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Gaining competitive advantage in business through the Internet of Things

As we head into 2014, the Internet of Things is finally stepping out of the futurist's shadows and into the customer limelight (with Klieg lights flashing).

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Geoffrey Bock

But as this concept gains critical mass, it raises an intriguing question: If you are already managing the content on your websites to deliver delightful customer experiences, what's next?

For those who need an Internet of Things (IoT) refresher, it is a system where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors. Initially enabled by radio frequency identification tags, sensing things may now be achieved through motion detectors, digital accelerometers, GPS awareness, barcode readers and other technologies, enabling people and processes to automatically gather information from remote devices. Now that sensors are becoming ubiquitous, IoT opens the door to honing information gathering and delivery -- and enhancing the quality of customer experience.

So the question really is this: How can your company use concepts like IoT for better customer experience management and, ultimately, competitive edge?

IoT gains steam

The innovation beat goes on, amid the evolution of cloud-based data services.

Let's highlight some recent developments. In January, the news started at the Consumer Electronics Show, where wearable technology and connected cars were all the rage. Midmonth, Google announced that it was buying Nest Labs, banking not only on the prospects for smart thermostats and other nifty networked devices in our homes, but also on the opportunities for generating new data streams about how we are living.

On the customer service front, The Wall Street Journal reported a few days later that arriving guests at some boutique hotels will be able to bypass check-in desks and use room keys on their smartphones. Finally, to round out the month, IDC announced that worldwide smartphone shipments climbed more than 38% last year to reach more than 1 billion units.

The innovation beat goes on, amid the continuing digital tsunami and the evolution of cloud-based data services. With cheap sensors mobilized by affordable devices and with the ability to connect to anything almost anywhere, we are becoming increasingly enmeshed in pervasive digital experiences. When we have tasks to do, we are just as likely to tap on the screens we carry around as we are to turn to our laptops or desktop computers.

In fact, today's focus on IoT is simply the latest iteration in an ongoing conversation about the importance of delivering the right information to the right people at the right time to create new business value. Now we are adding tracking technologies so that we can sense and respond to activities around us. When content is the currency for competing in the digital age, managing it successfully remains a source of competitive advantage.

For more on content and customer experience

WCM's new role in CEM

Content is power in CEM

With increasing frequency, the objects of our queries are no longer undifferentiated strings of information or random webpages. Rather, they are identified "things" -- self-contained factoids or content-components -- that have meaning in particular contexts. With the pervasive reach of Internet-enabled sensors, we can dynamically assemble many more of these things into all kinds of different contexts -- and monetize the experiences.

Today we receive banner ads on our smartphones, perhaps personalized by our prior purchases (which we all too frequently ignore). Soon, we will be able to learn about flash sales at our favorite retail stores as we walk into a "thing-enabled" mall. With this kind of proactively pushed, smart content at our fingertips, we'll have a greater incentive to shop and spend.

Today's focus on the Internet of Things is part of the ongoing conversation about delivering the right information at the right time.

Chunking and semantics

How can we best manage the content for these kinds of proactive experiences? With the accelerating transformation from "strings to things," I believe that digitally savvy designers and developers (as well as the business leaders who sponsor them) should have two concerns: chunking and semantics.

As I've noted before, it's essential to identify the atomic elements of information that go into webpages, mobile apps and even pushed alerts to digital devices. Often, these are three parallel content types, all maintained in different ways. We need content technologies that manage a complete (and extensible) information stream, regardless of the delivery channel.

Template-based Web content management (WCM) platforms provide the foundations for chunking content into atomic elements. It's important to consider the granularity of the content components (or elements) being managed, as well as the flexibility for how they flow into one experience or another.

Second, the templates used to manage content also include tags (or metadata) that further catalog these elements. Pay attention to how these tags are defined and interrelated. Wherever possible, include semantic-oriented tag sets maintained by external authorities (such as Schema.org) into the managed content streams to embed relationships among elements.

Many industry-leading WCM platforms include extensive tag management capabilities and can provide the foundation for semantic tagging. Assess the semantic awareness of your content strategy. Mobile experiences add the sensor-related metadata (beginning with GPS coordinates) that need to be blended intelligently into the mix.

New steps in the digital journey

In short, managing content for the Internet of Things is yet another step in the digital journey. The end result is a richer and seemingly smarter experience, where published content becomes elements in useful applications and where innovative digital devices generate added business value.

This was first published in February 2014

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