What is the Internet of Things?
All across the globe, people are connecting to the Internet to access information, communicate with other people, and do business. But it's not just people that are using the Internet: objects use it too. Machine-to-machine communication is widely used in the manufacturing and energy sectors to track machinery operations, report faults and raise service alerts.
Increasingly, everyday objects are also using the Internet to connect to the cloud forming an 'Internet of Things'. It's estimated that 1.9bn devices are already connected to this Internet of Things (source: BI Intelligence.)
Some of the most prominent Internet of Things sensors or devices in the consumer sphere so far have been activity and fitness monitors like the Nike FuelBand and Fitbit, the Google Glass wearable computer and Hive connected heating systems from British Gas.
Sports equipment manufacturer ASICS used EoS 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's forecast that, by 2020, it could include between 30 billion and 75 billion things ranging from smartbands, toys and photoframes to medical devices, earthquake sensors and aeroplanes.
What uses does it have?
The potential uses are almost unlimited, but here's an example: by taking advantage of the Internet of Things, your products can carry out maintenance reporting and diagnostics on themselves.
From computer hard drives to cars and aircraft, devices with Internet of Things capability can sense when components are exhibiting faults or when they near their expected end of life - and can report this information back to you, directly into your CRM system.
Instead of waiting for a device to just stop working, smart products can identify faults, communicate them to technical support and initiate actions to resolve them - from ordering replacement parts to requesting a completely new device.
All this can happen before your customer is even aware of the issue.
Why is everyone talking about the Internet of Things?
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 exploit it. 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, this represents an opportunity to increase global corporate profits by about 21 percent.
What's fuelling its growth?
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 1bn smartphones were sold around the world in 2013 alone, according to Gartner.
This has led to the explosion in the use of the cloud and cloud applications such as CRM and email which can be accessed anywhere, using these Internet-enabled mobile devices. Business people can now access the business applications they need 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 such as EoS1 ensure that information from the Internet of Things can flow straight in to CRM and other software systems where its value can be exploited to the full - and accessed from anywhere, on a computer, smartphone or other mobile device.
What does the Internet of Things mean for your business?
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. Information such as:
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.
DIRECT LINE TO INFORMATION
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 such as 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.
Creating Social Machines
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 App Cloud, 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.
The Internet of Things presents tremendous opportunities - but only to companies that are ready for it. That's because while it can be a rich source of information, getting access to information in itself achieves very little.
What's needed is a way of managing and distributing this information to those that need it so that data can be turned into action fast.
That's why you need a platform, such as EoS1, with flexible APIs that enable you to receive information from the things connected to it, wherever they are, and trigger events based on that information perhaps contacting a customer, creating a marketing message or triggering despatch of replacement parts.
With the right platform in place, your relationship with your product doesn't end at the point of sale. Instead it continues to provide you with data helping you to serve your customers better.