In my previous post I introduced four building blocks to help decompose IoT into manageable chunks. In this and posts that follow I’m going to dig into each of those building blocks to provide further tips to guide your IoT thinking.


The toughest question of all

Nothing skewers optimism and excitement quicker than two little words:

“So what?”

As with most major new technology trends, many organisations instinctively realise that IoT is going to be significant, and indeed on an individual level are often inspired by cool art of the possible narrative they see at shows and online. The difficulty often comes back at base when trying to reconcile the amazing technology with genuine business problems that need solving.

Unless there is already an obvious candidate, the “so what” effect can have a brutal effect on this hard earned enthusiasm.

Inspiration is a wonderful thing, and we don’t want to lose it. At the same time, the pin-to-a-bubble effect of “so what” doesn’t mean it’s invalid. The best approach is to tackle it head on and early, since it will help provide focus and ultimately drive the business case for our initiatives.


Where to look 

The good news is, for IoT there are some natural areas you can explore, and alternative questions you can pose yourself to make progress towards some answers. IoT typically plays strongly where the rubber hits the road within an organisation in terms of the physical “things” that make our business world go round.

Depending on your industry, it can often be the case that “things” are already instrumented, but either nothing is done with the data or the data is assumed to be of one specific use.


Operational functions

The precise physical nature of the operational aspects of a business will vary greatly depending on what it is you do. Not all businesses deal with physical items in the course of their operations, but for those that do this is very fertile ground for IoT initiatives that seek to improve the efficiency of the business, the availability and quality of products or reduce risk exposure.

In the field of manufacturing, for example, we typically think of machinery on production lines and the movement of physical inventory within supply chains. Similarly, an energy and utilities company deals with remote assets, often in difficult to reach places -- for example valves on a water pipeline.

In certain such industries, there are already well known technologies that deal with instrumentation in some way -- for example Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) has been with us since the 1960s in some form or other. But just because something has been around for a long time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reimagine the possibilities.

Outside of industrial domains, organisations with their own real estate typically have significant operational expenditure on site and facilities, where the notion of smart buildings has started to become more significant in terms of efficient use of space, maintenance and utility consumption.


Product and customer experience

In the front office, digital-to-physical convergence has the potential to directly transform customer experiences. This is achieved through products and services, and through the customer service experience.

Software such as mobile apps to compliment physical products, and software-defined connected products themselves have become increasingly part of the expected norm in many fields, from cars to fitness devices.

For the organisation that has already started developing a connected product, IoT of some form is likely already part of the jigsaw. In this scenario, the focus should be on how to take the connectedness of the product beyond basic connectivity and into transformational experiences, for example increased interactivity or personalisation.

For the organisation yet to start, perhaps with a non-digitised product or service, the question is much more one of pressing on the limitations of the current unconnected variant. 

But customer experience doesn’t begin and end with the product or service itself. In retail, for example, pursuit of a truly omnichannel experience means the physical store has become increasingly integrated with the digital touchpoints with customers. The total customer experience for a provider of product or service now consists of an integration of offerings, any physical purchasing environment and digital channels. In this context, IoT technology becomes a mechanism to bridge the store with mobile apps to deliver a seamless customer experience.


What to ask next

Actually finding an area to focus on is often not the hard part, and still won’t get you past that pesky “so what” point. To do that, we need to ask ourselves some more questions. 

Once again depending on what it is your organisation does, not all of these will apply but here’s some key ones to get you moving.

1. Who are the main beneficiaries?

A variation on our old friend “who are the users?” There is no better way of (re)aligning with what really matters than focusing in on the target users, and the outcomes they are looking to achieve. Depending on where we’re focusing, we might be dealing with a factory manager, a fitness device user, a store associate or most likely a combination of several people. 

By coming at the problem “outside in” we will automatically arrive at the technology we need, indeed we can even qualify whether we really need it. Once we know who, we can place in context the benefits that the technology will really bring.


2. What’s the cost of something breaking? 

In automotive manufacturing, a halted production line can cost literally thousands per minute of down-time, plus the reduction in production capacity that ultimately leads to slower satisfaction of customer needs. Switching to the front office, if I’m using a product and it stops working, how the manufacturer responds to that scenario may mean the difference between my going elsewhere or persevering with them. 


3. What’s the cost of reacting?

Closely related is the question of moving from a reactive to proactive footing. Consider when things do break. There are actually three models available to us.

  • Wait for the item to break (most expensive).
  • Service the item whether it needs it or not (next expensive).
  • Service the item when it looks likely to break soon (least expensive).

The latter option demonstrates the value the IoT can bring nicely -- if we can reliably measure something we can apply intelligence to keep the unit operational whilst minimising wasted effort. 

The cost of reacting can actually be one you don’t realise until you change it. Introducing proactivity to the interaction model of a product can make it greatly more compelling to your customers. Who knows, that might be the thing that topples your competitors.


4. Are we using IoT technology already?

Where there is a legacy of instrumentation, for example in industrial scenarios as we mentioned earlier, often a subset of the data gathered is actually used, and the data that is used is constrained to the thinking of several years ago. The real power of IoT may stem simply from solving the integration problem with an existing system.


The importance of starting

As you’ve probably worked out, there are no easy answers, but at least hopefully you will now have the makings of an approach to navigate to them. 

As a final piece of advice, the importance of making a start cannot be overstated. 

New IoT projects don’t typically start at full scale -- once you have the makings of an idea, work out a viable scope to make a start with a small number of sensors and refine your hypothesis. The great news is, we’ve now made Saleforce IoT Explorer Edition available within the Salesforce Plaform exactly so you can do this today -- check out the Get to Know Salesforce IoT Explorer Edition trail on Trailhead and see how you can get started.