Application Integration: the Key to Successfully Improving Customer Experience with the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is defined by an enriched customer experience and the ability to engage with customers in completely new ways to increase customer loyalty and delight. IoT solutions are becoming more and more compelling as new sensor technologies enable the real-time collection of massive amounts of data and new analytics technologies make it possible to gain insight from all this data.

But another critical technology is required to knit all the “things” together and create useful products and services that deliver on the IoT promise: application integration.

Gartner, which describes IoT as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment,” writes “the Internet of Things will include 26 billion units installed by 2020. IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services, in 2020. It will result in $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.”  

While other analyst firms, as well as universities, enterprises and other organizations are working hard to understand the underlying technologies and implications of IoT, many of us prefer to focus on some of the whiz bang use cases that are predicted to arise, many beginning with “smart”: smart cities, smart refrigerators, etc.

Information managers, however, must understand the relationship between IoT, big data and customer experience. At heart, the goal of most IoT initiatives is to deliver better services, whether it’s the use of wireless sensors in the Digital Oil Field or RFID tags on products in the supermarket. And the mechanism by which services are improved is less about the physical objects than how the data collected from these objects is used.

Most IoT use cases simply won’t work without application integration. Smart refrigerators may integrate information about personal preferences, products, retailers, social media sites and more. Applications in the Digital Oil Field may integrate information related to site location, the geology of the site, the site as a business asset, production values, supply chain information, etc. Let’s consider a use case in more detail.

Residential Proximity Services

Let’s say you’re on your afternoon commute, and when a GPS-driven application on your mobile phone detects you’re five miles from home, it automatically communicates with your house, signaling the thermostat to warm the house to a comfortable temperature and preheating your oven to a preset temperature, so everything is ready for you when you walk in the door.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a major technical challenge. However, accomplishing it requires integrating multiple applications, which is the key to a major advance in customer experience: the ability to automate this proximity service in ways that were unimaginable before. We’ve had timers on our thermostats and ovens for years, but they couldn’t automatically adjust if you were stuck in heavy traffic or decided to go out to dinner. And the more applications that are integrated, the more nuanced the automation can be.

For example, perhaps the solution can track mobile phones for multiple family members and make different decisions based on whose mobile phone is approaching home first. Or perhaps the solution tracks calendar information and changes event status based on the addition of a dinner plan at a local restaurant later that evening, so the thermostat is still turned on, but not the oven.

Big Data and Bigger Data

For organizations trying to understand their IoT potential and the impact their initiatives will have on their customers, it’s critical to recognize that IoT is inextricably bound to big data.

As high-volume, real-time application integration provides greater access to personal and enterprise data, along with social media streams and other public forms of data, organizations will be able to develop a wealth of new insights about their customers, employees, and services. They will better understand what's working and not working, how things are trending, and where new opportunities are. This in turn will lead to enhanced customer service and greater customer success.

At the same time, every user and system action that takes place in an IoT scenario is logged and becomes additional fodder for analysis, once again vastly increasing the amount of data organizations need to store and integrate. Clearly, for any IoT initiative to be successful, companies must have a solid application integration strategy in place that will enable them to adequately scale the number of applications they can support.

Unfortunately, companies that attempt to scale application integration using legacy on premises solutions will face mounting time, complexity and cost challenges. The only way for IT to support the growing number of applications and web services to be integrated -- which must increasingly occur in real or near real time -- is via a single, cloud-based platform where applications can be mapped from any service to any other service, whether it’s a home appliance, a social media stream, a router behind a firewall, or a customer relationship management system. This platform, referred to as “integration platform as a service,” or iPaaS, performs the traditional middleware function, enabling communication among disparate systems and enabling federated access to all the various applications that make up a particular IoT use case.

This is what makes the Internet of Things possible. And the ability to integrate more applications faster is what will drive the expected improvements in customer experience.

From Here to IoT

Most organizations are still trying to get their heads around the potential of IoT to improve their particular products and services and their relationships with their customers. Many are already beginning to make huge investments in data collection, storage and analytics, which is a step in the right direction. The next step is to understand how to effectively integrate all that, and to recognize the cost, time and complexity issues associated with legacy middleware.

In the same way that the cloud has rapidly evolved from a low-cost but risky alternative to on premises computing to a secure, robust platform for rapid scaling and greater business agility, IoT will rapidly evolve from conceptual wizardry to standard and core applications for improving the customer experience. The time to get a comprehensive application integration strategy in place is now.

Title image by Kate Pru (Shutterstock)