Strategic CIO // Digital Business
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11/20/2013
09:42 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Salesforce.com Is Dreaming About The Internet Of Things

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff needs to help companies figure out how to make money off connected devices and people.

Marc Benioff

Here's how Marc Benioff envisions his future dentist visits: His WiFi-connected, GPS-enabled Philips Sonicare toothbrush gathers usage data, so that Benioff's dentist is armed with hard facts about his oral hygiene habits before he arrives. Dentist and patient examine and discuss the data together.

Here's how my last dentist office visit went: You haven't had a cavity in awhile, Chris, so the dentist is only going to see you once a year from now on. You can still come in for cleanings every six months. Here's a free toothbrush with our logo.

Internet of Things dream, meet Internet of Things reality.

Benioff laid out his dental care fantasy at the kickoff of Dreamforce, Salesforce.com's annual marketing extravaganza. The CEO's main point is an essential one: Every company needs to be thinking about the Internet of Things. The ability to connect myriad devices, appliances, machines, and other "things" to wireless networks, and for people to be almost-constantly connected to things or companies via smartphones or tablets, provides a huge new opportunity for businesses to connect with customers.

Salesforce sees that those connections also will cause problems for companies. If you can see that my toothbrush stopped working, why aren't you sending a technician, or at least instructions for me to fix it? And so Salesforce is pitching its customer data, customer service, and marketing software to manage those kinds of problems. Benioff calls this opportunity the "Internet of customers" (piling on to Cisco's "Internet of everything" and GE's "industrial Internet" lingo.)

Benioff estimates that two-thirds of companies aren't ready for the connected, mobile, and social business environment. "The problem is this: Most companies don't understand their customers," he said.

Understanding customers isn't enough, though. Benioff's sales pitch is that "behind every [connected] device there's a customer." But behind every customer there's a business model, and a lot of companies don't see how they can wring cash flow out of an Internet of Things initiative.

Take my dentist office, where they're clearly trying to spend less time on me, a low-profit customer. How would my tooth-brushing data make the office more money? Perhaps at some point such data becomes table stakes for keeping customers, or maybe it's a way to attract a premium clientele. But for now, data analysis probably looks a lot like extra cost with no added revenue to my dentist.

The Internet of Things is not a hard concept for IT leaders to grasp -- it's just a really big network. Where they need help from vendors such as Salesforce is with the ROI. GE CEO Jeff Immelt is now wrapping an ROI-focused message around its industrial Internet vision: "no unplanned downtime." Put more sensors on your GE-manufactured machine, track performance data, and fix the machine before it breaks.

Salesforce went off track at Dreamforce last year by centering it on social networking, encouraging companies to become "social enterprises." I'm not the only one who didn't get how or why a company should become a social enterprise, even if you think Facebook and Twitter are darned important. Salesforce has scrapped that message in favor of its strong "customer company" focus.

By tying the Internet of Things to customers, Salesforce has picked the right target. But companies don't need help envisioning what's possible with the Internet of Things; they need help figuring out how to make it profitable for them.

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 9:51:53 AM
IoT STandards?
One interesting angle is data ownership. Who owns the data on your tooth-brushing habits, you or the dentist? If that dentist practice invests in the network, storage and analytics assets to collect and make use of that data, it's going to want to monetize it -- maybe in a way that the patient doesn't like or that may run afoul of HIPAA or privacy laws.

Yet another example of technology getting ahead of legislation and norms of behavior.

 
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2013 | 11:17:47 AM
Re: IoT STandards?
This is my concern with a lot of data gathering practices, though perhaps you could give discounts with those that willingly allow their data to be used to sell them products further down the road? That way at least they get some benefit from their data being used too. 
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 9:59:02 AM
Dentist Visit
Perhaps if Chris's dentist could use the data gathered from the patient's toothbrush to turn the patient's next visit from a 20-minute session to a 10-minute session -- for the same fee -- there's a business case there for collecting that data. But what's in it for the patient? More precise care? The ability for the dentist to intervene early with preventative measures (in which case the dentist is probably sacrificing future profits)? It's an interesting case example.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 11:45:03 AM
Re: Dentist Visit
You're right, it's about incentives and "what's in it for me." Efficiency sounds like a tough sell. Maybe my toothbrush needs a camera now, too, so the office can know how grimy my teeth have gotten and allow more or less time for the hygienist based on that!
William Terdoslavich
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William Terdoslavich,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2013 | 12:42:46 PM
Re: Dentist Visit
The IoT must be limited to industry and commerce. Pushing it into the personal realm risks having an outsourced surveillance state, where corporations penalize you for small life choices. Too busy to brush your teeth last night? Dental insurance up 50 percent. Ate a cheeseburger instead of a salad for lunch? Health insurance up 50 percent. Welcome to the Brave New World. 
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2013 | 12:43:58 PM
Re: Dentist Visit
@Chris you're kidding, I know, but something like that is possible. The last time I had a cleaning, the hygenist wore some kind of magnifier to get a better view. I suggest that it would be possible to make them into cameras that would show the teeth on a monitor. My dentist agreed it's possible but said most people don't want to see their own teeth that way.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 12:50:54 PM
Re: Dentist Visit
You raise a key element with this Internet of customers concept -- do I really want to do that, even if I can? Healthcare is a great example, because most of us who aren't health nuts don't want to think about our well being all the time. Mr. Benioff suggested in his keynote that he's a very diligent toothbrusher, so he might love a tooth camera. Most of us think of teeth the same way we think about our blood pressure and our retirement savings -- things we want to ignore and just hope they work out OK.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
11/20/2013 | 1:01:25 PM
Re: Dentist Visit
@chris some people are even that way about their checking accounts, and that's how they end up bouncing checks. Some things you can get away with ignoring, but some things you really do need to know about. For some that could include blood pressure. But for the average person it may not be necessary.
Shepy
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Shepy,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/21/2013 | 9:06:46 AM
who knows...
"Take my dentist office, where they're clearly trying to spend less time on me, a low-profit customer. How would my tooth-brushing data make the office more money?"

That's what data analysis is for though, sometimes the most seemingly insignificant of information can generate a correlation that can be levered to raise income.
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