's more to IoT than a prototypical jet engine that sends operational data to the ground so that analytics can sniff out maintenance needs or failure. Now machines are learning to consume. Here's how.

First, while we refer to people as consumers, the word customer best fits people in a relationship with companies.

And now those relationships are changing further: Customers are coming to own consumers. With IoT, your device can easily say, "Fix me" or "Feed me" to a company's computer, and bingo, your account gets dinged. Companies should love this because consumers now emit unambiguous data that validates additional sales.

IoT requires platforms for true business agility

In 2008, the IoT got rolling when, for the first time, there were more devices attached to the Internet than there were people on Earth. Estimates vary, but a common one is that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices online and communicating.

In the run-up, we see a huge number of new devices coming to market and to an IP address near you. There are at least three kinds of devices you can easily envision making up IoT: simple sensors for data capture, sensors for data input and content consumption devices. The difference between input and capture is small, but it's important because input connotes volition while capture can be mindless. Consider the difference between a jet engine relaying data and accepting an appointment in your smartphone.

OK, so how are we going to build software for all these so-called things? Hint: We are not going to write it, or we'll end up writing code for the rest of our lives, with no one to bake bread. The customer relationship management significance of all this is that those devices, smart and not so, need software, and most need an attachment to something that looks like a software platform, and the most built-out platforms today focus on CRM.

Even so, this will not be an easy lift. These devices still lack basics, like standards for operating systems, and their form factors are all over the map. Many devices don't have screens or even a need for anything remotely like a conventional database application. They capture your personal stuff or display a bit of information, or conduct a few highly specialized functions, such as turning on the lights and air conditioning at your house.

The only practical solution for all this new need for programming is to offer high-level application design coupled with code generation. Recently, Salesforce announced that its Salesforce1 Platform would generate applications for new IoT devices. The development tool is called Salesforce Wear, which encompasses the wearable portion of the device spectrum, including watches, wristbands, devices that fit into a pocket and who knows what else. Salesforce is already supporting General Electric jet engines in its comprehensive IoT approach.

The reason a platform is so important for IoT and wearables is that most of the intelligence will not reside in the device. That's a huge difference between devices and conventional computing. Most other forms of computing bring data and processing power to the user, but in IoT most of the data analysis and decision making happen back at the hub and decisions flow back out.

So, the platform becomes the logical place for developing the server-side applications too because they will capture, analyze and store data from peripheral devices. In a CRM-based IoT world, there is tremendous value in having historical data to crunch for modeling future behaviors. This raises the concern that the analytics will be "too good" and we'll drown in offers. Perhaps IoT devices will need even more intelligence to sift through them.

Next Steps

Explained: What is the Internet of Things?

Internet of Things marks dawn of smart objects

Seven enterprise risks to consider with IoT

This was first published in July 2014

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