Last month, Hive — a smart thermostat made by British Gas — went off script and raised the temperature in the houses of some users to close to 90 degrees.

The reason, the company later revealed in a statement, was a certain sequence of commands in the Hive iOS app that could cause the thermostat temperature to rise to 89.6°F (32°C). The utility said it was working on a software update, which should be available soon.

The incident, though, didn’t faze British Gas, which is now launching a far more ambitious offering called Boiler IQ — a monitoring system for a home boiler, or heating system as it is called on this side of the Atlantic. It can identify mechanical issues the system may be having and alert engineers of the problem before a hazardous situation develops.

A Brave, Still Emerging World

So, welcome to the brave new world of field service fueled by the Internet of Things (IoT). Now if only one could stop worrying about the implications of last month’s temperature glitch.

It is this environment — one that is still emerging, still making mistakes but advancing in surprising leaps — in which San Francisco-based Salesforce is debuting Field Service Lightning, a field service platform for connected devices offered under its Service Cloud.

Salesforce, of course, has released numerous field service offerings over the years. This, however, is the first that has been built in the expectation that IoT will be a reality in field service operations in the near future.

And indeed, the entirely separate Boiler IQ offering made its own debut around the same time as Field Service Lightning.

The analogy is particularly apt, because Salesforce is well aware that IoT as a back end for field service is still very immature. Glitches can and do happen, in other words. Also, not every manufacturer is far enough along to offer the end-to-end scenario that Boiler IQ provides.

How It Was Built

Fortunately Field Service Lightning can accommodate companies in various stages of production.

It is built on Service Cloud and leverages some features from Burlington, Mass.-based ClickSoftware, a Salesforce partner that specializes in scheduling and optimization, as well as the IoT cloud.

At its best, Field Service Lightning can provide a platform on which customers’ products — such as a heater — the call center operations, the dispatchers, and employees in the field are all aligned on the same account and working on the same problem. This is, of course, assuming the company has made the necessary investments in IoT sensors and other hardware. 

It doesn’t matter which manufacturer is used — the open source platform can support all of them via APIs.

Learning Opportunities

More than likely, though, customers will see an abbreviated version of that ideal scenario first,  via the field service rep who comes out to service the appliance.

It would probably go something like this: a customer realizes something is wrong with her refrigerator and contacts the manufacturer, who is able to see exactly what model number the customer has and, based on the sensor activity, is able to make a good guess as to what the problem is. Then, the field service rep is dispatched with (hopefully) the right part and tools.

Field Service Wasn’t Always Pretty

Don’t knock this less-than-perfect version though. It took a long while for field service to even get itself integrated into CRM, Bobby Amezaga, senior director of Product Marketing at Salesforce’s Service Cloud told CMSWire.

“Field service was originally developed for industrial use,” he said. “It didn’t have end users in mind at all.”

That has changed in recent years, with field service operations now an expected part of CRM. But that history of dragging on innovation apparently has not been completely vanquished. 

Simply put, outside of outliers like British Gas and its BoilerIQ, most manufacturers are not ready to deliver on ideal IoT-fueled field service scenario -- that is, a machine malfunctions and its communicates the issue to the contact center, which then communicates with a dispatcher who is able to send out a rep with the correct part for that device.

Manufacturers Tell Salesforce: Be Ready

Certainly Salesforce hasn’t seen that yet, Amezaga said. But what it has seen, or rather heard, are requests from these manufacturers to get the Salesforce platform ready for these scenarios — because they are coming.

“Our customers have been asking for this capability because they are working on it and want to know their partners are ready to support them,” Amezaga said. “They are working to connect everything to deliver a low-effort engaging experience,” he said.