Historically, the term Internet of Things (IoT), describes a physical network of embedded dedicated objects sensing and interacting with their own and external environments. The advances in context-aware software to “learn and analyze” create scenarios where things are becoming active players in digital relationships. Imagine a near future where “Things” become independent business entities with pre-determined capacity to act like “customers” or “suppliers” within a commercial construct. Through automation, Things would be able to make their own purchasing decisions, receive messages, request service, negotiate for the best terms and report disputes – essentially just like a human would. Along the same growth trajectory is “algorithmic business” where the interaction, exchange, interplay and network effect of value is encapsulated in programming logic and inserted in the transaction flow between customers and suppliers. At the intersection of these two trends lie not only new opportunities for revenue generation and operational efficiencies but also new ways for managing relationships. Much like we do today with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), leaders will need to develop strategies for Thing Relationship Management (TRM).
A useful thought example would be a Thing that has a service utility requiring replenishment of supply, such as a soap dispenser in a hospital. The monitoring system would detect its refill requirement and before initiating an alert to housekeeping, it checks the on-site inventory. There could be pre-determined business logic that requires refilling within an hour and if the on-site inventory is depleted, it begins to initiate a refill order with the preferred supplier. However, the preferred vendor cannot fill until the following day and here is where the Thing becomes a pro-active commercial participant in the supply chain. It begins successive requests to alternative suppliers and negotiates the best price and terms for delivery. It places the order when it finds a supplier who can meet the specification. The implications of this scenario are far reaching. The Thing will need a digital identity, delegated authority, trust levels and financial compliance for auditing just to name a few. Managing these attributes would be very similar to how we manage relationships today in the sales process. Things would essentially be viewed like “people” within a broad set of commercial transactions. I expect to see an adaptation of CRM to TRM in the very near future.