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Salesforce.com's new Internet of Things (IoT) cloud and its underlying event-processing engine, Thunder, may not make their formal arrival until sometime next year, but that doesn't mean they're not already proving their value.
Both products were announced with much fanfare at the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, along with a launch customer, Microsoft, that also happens to be one of Salesforce's most significant new partners.
Curiously, no one from Microsoft took the stage to describe its use of Thunder and the Salesforce IoT cloud, and the company declined a request to be interviewed for this piece. But Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris, appearing on stage as "Lightning Man" in a nod to the Lightning mobile app-building engine announced at last year's Dreamforce, described how Microsoft is using the new technology to crunch customer data generated by its Office 365 service and captured by its Azure cloud platform.
"If you capture that data, you can apply data science to do really cool things," Harris said.
Although it's curious that Microsoft isn't using its own data analysis tools to do this, analysts suggest it's possible that the company is tightening its ties with Salesforce and, perhaps, stoking the fire in preparation for the availability of the Salesforce IoT cloud and Thunder. Either way, the pilot deployment is providing evidence of what the two technologies bring to the table, especially for existing Salesforce users.
"Many companies have been sitting on huge amounts of data," Jordan Jewell, an IDC research analyst, said via email. "This big data that is generated from IoT assets is merely taking up storage space without providing added intelligence. The Salesforce IoT cloud and customer profiles on Salesforce's various clouds have the ability to turn this big data into smart data."
That's what Hexagon Metrology is counting on. One of three units of Sweden's Hexagon AB, a $4.5 billion-a-year maker of precision-measuring technologies, Hexagon Metrology wasn't mentioned at Dreamforce, but it is preparing to pilot an ambitious program supported by Thunder and the Salesforce IoT cloud, with the hope that it can tap its data to get smarter, too.
The company makes a wide range of industrial measurement equipment, from $40,000 handheld devices that assist with building construction to multi-million-dollar robotic machines used on factory assembly lines. But as cutting edge as its products are, its data practices haven't kept pace.
Until recently, Hexagon Metrology relied on an antiquated approach: It would sell a machine, walk away, and then return a year later to recalibrate it and slap on a sticker, only to walk away again. It hasn't exactly been a recipe for proactive customer service, or, for that matter, efficient operations.
"We've had no idea what's going on until a customer contacts us," said Milan Kocic, the company's business development manager for user experience and innovation. "The problem is that most of these machines are in critical operating environments. Downtime is not an option."
And yet, the company has been collecting data on what goes on in between its customer interactions. It just hasn't been able to do anything with that data, Kocic said. Correcting that would help with everything from customer service to product design.
"People don't necessarily use our products the way we've designed them to be used," said Kocic. "We don't know what they actually do with the machine once we sell it. When it breaks, what other things are happening? We want to connect the dots between usage scenarios and customers."
Along those lines, Hexagon Metrology has developed its own IoT product called Pulse, which combines a physical device tied to sensors on its products with a software-driven dashboard. Once it starts shipping to the company's biggest customers in the coming weeks, Pulse will enable those customers to optimize their use of Hexagon Metrology's equipment based on conditions, such as vibration, that affect performance. It might send out alerts when a product's parameters are being exceeded, or it might enable remote corrections.
But to integrate all that data with its internal systems, the company faced some heavy lifting, like creating a supporting database. Because the data eventually would be routed into the company's existing Salesforce environment, Hexagon Metrology has decided to wait until it completes a deployment of ServiceMax's mobile field service management system. It will then connect ServiceMax to the Salesforce IoT cloud, creating an easy way to share IoT data collected by Pulse with its various internal applications.
Although this setup, once it's up and running, will deliver a variety of benefits, Kocic said it all boils down to the one thing that's been a struggle for Hexagon. "The transformational thing is just being more aware," he said. "We won't have to guess what happened yesterday." And although Kocic said that the ability to deliver predictive services is still far down the line, better awareness will enable Hexagon Metrology to be more proactive in servicing its products.
And that will enable the company to meet the rising expectations of customers in the IoT era, expectations that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff alluded to during his Dreamforce keynote.
"When I'm using my camera or I'm using my car or I'm using anything on the IoT, of course I expect a one-to-one, high-fidelity relationship," Benioff said. "I expect that everyone knows what I'm doing and how they can support me whenever I need that help. That's a big shift from just a few years ago."
Naturally, Benioff wants Salesforce to be the platform on which companies make this one-to-one, high fidelity relationship happen. And although Hexagon Metrology has made that choice, the market reception for Thunder and the Salesforce IoT cloud is far from a sure thing.
"What Salesforce is doing is offering a tool for its customers to do this with the same platform that they use for business systems," said Frank Scavo, president of management consulting firm Strativa and its sister research and advisory arm, Computer Economics Inc. "Time will tell whether customers really want to do that, or whether custom systems they have been using in the past will continue to be the preferred choice."
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