Increasingly, everyday objects are also using the internet to connect to the cloud, forming what has become known as the “Internet of Things” or "IoT". The Internet of Things is a network of everyday objects or machines that can communicate to each other, collect data and transmit it via the internet.

From the Fitbits on our wrists and the wifi in our cars to home-monitoring systems like Nest and Hive-connected heating systems from British Gas, it's estimated that 6.4 billion devices are already connected, greatly outnumbering the 2015 estimate of 3.2 users online.

But these devices aren’t limited to home comforts in the consumer sphere. Machine-to-machine communication is also widely used in the manufacturing and energy sectors to track machinery operations, report faults and raise service alerts.

For example, sports equipment manufacturer ASICS used Salesforce to develop its Support Your Marathoner website, delivering messages of support to a trackside screen when a unique tag was detected on the athlete’s shoe.

The Internet of Things is growing rapidly, and it has been forecast that by 2020 it could include between 30 billion and 75 billion things ranging from smartbands, toys and photo frames to medical devices, earthquake sensors and aeroplanes.

See how the GEnX jet engine, flying on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, generates its own service newsfeeds – cutting maintenance times, shortening aircraft turnaround times and boosting performance over time.

From computer hard drives to cars and aircrafts, devices with Internet of Things capability can sense when components are exhibiting faults or when they near their expected end of life.

Not only can they report this information back to you via your CRM system, but they can also take action by ordering replacement parts or requesting a completely new device – all before the consumer is even aware of the issue.

They can also communicate important messages.

Technology that utilises the Internet of Things can tell a user their baby’s breathing pattern and heartbeat during nap time, the whereabouts of their lost keys, or if they’ve forgotten to take their medication for the day.

The Internet of Things is set to revolutionise business – and in particular, the relationship between organisations and their customers. That's because it creates a completely new channel of communication.

And like the internet, it will create huge opportunities for companies ready to maximise their potential. Networking giant Cisco predicts that the opportunity represented by the Internet of Things will be worth $14.4 trillion for companies and industries worldwide in the next decade. More specifically, they predict the Internet of Things has the potential to make five to ten times the impact on society than the internet itself.

The simple answer is that everything is now in place for the Internet of Things to work.

The biggest single change in business technology over the last five or so years has been the rise of the smartphone, unchaining internet access from the desktop. Almost 403 million units were sold in the fourth quarter of 2015, a 9.7 percent increase over the same period in 2014.

This has led to the explosion in the use of the cloud and cloud applications like CRM and email which can be accessed anywhere thanks to internet-enabled mobile devices. Business people can now access their company's applications on the go without being restricted to corporate networks and specific geographical locations.

The final piece of the puzzle is social networking technology and the adoption of communication networks and communities as a way of receiving information, collaborating with others and ensuring that the right information flows to the right people.

By publishing and exposing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), platforms like Salesforce Platform ensure that information from the Internet of Things can flow straight into CRM and other software systems where its value can be used to maximum effect. From there, it can be accessed from anywhere— on a computer, smartphone or other mobile device.

Not so long ago, customer relationships were built on the foundations of face-to-face and telephone contact. A long and indirect chain of communication stretched between producer and customer, with retail staff, sales reps, repairs and complaints departments the links between the two.

But the Internet of Things changes all that. Information about customers can be sent automatically to your CRM platform – in real-time.

This information can include:

  • how and where they are using products that have been purchased
  • what they are using them with
  • whether their purchases are working properly

In short, the Internet of Things will enable you to understand your customers in a whole new way, and with a level of detail that until now has simply not been possible.

The most important change is that you can collect and analyse this customer information in real time – without the need for a human intermediary to collect and enter it or the data volume limits that that necessarily entails.

And that means your product design and marketing strategies can be informed by more accurate, more timely data. For example, if a new product isn’t performing as well as you had anticipated you are in a better position to decide how to react.

Making decisions like determining whether your product is fundamentally flawed or your marketing simply needs tweaking are much easier if you have the best possible information to support the decision-making process.

Social media has become a well-established tool for marketing and customer relations. The Internet of Things enables products to generate automated posts, shares and locations, helping to build online communities of users centred on your product – and in turn, allows marketers to gain useful feedback and identify trends.

Toyota has taken a lead in connecting devices to social networks with its Toyota Friend platform. Built using the Salesforce Platform, it enables Toyota’s cars to use social networks to communicate with their owners – for example, sending alerts when key maintenance tasks are due. It also provides a dedicated social networking community for Toyota owners and their cars.

For its part, Toyota gains a closer connection with its customers and deeper insight into the lifecycle of its vehicles.

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