How the Internet of Things and big data are improving the customer experience

Large organizations are increasingly turning to connected solutions to enhance processes and service

People tend to know John Deere as a manufacturer of equipment used in agriculture, construction, forestry and lawn care. In recent years however, John Deere has turned to the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data to allow its customers to grow and harvest their crops more efficiently. John Deere’s farm equipment is now packed with IoT sensors, wireless technology and applications that collect information and send it back to the company. John Deere aggregates the data it receives from its thousands of farm customers around the world and makes it available through an online portal, enabling farmers to make more informed decisions about planting and harvesting their crops.

Most companies aren’t as advanced as John Deere in using IoT and big data to better understand and serve their customers, but they’re on their way. More than half of large Canadian businesses have some kind of connected data solution already in place, said Nigel Wallis, vice president, IoT and industries with IDC Canada. “The driver for connected solutions tends to be tied to process improvement,” Wallis notes. “But indirectly that leads to better customer service.”

An entry-level connected solution could be something as simple as a sensor connected to a key company asset. For example, Wallis explained, a business operating in the Alberta oil sands, where installations can be as large as a city, could place sensors on important pieces of equipment to make them simpler to find and deploy. “If you’re looking for an asset under four feet of snow in January, you could have trouble finding it,” he said.

“A basic sensor connected to a wireless network can help companies locate their assets and make better use of them, which ultimately impacts the service they offer their customers.”

Wallis cited General Electric’s (GE) wind energy products as a more advanced industrial example of how a company can use IoT and big data to help its customers. GE collects data from all its wind turbines and uses predictive analytics to find the ideal angles for the turbine blades to generate power more efficiently for its customers and minimize the possibility of a breakdown.

Retail is one sector where Canadian companies are lagging behind their global peers in generating big data insights, Wallis said. Many retailers in the U.S. and U.K., for example, have installed advanced WiFi beacons that can identify shoppers and create customized offers. “If you’re a member of the Gap, or a similar retailer, when you walk into their store they’ll know who you are because you’ll have a unique identity and you’re connected to their free WiFi,” he explained. “Then they can look at your shopping history and offer you a personalized message with an offer. That’s a good example of really knowing your customer."