Salesforce joins the Internet of Things world

ARM IOT sensor
A motion sensor IOT board from ARM on show at Computex 2015 in Taipei Credit: Martyn Williams

When it comes to cloud vendors, Salesforce is the cool kid on the block. So to see it deliver a solution targeted at everyone's theme de jour, IoT, makes sense.

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We all know that the Internet of Things is set to change the world. Depending on whose press release you read, the IoT is single-handedly going to deliver world peace, a cure for cancer, eternal youth or a combination of the above. Vendors from A to Z are rushing to deliver something related to the IoT. Salesforce.com, the once CRM vendor and now uber platform deliverer of everything, has, for the past couple of years, been banging on about the Internet of customers. The Internet of customers is meant to relate to the fact that customers are increasingly the powerbrokers that sit in the middle of complicated and connected commercial transactions. It was a theme that kind of made sense, but also jarred against a broader, and far more compelling, IoT theme.

So it is little surprise to see Salesforce firmly grasp the IoT platform, and where else to do so but at its annual extravaganza, DreamForce. (Disclosure: At the time of writing, Salesforce is a consulting client for Diversity Analysis. Salesforce covered my travel and expenses to attend the event.) Salesforce is announcing its new IoT Cloud today at the event.

Rather than move entirely away from a mantra that Salesforce has invested countless hours and dollars in, however, the company suggests that its IoT platform is a way to connect devices to the Internet of customers. Moving on from the marketing spin, what is Salesforce actually offering with this launch? The company rightly points out that there is a disconnect between the mass of data being created by Internet-connected devices and actionable insights from that data. The platform is therefore built to allow organizations to ingest mass data from sensor devices, and then trigger actions (be they in Salesforce solutions or third-party platforms) based on rules determined by the customer.

Don't make the mistake of thinking, however, that Salesforce wants to be a part of the capturing or transmission of data, these more menial tasks are being left to the plethora of existing platforms that exist to handle these tasks. Salesforce is instead focused on the higher-value services: data ingestion, transformation, filtering and prediction, etc. At launch, Salesforce is partnering with a number of vendors that handle the lower-level tasks — companies such as ARM, Etherios, Intel, Xively by LogMeIn and ThingWorx. Salesforce has also been unusually open about the fact that it's leveraging a bunch of open-source technologies to create this offering — Kafka, Spark, Storm and Cassandra are all part of the mix.

Salesforce has had a bunch of companies testing early versions of the platform. Some interesting case studies include:

  • Wanting to go one-up on Next, Emerson climate used the platform to connect thermostats for both commercial and domestic settings. Emerson used the sensor data to generate insights into problem identification, preventative maintenance, proactive alerting, and customer life cycle management.
  • Hexagon-Metrology, a global manufacturing company headquartered in London, used the IoT platform to monitor real-time data feeds from laboratory and production line machinery. They used this data to identify catastrophic event and combined the insights with a real-time manager information system to send notifications of these events directly to the person responsible.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the news that Microsoft (yes, the Microsoft that competes heavily with Salesforce in the CRM world) is using the platform to combine application log files across its Office suite (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneDrive) alongside point of sale, device installation and customer support data in order to get a complete view of the customer. Microsoft is using this data in order to better target their customers across the usage life cycle — acquisition, onboarding and usage, service/support, renewal, and churn management. The use case in there is simple enough, but more interesting is the fact that Microsoft, no slouch when it comes to big data analytics itself, is using Salesforce to do this. I am told that Microsoft is a heavy user of Salesforce's business applications, so having these insights close to the system with which customer interactions are planned and executed makes sense.

Salesforce is often accused of talking up vaporware — introducing products that hardly even exist yet. Given the real-world case studies of how the IoT platform is already being used, it seems that this is one announcement that actually has legs.

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