Salesforce made a huge announcement tonight, just ahead of Dreamforce. Its new Salesforce 1 platform will support Internet of Things connected device apps. That's really big.Most coverage of the news so far isn't focused on the IoT part of the announcement, probably because the idea of a web-connected consumer package good or piece of heavy machinery is hard to imagine in reality, but based on my previous reporting on IoT and using data from Little Bird to catch up quickly on the state of the art, I'll put what I think is going to be the biggest news of Dreamforce in context below.
Conclusion: If Salesforce can move the needle towards popularizing connected devices and integrating them into the larger sales and marketing suite, would it be too bold to say that such a move could change the world even more than the move to cloud computing has? The potential impact here certainly seems comparable. Moving computing into the cloud vs the instrumentation of the physical world? Once you can connect your connected devices to your CRM, you're going to connect a lot more devices to the web.
Salesforce lifted the press embargo tonight on a major announcement it will make at the massive Dreamforce conference this week: the new Salesforce 1 platform will combine all the CRM giant's existing offerings with technology that can tie into what's called The Internet of Things. Connected devices and sensors that send data about what an object is doing in the real world back to a server in the cloud - like a Salesforce server. Or a device tracking company's servers that sync that data with sales tracking technology on Salesforce. This could be really, really big. Marc Benioff will say a lot more on stage, I'm sure.
Al Falcione, head of corporate messaging at Salesforce was quoted by Larry Dignan saying, "Salesforce 1 is the way of connecting things in a flexible way to transform sales, service and marketing." Don't let the sometimes underwhelming word things in that sentence underwhelm you. Falcione doesn't mean "some stuff" he means, a huge amount of real-world, previously off-line physical objects! Like heavy machinery from Caterpillar and MRI machines from medical tech companies.
I’m not a journalist anymore so I didn’t get briefed on this, but I used to write about the Internet of Things a lot. I’m going to Dreamforce and I find all of this absolutely fascinating. I've spent my career thinking about how data can yield insight and this sure smells like an incredibly powerful move by Salesforce.
Here's how I understand it could work.
Right now Salesforce tracks relationships one-to-one with individuals and with companies made up of individuals. Imagine the company creating a platform for 3rd party app providers to build plug-ins where instead of a phone call or email exchange you had with a sales prospect being tracked, you were able to record (automatically) things all the way down to how much cereal was left in a consumer's cereal box.
As I posted on Alex Williams' coverage on TechCrunch:
Mobile analyst Chetan Sharma and I talked about connected cereal boxes a couple of years ago and that vision seems perfect for what Salesforce is doing as a platform. "P&G ships 40 trillion some objects per year, imagine them all connected," he said in an interview we did at CTIA.
What do you do with a connected cereal box?
"With a cereal box? You'll communicate about health related issues, add social elements, easy ordering. A brand can build a direct relationship with the consumer without relying on retail stores. Look at the aftermarket, 30% of the diapers ordered are now ordered online. There's no reason why that can't happen on other objects. I think the chance for the brand to interact with consumers directly is huge."
The granularity may be a mismatch there, but it may not be. In Salesforce's own slides the company shows a backhoe as an example of a connected product that could tie into Salesforce1. Also in 2011, I wrote about a company called Axeda that powers M2M (machine) connectivity like this:
Axeda works primarily with B2B companies, traditionally in the form of asset management. One company that provides high-end industrial equipment for cutting fabric, outside the price range of many small firms in the clothing and apparel industry, has begun using Axeda's technology to embed a "pay as you go" model. A sensor takes data off the equipment, sends it to the equipment provider via cellular connection and then sends a monthly bill charging for the amount of use the machine saw.
Likewise, there are places around the world, Zujewski says, where fabric cutting machines get used in excessively high heat and humidity. The machines keep breaking and it's expensive to repair them under warranty - so machine manufacturers find it quite valuable to be able to monitor that the conditions their equipment is being used in are compliant with the terms of those warranties. All it takes is a USB port. It's too bad they can't monitor the working conditions of the factory wetware the same way. There may be eternal judgement for that, though.
Where Does Little Bird Come Into Play?
Our influencer and expert discovery and engagement technology here at Little Bird isn't directly related to Salesforce, the Internet of Things, or cereal boxes that spy on you. What we do is map out communities of influence and expertise for our customers (like Matt Heinz did with Little Bird for Dreamforce) and we do make a very nice report and set of engagement tools on the IoT, for one thing.
Someday, we might just tell our customers where interest and influence and expertise intersect with the tidal waves of customer and device data they are tracking in their CRM. Someday, maybe.
IoT specialists know that the debate over privacy and connected devices is likely to be big (they're talking about this article tonight, for example) and I expect that Salesforce making a big entry into the space will be a key milestone in the growth of that debate.
I'll be watching my Little Bird report on IoT's Share and Engage hot content page tomorrow (screenshot) to see what the Internet of Things influencers are saying about Salesforce - if you're a Little Bird customer you can run a report on IoT and do the same. I'll probably spin up reports on M2M, sales tech and privacy as well. If you're at Dreamforce, we'll be happy to show you any of those.
This is Going to Be Big
As Alex Williams said tonight, "It’s a big promise, especially considering that most companies are still finding their way with how to use mobile apps and services for marketing and sales." (See also Larry Dignan's post for more details.) I agree with Alex and think that exploration for finding out how to integrate all of this together is going to be incredibly exciting.
If Salesforce can move the needle towards popularizing connected devices and integrating them into the larger sales and marketing suite, would it be too bold to say that could change the world even more than the move to cloud computing has? At some point there's no sense comparing, but the potential impact here certainly seems comparable. Moving computing into the cloud vs the instrumentation of the physical world? What have you got to match that, Google Self-Driving Cars?