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Using IoT technologies to fuel interconnected experiences

IoT technology and mobile apps generate new concerns, including how to create interconnected digital experiences for users.

As the digital revolution marches on, it has brought the Internet of Things (IoT) closer to reality. IoT systems have sensors that connect the physical world to the vast resources of the Internet. The proliferation of IoT technologies gives companies the opportunity to hone information gathering and delivery, streamline business processes and enhance the quality of customer experience.

But let's keep the hype under control. With so much sensor data readily at hand, we need to find ways to channel this information into the interconnected experiences that consumers increasingly expect. From a content technology perspective, we have been down this path before with new types of content such as social media data and digital assets. Things of all sorts are going to be part of our digital experiences. We need to be able to manage them -- and use them to create seamless, interactive, personalized experiences -- just like other content types.

Here are some of the latest applications of IoT technologies in the real world -- and how businesses can prepare for them.

One-tap payments

Paying for stuff is an activity we do all the time. Mobile applications can use sensor technology to streamline the payment process and create a more seamless experience for customers.

Consider Apple Pay, as an example. This is Apple's one-tap credit card payment service introduced with the iPhone 6 as well as Apple Watch. Apple's latest iPhones have two sensors -- a biometric thumb print scanner (TouchID) for authentication and a near-field communications chip for communicating with an in-store reader. Apple Pay not only creates a seamless payment experience for users, but as merchants adopt this service, it may encourage the advent of Apple-powered digital wallets in our pockets, handbags and on our wrists. Other smartphone makers are beginning to add these sensors to Android devices that may enable competitive wallets.

The Apple Pay mobile app generates unique identifiers for data exchanges between Apple devices and processors' back-end systems. Sensors authenticate identities and authorize the payments within this IoT framework. Thanks to the systems engineering among Apple, merchants and financial services firms, tapping our iPhones or Watches is almost always more secure than swiping our credit cards embedded with RFID chips.

Mobilizing mashups

Of course, mobile devices include other sensors that can channel experiences. Perhaps the most ubiquitous is location detection, determined by cellular, GPS and Bluetooth technologies. We are all familiar with weather apps that automatically default to the forecasts for our current locations, as well as mapping apps that begin to navigate from where we are. The accuracy (or resolution) of these apps depends on the location technology they use -- GPS, for example, is more accurate than cellular. Once installed in shopping malls, Bluetooth beacons will be precise and promise to help shoppers more quickly locate products within stores.

When it comes to mobilizing a digital presence, notice how these apps combine location data with information from other sources to produce results. Today these mashups are the domain of mobile app developers -- skilled professionals with the technology smarts and business insights to exploit location awareness. These are purpose-built solutions requiring substantial up-front costs and large-scale distribution to ensure satisfactory returns on the investments.

But in the future, digital marketers and other nontechnical business analysts are going to expect to incorporate location and other data routinely captured by sensors on mobile devices -- including direction, acceleration and images -- as parts of complete mobile experiences. Marketers and business analysts will want to leverage information from their own back-end sources to deliver useful mobile mashups, delivered at a fraction of the cost required for purpose-built solutions.

Preparing for interconnected experiences

What can digital strategists and business leadership do to prepare for IoT's growing influence on customer experience and business operations? I believe there are three things: recognize possibilities for sensor technology, experiment with mobile app mashups and identify requirements for future investments.

First, find out what's practical and possible. Where can sensors on mobile devices transform how work gets done? Often the solutions are self-evident and linked to business tasks. For instance, waiters, waitresses, lifeguards and other shift workers need to clock their hours worked and report their locations. Manual and paper-based processes -- punching time cards or calling into central offices -- can easily be replaced by enterprise mobile apps on smartphones. Consider how sensors can expedite tasks, activities and business processes.

Second, investigate options for mobile mashups -- where sensor data acquired from mobile devices in the field can be integrated with existing content to produce useful results. For example, field service engineers no longer need to carry bulky repair manuals onto job sites; rather they can use mobile repair apps running on low-cost tablets to automatically sense the diagnostic codes from machines on factory floors and call up the relevant troubleshooting guides over Wi-Fi networks. Of course, the repair information needs to be indexed with appropriate metadata beforehand to be retrieved by diagnostic codes and other contextual cues. This requires an information architecture that encompasses taxonomies for machines and repair codes, as well as the diagnostic steps performed by field service engineers.

Third, plan for continuing investments to mobilize the underlying content technologies. Third-generation Web content management systems can systematically manage content components within a flexible environment. Most of these components should be exposed as Web services, exploiting Internet standards, and mashed up with sensor data to interconnect experiences and fuel the IoT technologies revolution.

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