It’s been said that “information is that which consumes attention” – and the limits of human attention are challenged (some might say, already exceeded) by today’s explosion of information content in our lives. The entire IT market is being redefined in this Big Data era: continued advancements in commerce, health, science, and education require a strategy for getting the most from a data-rich world, without being limited by human capacity for understanding and action.
Increasingly, we will turn to an “Internet of Things” in which global networks enable intelligent objects to satisfy our needs and assist our endeavors.
Scenarios that have long been explored in science fiction are emerging today from laboratories and venture incubators to become mainstream products and services. Already, in automobiles using the OnStar network, there are 150,000 interactions every day that are initiated by people – and another 130,000 initiated by sensors and algorithms in the vehicle. Machine-to-machine communication will quickly surge ahead of person-to-person as automobiles and other machines become more sensor-rich and more constantly connected.
“We have access not only to trouble codes, but things like parameter IDs that give battery voltage, the outside air temperature – anything that [vehicle sensors] would record, the OnStar module can request all that data. We can even tell you if you left the gas cap open,” said OnStar Director of Advanced Technology Steve Schwinke in a November interview with Ars Technica.
Beyond mere convenience, economic advantage is already apparent: in a GE pilot project, an “Internet of Things” approach to wind-farm management has already increased power output of 123 turbines by 3 per cent, worth annually US$1.2 million in added revenue as reported in November by the New York Times.
Do not be timid in projecting the future of this transformation: multiple sources agree that by 2020, 50 billion devices may have Internet connections, with Cisco offering a particularly accessible vision of what this means. Assume a future of global connectivity, infinite bandwidth, and free processing power as a basis for planning: none of those goals will ever be fully met, but any attempt to “be realistic” in one’s projections will understate the progress that we will see.
Invent uses and create opportunities in order to remain competitive
Further, salesforce.com’s transforming vision of the "Internet of Things" merely begins with connected and mobile objects. What will add the most value to the machine-to-machine traffic in Big Data is the understanding of its impact on people.
Technologists often see the devices and the networks as the subjects of interest, but those are merely the muscles and nerves of organisms in an ecosystem. Their real purpose can only be accomplished if that ecosystem also includes social mechanisms for context awareness, behavior adaptation, and real-time event-based interaction.
For example, at the Los Angeles and New York marathon sporting events, the sports equipment manufacturer Asics used salesforce.com technologies to enable encouragement of competitors by friends and families. Asics’ Facebook application, "Support Your Marathoner," allowed people to post messages of support, videos, or pictures: when an RFID tag on a competitor’s shoe was detected passing a sensor, a nearby giant screen could deliver that message, creating a previously unimaginable experience of personal contact in a mass event.
In the near future, robotics will further integrate these advances. Imagine the potential of the small, autonomous and programmable humanoid robot NAO, developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics. Its potential uses are yet to be fully imagined but will clearly include robot companion, playmate, nurse, domestic, personal assistant – all controlled and coordinated via mobile applications and the Internet.
The Internet of Things: Social Network Revolution in the Interest of Innovation
At salesforce.com, we have spoken for several years of the importance of transforming objects, machines and applications into nodes of a social network. Our company’s social platform and collaboration framework, Chatter, was developed accordingly – not only to to connect employees, but distinctively to incorporate business processes: to enable people to interact with connected objects and applications at the heart of an integrated ecosystem.
Today companies such as Toyota, Virgin, Burberry, General Electric and Coca-Cola have entrusted us to help them realize their vision of the "Internet of Things": to connect with their customers in a whole new way to enable new business models.
For example, over the last twelve months or so, we have been working with Toyota to help them launch a new service entitled "Toyota Friend": a social network linking up vehicles, drivers and dealers to create a highly personalized car ownership experience. For Toyota, the project will reinvent its relationship with its customers and redefine the relationship of Toyota customers with their cars. These are fundamental changes aimed at repositioning the company in an increasingly competitive market.
For Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most recognizable brands, there is
the triple challenge of customization, mobility, and the social
networks: how to meet the requirements of customers via an ever more
personalized and responsive relationship?
The "Internet of Things" is an answer, enabling a new type of dialogue between customers and distributors via mobile applications, making it possible for a customer to interact with the brand via social networks—like those being built for Virgin America, extending even to the experience in the plane in the air—as well as via soft-drink vending machines, connected to the Internet and able to recognize you.
Yet another example is General Electric’s aviation division, which has enabled in-flight servicing applications to communicate data in real time to technicians and engineers on the ground within an extended company social network. This optimizes not only short-term maintenance between two flights but also effectively improves system performance over the long term. Information from these processes is automatically distributed within the company via General Electric’s private social network using salesforce.com’s Chatter and other technologies.
All of these companies have chosen to create a dialog between key applications and connected objects, devising ecosystems that optimize performance, identify areas of inefficiency, and upgrade customer experience. Any company that does not pursue these opportunities will be left behind – not in the distant future, but in a process that is already under way.
The Internet of Things will be, by nature, a key element in customer relationships. Its value, however, lies not so much in the connected object itself as in the new services associated with it that we are in a position to offer.
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