Much has been said about how enormous the Internet of Things (IoT) may become in the coming years. For example, IDC predicts that the IoT market will exceed some $7 trillion globally by 2020, and Cisco forecasts that 50 billion devices will soon be connected to the Web.
Whether projections like these become a reality or not, a very real opportunity exists today for companies of all sizes. Heroku CTO Morten Bagai says, “The potential to fundamentally alter both the way a consumer experiences a product and how we do core business functions, such as sales, service, and marketing, is absolutely there.”
IoT for everyone
The concept of IoT is not a recent one. An earlier iteration, machine to machine (M2M), has existed for several decades. It mostly involved very expensive consulting-firm projects around monitoring pipeline equipment or oil platforms. And those projects required data processing and embedded device capabilities that weren’t broadly available.
Now the technology has evolved so it’s possible to participate in IoT without tens of millions of dollars in project budgets. “Companies like Salesforce.com and Heroku are delivering those technologies in a consumable away. You can get an infrastructure up and running fairly easily that connects devices and receives data,” says Bagai.
One IoT business use case is for customer service, where the benefits are very straightforward. “Receiving telemetry data from devices allows us to predict when they are going to fail,” says Bagai. This means a manufacturer can know when a washing machine will break, and dispatch a technician in advance for repairs.
Another use case centers around engagement. Connected devices help shape the customer experience with a product or brand. Marketing can then leverage that information to structure its outreach to an individual “in a way that respects their personal preferences and doesn’t feel intrusive,” says Bagai.
Where to begin
IoT technology can be incorporated across a broad definition of devices. “A connected device isn’t only one that has a powerful microprocessor and a constant connection to the Internet. We also think about things like radio-frequency identification (RFID), which can be placed on an object such as a window, and indoor positioning systems (IPS), often used in retail,” says Bagai.
He recommends starting with desired business outcomes, and then working backward to the technology and product decisions. For an existing product, it can be time-consuming to figure out which data to collect and how exactly to collect it. If a device is being developed from the ground up, it’s much simpler to rethink its form factor and user interface.
Scaling and storage
When talking with companies about new IoT projects, Bagai says the topics of scalability and data storage surface over and over again. “Scale is something that is at the very core of the Heroku platform. We’ve made it easy for developers to elastically extend their Web applications to deal with rapidly growing incoming data streams,” he says.
His advice on data storage is to recognize that, although only a fraction of the data that connected devices collect may be valuable at the moment, it’s early days for IoT. “Whatever we build and deliver now is going to look very different in a few years,” Bagai says. “And the one thing we’re going to want in order to evolve the software is access to all of the historical data. Don’t throw it away.”
Laura Fagan is a brand journalist with Salesforce.com.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.