The so-called Internet of Things? Fugetaboutit ... at least for a while. The Internet of Things refers to a world where everyday physical objects are connected to the Internet and are able to identify themselves to other devices.
According to new research from Forrester, the concept is well developed, but the reality is three to five years away. But the delay is a good thing: it gives marketers a chance to optimize the Internet of Things for customer engagement.
A Connected World
In the absence of any definite model defining the Internet of Things, the Forrester report, There is No internet Of Things — Yet, offers good points for further discussion. In it, author Sarah Rotman Epps argues that the Internet of Things is still in its infancy. She's not trying to be controversial here; she's simply stating that the technology to morph the concept to reality is not yet available.
She argues that many of the devices that will eventually make up the Internet of Things are still emerging and creating siloed data in the enterprise. Consequently, it will take up to five years to unify all these silos for seamless information access and use.
The same argument could be made about many areas of IT, particularly around information management. But let’s step back a minute. What exactly is Epps talking about when she talks about the Internet of Things? Simply put, she is talking about an Internet that promises to connect all ordinary objects to Internet services using sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects — from roadways to pacemakers.
Those sensors and actuators will be interconnected across the internet, which requires the integration of data and services with the back-end systems of numerous applications. In theory, the Internet of Things will pull together records systems with systems of engagement, enabling users to make better informed, real-time decisions.
And who are the defining influencers here? Marketers. With the insights offered by enterprise applications like customer relationship management (CRM) or customer experience management (CEM) software, marketers can identify the touchpoints between all those interconnected objects. Then they should enable IT departments to locate the right partners to develop those connections.
This not the first time we have come across a definition like this. And it is clear that as the Internet of Things develops, one of its principal objectives will be the development of customer engagement strategies to record levels.
In a look at the subject earlier this year, Sanjay Poonen, head of the mobile division at SAP — which, along with IBM, is really championing the concept — summarized it as follows:
M2M technology is primarily being used to collect vast amounts of machine and people-based data. The Internet of Things concept goes one step further by not only integrating machines, people, ERP and CRM systems and other information sources like social media, but also analyzing and making use of all the data. Soon, people will interact with devices that in turn interact with data to deliver personalized products and services directly to the consumer in real time…”
It is an interesting description because it summarizes not only the direction that SAP is heading, but also the kinds of systems that are being dragged into the net and what will ultimately happen with all the data it produces.
There are other, smaller companies working in the space, too, like Libeliu, which provides, a modular, easy to program open source sensor platform to develop Internet of Things. Just last week, along with IBM, it announced the release of an Internet of Things Starter Kit to enable creation dozens of sensor applications ranging from monitoring parking spaces and air pollution to providing assistance for the elderly.
IBM, of course, has been working on this for years through its Smarter Cities initiative, which aims to turn cities into massive hubs of information provided by the people who live in those cities. One of the objectives of the initiative is to improve the interaction between services, products and consumers. Again, this is a well-established program, but still has not reached the critical mass needed for the Internet of Things to become a reality.
Forrester’s Internet of Things
In producing the research, Epps used the findings of Forrester’s North American Technographics Consumer Technology Survey 2013, conducted this past April. The survey questioned 4,656 US adults between the ages of 18 and 88 — a large enough sample, Forrester maintains, to give an overview of what the entire US population things about consumer technologies.
The basic problem with the Internet of Things, the study argues, is that mobile infrastructure still can't support it. The concept itself is not new. Forrester was talking about the Internet of Things back in 2001 when it suggested the idea of an Internet of devices and applications. However, not enough progress has been made in the intervening years to make it possible.
While some verticals, particularly manufacturing and healthcare, are well down the road in developing the Internet of Things, consumer adoption of technologies that will enable its full development is only beginning.
However, that is not to say that consumers are against the idea of allowing devices to transmit information. The problem for consumers is that these devices are not yet commercially available at reasonable prices. From the survey, Forrester found that consumers are open to using reasonably priced data collecting devices to:
- Track daily routines, including sleep patterns, driving habits, pets, children and even plants
- Life improvement advice about health, entertainment, posture (26 percent!) and oral care
- Environmental controls to minimize energy consumption or enhance security
‘Smart’ Technologies Are Fragmented
While there are some signs of development in the "smart" device market, Forrester reports that growth here is minimal, and devices will need to get a lot ‘smarter’ if the Internet of Things is to become a reality. At the moment, "smart" devices:
- Don’t communicate with other devices: Forrester offers the example of three different apps for basketball performance from three different manufacturers that cannot connect with each other. The information from the three apps, therefore, is stored in three separate silos, leaving it impossible for consumers to correlate the two sets of information
- Don’t integrate into larger systems of engagement: Data from sales, customer prospecting, leads, and engagement, for example, are all taken from technologies that manage these different aspects of the sales process and place the data from this into individual silos.
Technology, Common Standards, Marketing
While people working in the marketing space may find the lack of connectivity frustrating, Forrester notes that the development of mobile technologies will spur the growth of the Internet of Things in coming years. If marketers are there at the start, this should result in an Internet of Things that will ease and facilitate the whole marketing process. Marketers in the future should be able to:
- Offer contextualized services: Mobile devices and accessories are coming loaded with sensors that will be more complex and multifunctional themselves. Forrester cites the example of the iPhone 5s and Motorola Moto X, which come with data sensors. These data sensors can translate data into better user experiences. For marketers this also offers the possibility of providing better user experiences.
- Distribute services: Using open APIs, developers and marketers will look to solve the problem of fragmentation. While some vendors have developed APIs to bridge the gap between devices, consumers don’t really understand them, so they are not being adopted by enough consumers to make any difference. However, the problem will be solved as point solutions themselves will expand into platforms via shared APIs.
As more common standards emerge for the Internet of Things, more companies will invest more resources in developing devices that will connect with back-end infrastructure. The sensors will become cheaper as a result. Forrester cites the example of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), which will enable anything to have an IP address, even disposable products such as light bulbs. For marketers, this means more information on more products.
Forrester concludes that if the development of technology is crucial, so too is the role of the marketer. While marketers will not actually design the technologies that emerge, they should be the ones that decide what the customer experience will be like.
While this should, at one level, be relatively easy given the amount of information that is being received from multiple sensors and multiple devices, it will also complicate things by virtue of the data loads that will become available as a result.
While Forrester does not actually deal with this, it is clear that big data, analytics and customer engagement technologies are all need to dovetail here. Whether any of this is manageable is an entirely different question, but with a five year lead time, now is the time to start planning for it.