If you’ve got a hunch that the Internet of Things (IoT) could be the next big thing for your company (and maybe even industry) there’s a strong chance you’re also scratching your head about how to get started.

Like many disruptive technology topics, the long term potential can be easy to grasp, but making that real in a practical way can be far more difficult. For many, the gap between the world of embedded electronics that instrument products and assets, and the processes that deliver on the business promise, can look like the Grand Canyon.

The good news is, that like many things in the technology world, we can make this less daunting by breaking the problem down into a few essential components for success.


The four building blocks of IoT

The clue is in the title - we think it’s helpful to break down the bigger topic of IoT into four parts.


Let’s start with what for many are the two most familiar pieces of the jigsaw.

Business applications

There’s no point instrumenting “things” if we can’t make use of that data, right? When organisations embark on IoT initiatives they have a particular business application in mind -- for example proactive maintenance to reduce asset downtime and operational costs, or a new connected product concept.

Typically the business applications have no notion of sensors, devices, and deal purely with the business processes that they support. We need to start our thinking here because this is where we frame and answer the toughest question of all for the potential IoT initiative: so what?


Edge of network

The next piece that most people recognise most clearly about the IoT topic is, well, the things themselves. We refer to the concerns of the deployed things (e.g. where the product is installed, where your machinery is deployed and so on) as being at the edge of network, since conceptually they extend the reach of your corporate systems beyond traditional limits of your corporate IT infrastructure.

The edge of network does not just concern the sensors and related hardware in functional terms, but also aspects such as service management over the lifecycle of the hardware, environmental factors and physical as well as technology security.

But, I hear you ask, that’s still a pretty big leap between business processes and complex electronics? 

You’re right, it is, which is why we need two further building blocks to sit in between them.


IoT platform

The capability that provides the linkage between the sensors and hardware at the edge of network and the core IT systems and infrastructure is what we refer to as the IoT Platform

The role of the IoT Platform is to translate the typically more primitive data content, structure and format that is native to the edge of network and prepare it into an enterprise-ready form for integration with business apps and systems.

The IoT Platform typically provides the centralised device management mechanisms to support the lifecycle of devices and hardware deployed in the field, such as provisioning, inventory, and monitoring.


IoT engagement engine

The IoT Platform is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t deal with the business context that the flow of data from the edge of network belongs to, and therefore means that we need another piece of the jigsaw to bridge that gap.

The IoT engagement engine takes the stream of data proffered by the IoT Platform, and combines it with contextual data, for example the service history of an appliance, to identify when a significant business situation has occurred, and tell the business apps to do something about it, such as raise a case in your customer service application

In this sense, the engagement engine is the final link between the IoT data and the business process described in the business apps. Importantly, the engagement engine marks the shift in emphasis from IT to the business process and so demands a different set of tools, so we don’t either have to teach our business people to code, or otherwise spend a long time in projects coding and recoding as we learn and the business evolves.

We thought this element was so important that we created Salesforce IoT to do this job and help our customers take advantage quickly.



Take a look at the video and you’ll see how Ted’s solar panel company used this approach to synthesise events from solar panels to improve their customer’s experience by taking proactive action before the customer even realised they had occurred.


Putting the pieces together

So now when we’re working out the scope of our IoT initiatives, we can begin to decompose our IoT dreams into progressively more tangible elements. 

Sounds good, but what to do now? I recommend you start by asking yourself some questions focused on each building block.

  1. Business applications: what aspect of my business do we most seek to transform and why? 
  2. IoT engagement engine: what are the most valuable moments of truth for a given product or asset, and what events would indicate when one is likely to happen? 
  3. Edge of network: what existing instrumentation could I feasibly exploit or add to the products and assets that would act as a source of events?
  4. IoT platform: what is the most practical way to connect to and manage the products and assets once they are deployed?