4 no-bull takeaways about Salesforce's new IoT platform

Puzzled over Salesforce's new IoT Cloud? Here's what you most need to know

4 no-bull takeaways about Salesforce's new IoT platform

Like most every other major company with a cloud platform, Salesforce is launching an Internet of things platform. It's called IoT Cloud, and it turns connected devices into useful customer data.

In many ways, Salesforce has a leg up on the second half of that proposition, given the success of its CRM platform for companies making use of customer data. But does IoT Cloud mark a real turning point for Salesforce, or is it another upsell for existing customers? Here are four of the most crucial things we've gleaned so far about what's new and what's not.

1. It's built from open source components, not as a proprietary Salesforce project

ZDnet's Larry Dignan delved into Thunder, the technology underlying IoT Cloud, and found a surprise: It's not a custom Salesforce creation, but rather a software stack built out of open source components that should be familiar to big data mavens: Spark, Storm, Kafka, Cassandra, and Salesforce's own Heroku PaaS.

Why do this? Speculation about Salesforce's friendliness to open source aside, it's likely the company wanted to avoid having to rework what's already been done -- and done well -- on acquiring and transforming lots of data from lots of places. The existing culture around the stack is strong, well-defined, growing rapidly, and rife with useful third-party contributions. By building on top of all that, Salesforce can make good use of the work -- even if it's done by potential rivals like Microsoft.

On the other hand, it also means Salesforce's only new contribution is having a data-acquisition framework in its cloud. Theoretically, the architecture of the stack can be replicated by anyone with a cloud of their own. Notably, Salesforce's existing customer base, along with its data-transformation and correlation tools, are the real secret sauce.

2. It's another data source for Salesforce's 'citizen developer' strategy

Of late, Salesforce has been on a mission to make it easier to get insight into and take action on collected data. InfoWorld's Eric Knorr described it as the "citizen developer" strategy, focused more on configuring highly flexible, preexisting pieces than about writing new code.

This approach has created mostly data processing pipelines -- systems that take data from a source, combine it with analysis or insight, then filter and present it. IoT Cloud is meant to be a component for the first phase, with data siphoned from new sources.

Based on what little has been unveiled so far, it's tough to say how much of this drag-and-drop-to-program methodology Salesforce will apply to acquiring and normalizing data from devices. The process is often tedious and difficult to govern, and it could stand to be streamlined wherever it manifests.

3. It's more for existing customers than new ones

Face it: Who reading this is likely to jump into Salesforce simply because of a new IoT platform? Even if they are, they'll have to wait: The big unveiling for IoT Cloud is set to happen in the "first half of 2016," according to Salesforce.

Sure, Salesforce has existing customers who are cottoning to the idea of adding device-harvested data to the mix of information that goes into their business decisions, but the emphasis is on existing customers. If IoT Cloud is for anyone, it's that crew -- which has been the case with almost every new set of features from Salesforce.

This is where Salesforce could, and already does, experience more competition from more granular, pay-as-you-go offerings like Microsoft Dynamics. All signs point to IoT Cloud requiring the same level of buy-in as the rest of Salesforce; if you aren't already on board, you'll likely walk on by.

4. The IoT side of IoT is still lacking

In the abstract, Salesforce has a good idea: use data harvested from devices to enrich customer interactions. Retail scenarios have been specifically broken out as a genuine value generator for IoT (in the hundreds of billions of dollars) by 2025.

The harder part -- which Salesforce can't control -- is getting IoT proponents to deliver more of the boring but useful stuff that better aids businesses to actually find value. If IoT for business ends up at the mercy of a field that's too busy trying to reinvent home automation -- well, even the gods of CRM would labor in vain.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.