Last week’s Dreamforce conference brought together two former software industry adversaries to offer a new set of cloud-based services that promise to enable businesses and other institutions to capitalize on the flood of new data expected to be produced by the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT has captured the imagination of executives and end users alike who are intrigued by the strategic and tactical benefits of connecting nearly everything to better understand how products and services are utilized and behave so they can be better designed, managed and maintained. This unprecedented insight can improve customer satisfaction, open new market opportunities and give smart organizations a competitive advantage.
Connecting “things” with a myriad of commodity-priced sensors is becoming easy. And capturing the information being generated by the various products and services has become economically feasible with the nearly endless capacity now available from leading cloud service providers. However, converting the data into actionable insights is the big barrier to success in IoT deployments.
Salesforce.com has been promoting the idea of the “Internet of the Customer” for a couple of years. It employed its unparalleled aspirational marketing skills to paint a picture of a better world for the people (customers) who sit behind the things, if the companies that serve them tap the data to build better products and deliver better services.
Of course, Salesforce is also suggesting that the various forms of its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) customer relationship management (CRM) solution should be the system of record for the new layer of thing-generated data. If it wins this argument, it can exponentially expand its addressable market and continue to grow its already burgeoning revenues.
Microsoft has also been promoting the virtues of a more mobile and connected world that requires greater collaboration and productivity software tools along with greater database systems and information services. The company’s incredible turnaround has been driven by its new CEO’s passion for innovation, which nearly equals Marc Benioff’s motivational skills. The amazing success of Office 365 and Azure has also quickly enabled Microsoft to become a leading cloud services provider.
Salesforce used Dreamforce to unveil a new IoT Cloud powered by a purpose-built platform called “Thunder.” It is designed to handle massive data workloads and process billions of alerts that can trigger a variety of business processes. Salesforce claims the rules-based processing engine will be able to convert data prompts from various endpoints into automated service, sales and marketing actions that can reduce response times, improve customer intimacy and create new revenue opportunities.
Salesforce is betting on its user-friendly application development toolkit, the Lightning platform, to enable “citizen developers” to create the rules that will govern the IoT business processes. Encouraging more people to develop IoT apps within organizations, in addition to third-party ISVs targeting IoT market opportunities, could also be another big moneymaker for Salesforce.
Microsoft’s milestone appearance at Dreamforce was a far more upbeat recreation of the legendary presence of Bill Gates at the Apple Macworld event in 1997. Marc Benioff welcomed Satya Nadella as a refreshing new leader, touted Microsoft Azure as a key component of the IoT Cloud. Both CEOs boasted about how the new interoperability between Office 365 and Salesforce can improve business productivity and collaboration.
Although the companies’ new IoT offerings are not expected to be delivered until 2016 and adoption could be slow, Salesforce’s decision to establish the IoT Cloud and establish a strategic alliance with Microsoft clearly shows the long-term significance of this emerging market to both players. Their healthy coopetition can also help to make the IoT promise a reality.
Because no one player can deliver all the piece-parts required to deploy an end-to-end IoT network, it is essential to build a broad partner ecosystem. Salesforce ARM, Etherios, Informatica, PTC ThingWorx and Xively LogMeIn charter members of its IoT ecosystem, and a steady stream of additional systems integrators and ISVs can be expected to jump on board.
Salesforce also launched a new Health Cloud as a part of its efforts to deliver a greater number of industry-specific solutions. The healthcare industry could be a major beneficiary of new IoT initiatives. So, you can expect Salesforce’s IoT and Health clouds to complement one another.
Of course, Salesforce isn’t alone in promoting the business implications of IoT and asserting itself as an industry leader. GE is a major Salesforce customer that could also become a potential competitor with its own Predix Cloud and partner ecosystem focused on the unique challenges and opportunities in the “Industrial Internet.”
All of these IoT initiatives will make it easier for enterprises across every industry to better understand the business implications of connected products, services and customers.
Salesforce has spent a lot of time and money trying to convince its customers and partners that it has the best platform to make the connected world a reality. The truth is that it continues to repackage and price its core offerings into a confusing and costly assortment of platforms and solutions that could backfire in the long run. It is no wonder that the biggest exhibitors at Dreamforce tend to be the systems integrators, and Accenture just acquired Cloud Sherpas to keep pace with escalating demand for its consulting services.
However, all the positive energy generated by 150,000 attendees at Dreamforce clearly shows that Salesforce is offering the right vision and delivering the right solutions for today’s business needs.
Jeffrey Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies, founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace and host of the Connected Cloud Summit executive forum series. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.