I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Charlie Isaacs, CTO of Customer Connections at salesforce.com. We discussed his role, the potential for the Internet of Things, and how your brand can take advantage of it.

Kyle: Could you give us insight into your job as VP and CTO for Customer Connection?

Charlie: In my previous role as VP of Service Cloud Strategy I visited a lot of customers. It was amazing to me how well the "Internet of Customers" message resonated with them and practically every company with a physical product wanted to brainstorm about how to connect their product to Salesforce. A little more than 1 year ago I transferred to Peter Coffee's team, who was also seeing this from customers and together with John Taschek built a role for me in their organization to focus on IoT. Peter invented my title; he said it is appropriate because "you love connecting with customers and you're passionate about connecting our customer's products to Salesforce."

Kyle: What does the "Internet of Things" or "Internet of Customers" mean to you?

Charlie: There is a solid business message that comes with "behind every product is a customer" and "connect to your customers in a whole new way" Internet of Customers themes. It doesn't matter what you call it, if you can't drive business value from the device or product connection and you can't deliver timely in-context information to the consumer while they are interacting with your product or service, you might as well forget it. You need a Business Engine with out-of-the-box components that you can leverage to quickly and easily gain business value from connecting your products to the cloud. A no-brainer example is when your product starts failing, open a case or a trouble ticket. That case needs to run through triage rules, a workflow, and find its way to a queue so that the skilled expert can work on the problem. This functionality should be easy to configure and customize via clicks instead of writing code. I have connected several customers' products to Salesforce and enabled this exact scenario within minutes. Every company connecting their products should leverage this powerful Business Engine.

Kyle: What do you believe is the true potential for the "Internet of Things?"

Charlie: The potential is huge. The ability to get help about and from devices everywhere and anywhere, in-context and in any point in the customer journey will change everything. If you are evaluating products, the products should be "aware" of this and should help shed the best light on the features and business value of that specific product. When you buy the product it should help you install it or use it, and if it breaks, it should help you fix it. Every device and every product should contribute to the well-being of the consumer, and should improve consumers lives every step of the way. All of the devices in my life should work together to help me get the best out of my day, the best out of my company, or the best out of my employees.

Kyle: What are the barriers and challenges at this point?

Charlie: In my opinion fear is the main obstacle. People working in companies, large and small, fear that there is too much heavy lifting involved with connecting their products to the cloud. These folks don't realize that a lot of the work connecting the product to the cloud is available from Salesforce and Salesforce partners. Companies shouldn't be afraid of what I consider the largest barrier: instrumenting and facilitating connection to their own products and devices. Companies should start small-with a Use Case-something that can generate a lot of business value without much heavy lifting. For example, pick a higher-end product that can provide room for a sensor and develop a business case for how that instrumentation can improve use of the product or leverage the data coming from the product.

Kyle: Are there any negative consequences to all the connections and data sharing?

Charlie: Yes, there will be consequences if the connections and data sharing are not protected in a trusted environment. There should be a security layer from the device to the cloud and the data stored in the device cloud should be protected. There are privacy issues and of course security issues. The cloud environment should have layers of security and privacy protection. The other consequence is a flood of data. If you don't have appropriate analytical capability to analyze the "big data" coming from IoT, then there is potential for doing more harm than good as companies attempt to recover from the data tsunami.

Kyle: Does the idea of IoT transform business models? If yes, how so?

IoT is already transforming business models. By instrumenting devices, data is providing valuable insight into product usage (how, why, and where) and failure rates (how often, which failures). Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, and Product Management have all benefited from the data being generated from products. Consumers also benefit because companies are more responsive to their needs as they interact with connected products.

An example of a business transformation would be garbage collection companies benefiting from connected trashcans knowing when the garbage cans are full. These companies can transform their business by reducing trips, reducing fuel costs, reducing pollution, and at the same time gathering data that local businesses can leverage about how much foot traffic is in a downtown area. Higher amounts of trash deposited into garbage cans indicate a large concentration of people in a business area.

Kyle: Anything else you would like to add about IoT or IoC?

Charlie: Yes, companies should start off small connecting your products. Don't try to boil the ocean by selecting too many devices to connect at once, and pick a limited use case and attempt to estimate the business value that will be derived from the data gathered.

But most importantly, don't reinvent the wheel. Companies like Salesforce can provide many off-the-shelf components that will provide functionality to quickly enable your IoT effort. Don't build the functionality from scratch. And in the "last mile" pick a partner that has a solution built on top of a framework like Salesforce. For example, Digi Etherios and Axeda are both available in the AppExchange and both companies facilitate connections to devices while aggregating the data into a "device cloud" before generating an anomaly that can be leveraged by the Salesforce Business Engine for IoT.

To conclude, I'd like to offer help to any company interested in connecting their products to Salesforce. We have sample Use Cases, code, and methodologies that companies can easily leverage to hit the ground running. Or, contact me if you just want to have a brainstorming session.