With its $2.5B acquisition of Minecraft, Microsoft has a lot on its plate. One thing that may not be on its mind is field service technology…or is it? If you follow the complicated path through the Internet of Things (IoT) towards the endgame of “How are we going to service this transformation of connected devices,” you end up in the world of field service.

With IoT, Microsoft’s GM, Barb Edson, in Creating the Internet of Your Things, agrees that, “The potential [of IoT] is as limitless as your imagination and as unique as your business.”

An evolution is occurring, and it looks like Microsoft intends to capitalize on it.

The Intrigue of Minecraft
If you are new to the Minecraft world, ask your kids, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren to explain, or listen in as they chat among themselves about what they’ve built and what time they need to be online for their Minecraft meeting of the minds. If not, just join my household on a Saturday, and you’ll hear the buzz… “What mode are you in, Creative?” “Get out of my world!” “Just don’t look at it…build a wall.”

There’s an underlying feeling (perhaps not unfamiliar to most parents) that we’re not in the secret club. The odd thing is that most everything is said within listening range, but we still can’t understand the intensity of interest.

It’s partly because in Minecraft, you don’t win the game. Well, you can “win” the game by reaching the highest level and defeating the Ender Dragon, but to most players, that’s not the point. Your goal is to create an environment using new objects and materials made from more basic substances. You can hang out in “Creative” world where perilous creatures never appear – or risk moving into “Survival” mode where, once the sun sets (and it sets every ten minutes), you must build a shelter to survive.

The genius of Minecraft is that the game does not specify how this is done. To play the game, you need to know the runes, the recipes. Where do you learn them? Not in Minecraft. There is no senior alchemist to consult. No help menu. No manual.(The Secret of Minecraft, and its challenge to the rest of us, Robin Sloan, July 21, 2014)

Interestingly, Minecraft was first created by a single developer in 2009 (who, by the way, is set to be the next billionaire), and the complete game was published in 2011. Since then, users have enthusiastically created mods (modifications or changes to the game content).  The way my kids learned about Minecraft was the same way that many of its staggering 100+ million users did: by listening to kids chatting at the lunchroom table, on the playground, and seeing it on visits to each other’s houses.

How Minecraft Will Prep the Next Generation for The Internet of Things (IoT)
One of the primary goals of Minecraft is to simply make more of the game. “What we’re really talking about here is a generative, networked system laced throughout with secrets,” Sloan continues.

Wait a minute. “A generative, networked system laced throughout with secrets?” This sounds similar to a playground for tinkerers in the new world of IoT.

Minecraft exploits a reinvented way of thinking that capitalizes on the sometimes lost art of using simple, basic building blocks (don’t get me started on the Lego connection) to accomplish what often separates a good developer from a great one—a simple, clean, easy-to-use interface to play.

Our next gen thinkers will need to do just what Sloan suggests: make more of the game – or in this case, make sense out of a disorganized IoT stage of props. Gaming anyone?

The Analysts View on the Potential of IoT
Analysts provide building blocks for this theory. In a previous blog on IoT (Could the Glue of the Internet of Things be Field Service?), one analyst noted that the diversity of the number of “things” becoming enabled due to the low cost of chip sensors is mind-boggling. (Key Facts about Internet of Things and how it will benefit businesses, Ed Thompson, June 23, 2014) Another researcher estimates that by 2020, 40% of all generated data will come from sensors, which General Electric dubs the “Industrial Internet” (Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2014, Jeff Moad, December 31, 2013). Still further, another analyst (Fooling ourselves with the Internet of Things, Michael Maoz, June 30, 2014) adroitly challenges this idea stating that today, IoT is quite clinical in nature where the signal comes in, the system computes and there’s a response.

These thoughts point to an endgame of an “Industrial Internet of Engagement,” which may erupt into an interesting dichotomy pushing and pulling our self-centered culture with the dormant technical chip sensor.

Microsoft Focuses on “Self” and Paves the Way for the Future of Customer Engagement
It’s easy to get entrenched in a way of thinking. Just ask those who balked at moving from COBOL to PC-centric innovation and onto cloud. “Isn’t SaaS just a Service Bureau?” I’ve heard from more than one seasoned exec.

However, this next generation is entwined in sharing and combining. Solo intellectual property is often foreign. Everything is a building block. Sensors attached to various devices are no different. These are things that can be networked to create endless opportunities – a virtual playground for our next generation of inventors.

Unique to this outlook is that everything is also centered on them and their individual experience. In Minecraft, you can’t walk away from a player without hearing, “Want to see my world?”

