Bring the Internet of Things to Service and Support
The Internet of Things promises to make everything that everyone owns Internet enabled. But many of the reasons for doing so -- such as collecting data on customers or marketing to customers when they are doing most anything -- are kind of creepy. Who wants every interaction with everyday items tracked by faceless companies? That’s what scientists do with the animals they study.

But one area shows potential for making the Internet of Things work for the customer: service and support

Some devices should never be Internet enabled. The idea of an Internet enabled toilet -- and yes, such a thing has been demonstrated -- is truly horrifying. The same is true for marketing and selling through common products. Where will humanity be able to get a few minutes of peace from the relentless shrill cry of the advertisers and salespeople if everything that a person can possibly own is connected with a salesperson through the Internet?

The Potential for Service and Support

Service and support is one area that shows promise for the Internet of Things and is less encumbered by overt ethical problems. Sure, it’s possible that an embedded service object could be created to do something disturbing such as transmitting information back to the mothership to feed the marketing machine. The difference is that the basic purpose is inherently beneficial.

A company’s service and support may be lousy but it takes an act of will to make it intrusive or evil. The motive is different than sales or marketing. Service professionals try to help people and maintain relationships because it makes long term sense. Sales and marketing are about generating revenue now or soon. They are more directly connected to the money than service and support.

This is why people are happy to see the service professional or hear from support. The consumer has a problem and service and support people might just fix it. Anything that can make the problem go away is welcome. Making that assistance more efficient, effective and available where the problem originates from makes people happy. Everyone wants help, but when that help comes to them rather than having to be asked for, it’s even better.

A Glimpse of the Future of Service

Internet enabled embedded service objects will deliver just that in the following ways:

  • They will make service and support available right from the product. No more looking for a phone number or email address. The product (and hence company that makes it) helps to initiate the service request and doesn’t have to wait for the owner to go looking for some way to contact the service center. This is currently a feature of the new Kindle Fire HDX tablet.
  • Embedded service capabilities will gather information critical to the problem and send them directly to the people who can fix the problem. Wouldn’t it be great if, when a car gets an engine light, the trouble code plus relevant information could be sent directly to a service center for evaluation? The service center would know just how serious it is without the owner having to bring it in and have an auto technician connect it to a computer just to get the same information at the shop. Remote access of diagnostic information will make for more effective service. Ford Motor Company is working toward this with open diagnostic protocols and their latest Sync software.
  • Service will become more proactive. Products will soon be opening up service tickets for problems that the owner doesn’t yet realize exist or is ignoring because they don’t realize the nature of the problem. Who wouldn’t want to get a call from a service technician telling you that that funny noise the washing machine is making will soon turn into a major problem that can be averted? No one would mind that type of money saving intervention.
  • The cost of service will go down for everyone. With better information gathering, fewer onsite service calls -- whether a service technician visiting the customer or the customer coming to the service center -- and the ability to fix problems before they become acute, consumers and companies will save on service related costs and yet have a better experience.

In many ways, none of this is all that new. Computer systems, especially enterprise grade ones, have had remote diagnostics and “phone home” capabilities for years. Even high-end copying machines can order up a service call when a unit starts to have problems or for scheduled maintenance.

Learning Opportunities

The difference is that, until recently, only select products such as computers did this. As hardware and power requirements have shrunk and wireless networking moved toward ubiquity, this type of service is now a possibility for every product that needs service including common, mass produced, consumer products.

It is not all rainbows and unicorns though. Misuse of the embedded service software and constantly connect products can lead to some seriously unethical situations such as service calls for problems that don’t really exist. Everything has potential for intentional abuse. Consumers will need to be vigilant. The benefits, however, are worthy of the risks.

Better service at lower costs for everyone is one of the best promises of the Internet of Things.

Title image by Andrew Baron (Flickr) through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Editor's Note: Read what Tom had to say about 2013 in: 2013: The Year of Mass Cloud Computing Extinctions