The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the buzzier technology terms tossed around these days. While connecting physical objects to the Web sounds simple enough, what the space means for actual businesses can be more confusing. Morten Bagai is the CTO of Heroku, a cloud application platform for building and deploying web and connected device applications. For this edition of our “IT Visionaries” series, Bagai offers practical advice on IoT and how most any company can and should leverage technology to get involved.
The potential to fundamentally transform the way a customer experiences a product, both in terms of interface and in terms of the relationship with the vendor, is absolutely there, as is the potential to fundamentally transform how we do sales, service, and marketing from the business side. Salesforce and Heroku are in the game to help our customers transform their businesses with different systems of engagement by offering the capability to change how they run those core business functions.
2. What impresses you about the potential of IoT?
One of the things that is so powerful about this wave of computing is that it captures the minds of the technologists and the business people equally. At the technologist level, there’s a lot of interesting stuff around how we connect incredibly small constrained computing platforms to the Internet effectively, how we process data quickly, and how we store it in the cloud. And for the business people, it’s very rare to meet a customer that doesn’t have a vision of what they could do with connected devices in their business. And that doesn’t only mean one that has a powerful microprocessor and a constant connection to the Internet. We also think about things like radio-frequency identification (RFID), which can be placed on an object such as a window, and indoor positioning systems (IPS), often used in retail.
3. Which role or roles do IoT projects tend to fall under?
Often who we meet with in this area is the head of service or the head of product. I think the IoT is not necessarily boxed in as an IT concern at this point because the infrastructure is not commoditized enough that it’s a technology decision that IT is going to make. It’s something that actually impacts product development. And then because service is usually part of the business justification for at least exploring IoT, service is usually also heavily involved from the early stages.
4. How available is the technology needed to get involved?
IoT is not something that is technically new. There’s a whole practice around machine to machine (M2M) that has existed in consulting land for multiple decades now. But it involved incredibly high level, super expensive projects for monitoring pipeline equipment or oil platforms. Now the technology has evolved so it’s possible to participate in IoT without $50 million in project budgets. Companies like Salesforce and Heroku are delivering those technologies in a consumable away. You don’t have to wait six months or a year. You don’t have to be afraid of actually getting involved and executing a prototype. You can get an infrastructure up and running fairly easily that connects devices and receives data.
5. What’s the best way to begin an IoT project?
Try to imagine what benefit it could bring to the business. Work backwards from the desired outcomes to what are the technology and product decisions that need to be made. It has a lot to do with what type of device you’re dealing with and what pattern you’re using for connectivity. If it’s a new product that’s being developed from the ground up, you have the ability to rethink both the product form factor and the user interface in the device in the era of connectivity. The projects with businesses that already have a product to connect are extremely front loaded to what I call the first mile of connectivity. That means figuring out what data are we going to collect off of the device and what are we going to put in the device in order to be able to do that.
6. Where does scalability come in?
When we do deliveries with customers, we quickly get into a situation where we have to deal with scale and that is at the very core of Heroku as a product. We made it easy for developers to elastically scale their web applications and some of those same products make the platform suitable for IoT in the sense that we’re typically dealing with rapidly growing incoming data streams. And it’s possible today to stand up a data processing infrastructure that is quite scalable and quite capable. And you get great flexibility in deciding whether you want to build that in Java or many of the other platforms that we support.
7. How should companies treat the data IoT generates?
It’s early days for IoT. Whatever we build and deliver now is going to look very different in a few years. And the one thing we’re going to want in order to evolve the software is access to all of the historical data. We always advise customers to devise a strategy that allows them to retain the data they collect, even if it goes into cold storage and it takes a while to get it out. I think one of the key mistakes that companies make is throwing data away.
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