Rather than tech companies focusing on a business need such as Finance, HR, CRM Sales, Marketing or Service and Support, it will be natural to focus simply on enhancing these user experiences. Something that analysts have touted for years as Customer Experience has now expanded and morphed into a component of a broader term: Customer Engagement.

Microsoft recognizes this. Satya Nadella  recently stated:

“…if there’s anything central to our vision, it’s don’t think of the device at the center, think of the individual, the people at the center. And then have the platforms and productivity experiences get built with that at the center.” (Satya Nadella on Microsoft’s mobile strategy: Current market share isn’t what matters, By Todd Bishop, GeekWire, September 15, 2014)

In the 100M+ users of Minecraft, the “my world” mentality simply exists. A natural evolution for a reasonable percentage of these users will be to either start, or be part of, IoT start-ups.

We Can’t Imagine the Businesses the Next Generation Will Create
We see sensor-enabled things popping up everywhere. From parking meters to components of large capital equipment to your home security system, the potential for unique connectivity opportunities hides around every corner of the imaginative mind.

In a recent webinar (June 24, 2014) titled, “The Internet of Things: An Emerging Market Opportunity,” Gartner indicated that two-thirds of the development of IoT will occur down in the tail portion of the Long Tail cycle, and that larger vendors typically focus on big categories. Jens Erik Gould of The Financialist explores this global potential in detail (“IT:  From Some Things to Everything,” August 13, 2014). He writes , and Alec Noller of DZone elaborates, that with the connectivity piece added to The Internet of Things creating in essence, the Internet of Everything, the market may balloon to an astonishing $14.4 trillion (Cisco System estimates) in economic value (“The $14.4 Trillion Future of the Internet of Things,” September 30, 2014). Interestingly, embedded technology costs are already low; many of these simply need a service or an app to recognize rewards.

The Adjacent Possible? Where IoT and Field Service Meet—and Minecraft Sets the Stage

Key to IoT and the need for field service assistance is timing. In Steve Johnson’s, “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation,” (Check out his TED talk) he comments that in every facet of our lives, including our work lives, “we are surrounded by potential new configurations, new ways of breaking out of our standard routines” in what he calls, the “adjacent possible”—a term coined by the scientist, Stuart Kauffman (Kauffman’s Theory explained by Johnson).

Johnson continues, “The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.” He provides an interesting example of the adjacent possible when he describes how in the 1870s, a Parisian obstetrician, Stephane Tarnier, was wandering through the zoo, and came upon an exhibit of chicken incubators. Infant mortality rates were incredibly high compared to our modern standards. It wasn’t long before he began working with the zoo’s poultry raiser to build an infant incubator, and basically halved the mortality rate of premature babies in Paris. The building blocks were there. The problem was substantial. All it took was timing and association to trigger what Johnson claims to be the adjacent possible.

Recently in “How Microsoft Could Make Minecraft a Multi-Billion Dollar Unit,” research analyst Gary Bourgeault, September 11, 2014, wrote:

[…Minecraft] is designed so users can reinvent it over and over again so it doesn’t become repetitious every time it is played. That appears to be the reason for its longevity, and those who like to tinker are given easy-to-use code to customize the game to their liking…

Minecraft users encompass the essential skills. The blocks are there. The problem is foreseeable. As things become more chip-sensor driven, and if it’s true that close to half of generated data will be coming from sensors, then the IoT schoolyard will be created. All that will be needed is the know-how and brain power to imagine the possibilities.

The Surprise of Minecraft:  Is Field Service the Next “Uber”?
With this new world of the industrial internet and the need for better engagement with IoT, field service will explode. The world won’t be able to assimilate and electronically fix the thousands of new iterations of device networks quickly enough. Picture a world where every device in your home is sensor-enabled, and networked for you to control: the coffee maker, refrigerator, dishwasher, security system, etc. Human intervention—field service—will be an inevitable bridge.

Field service may not appear as we know it today. As one Microsoft competitor recently suggested, who would have thought something like Uber would transform the taxi industry? Is field service technology headed in the same direction?

Microsoft may or not be aware of the additional acquisition opportunity Minecraft offers. But as Sloan asks at the end of his article, “What happens when we take the secret of Minecraft and apply it elsewhere, in new ways?”

Maybe it’s a generation poised to take a giant leap in innovation—or perhaps we’re beginning to see the adjacent possible found in a simple game, created by a single developer, in a world becoming revolutionized by chip sensors and a reinvigorated field service industry poised for the challenge.

Watch out, Sony. This may be much more than winning a gaming supremacy battle.

For questions or additional information, contact me at kris.brannock@vertsol.com (opinions expressed within are my own) or follow us on Twitter at @VertSol.