What is the Internet of Things (IoT) in Business?
What is IoT, and how can your business take advantage of smart devices to streamline operations, optimize productivity and increase security?
You walk into an office building and the climate automatically adjusts to a set temperature based on how many people are currently there. You have to head to a meeting on a different floor so you ask a voice assistant where the room is, getting turn-by-turn instructions in response. In the elevator you see a story about how your energy company can identify when a grid will need maintenance much faster than before. At lunch, you check to see if the laptop you’ve been shopping for is in stock at any local retailers. You come back to your desk to see that toner is being delivered for the printer before it had a chance to run out. Later on, you go through new information on how your customers are interacting with different products so you can deliver a smoother, more enjoyable shopping experience. Welcome to business with the Internet of Things.
What is the Internet of Things? The short, literal answer is “anything connected to the internet.” The slightly longer answer is they’re everyday devices capable of sending and receiving information via connection to the internet. They could be your television, your coffee maker, your smartwatch, even your car.
The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, are constantly evolving. Though the example above illustrates a few select examples you might see in a professional environment, businesses of all verticals have a variety of critical ways to employ and leverage IoT.
Understanding how IoT works can be as simplistic as transmitting and receiving data. However, business IoT usage is far more dynamic – and beneficial – when used effectively.
Business verticals can fine-tune IoT technology to meet their organizational goals, but here is a more general look at some of the way IoT is used in business.
Creating new data streams: IoT devices in business settings can create new opportunities to collect data. This could be informational kiosks for customers in retail, device performance monitoring in office settings or in the field, vehicle tracking in transportation and more. These data streams become actionable insights to advance objectives, enhance response times to problems, improve customer experiences and more.
Managing maintenance: IoT devices can let your organization know when a printer is running low on ink or an oil rig is going to need physical components replaced and so much more. The ability to more effectively manage device maintenance means a reduction in downtime and increase in productivity.
Reducing energy usage in offices: From smart bulbs to smart thermostats, IoT devices are being implemented in more offices to reduce energy usage. These devices can replace older tech, such as motion sensors, and become more efficient in the process. Additionally, they can create better experiences by keeping an office climate-controlled no matter how many people are in or changing bulb intensity to reduce strain.
Tracking equipment and inventory: Knowing where your devices are or how much product you have in stock are two ways IoT devices are being heavily utilized in today’s business environment. This isn’t just about logging locations or number of units – it’s about real time tracking to enable agility and responsiveness. This is particularly crucial in customer experiences in retail (providing customers with real-time inventory information) and tracking products, freights, buses and anything else moving in transportation industries.
Enhancing customer experiences: Customers are hungry for information and convenient experiences. Providing customers with real-time information – such as inventory and availability – is made possible with IoT devices tracking your products in-store and on the way. Likewise, IoT devices can also help customers learn more about your products to better understand how they can use their potential purchase. Interactive displays, AR experiences, even smart fitting rooms can empower the customer to feel more informed and make better purchasing choices.
Information availability: IoT devices can distribute a world of information. Literally. However, in some environments that “world of information” may be a bit too expansive or irrelevant. For example, a university student may need to know a calendar of upcoming school events, or what time the next campus bus is coming, or where a lecture building is located. IoT devices can be utilized to provide the information required for the setting, even if that information may be nuanced or specific. The benefit is that the information being provided is relevant and up-to-date, as well as being delivered when needed.
As we said above, the Internet of Things is dynamic in application and high in benefits. How you apply and gain benefits from IoT devices is based on business needs and organizational goals. To help you further identify opportunities you can leverage, we’ve examined some IoT uses in different industries.
IoT Retail Applications
Retail IoT applications involve a smart ecosystem of devices that deliver data — like sensor data that reveals inventory trends and customer traffic patterns — to drive sales and create better customer experiences. Such devices include mPOS systems and smart retail data analytics platforms.
IoT and the Transportation Industry
IoT offers real-time tracking of vehicle locations, allowing for more accurate scheduling and logistical processes. Telematics tracking can store mechanical data for fleet vehicles, predicting vehicle issues or failures and helping transportation companies avoid costly delays and downtime.
Utilizing IoT in the Manufacturing Industry
Creating a manufacturing IoT ecosystem among floors, sensors and devices in an industrial environment can allow operations and machines to be monitored remotely as well as create policies to streamline and automate repetitious activities like maintenance. This enables manufacturers to increase productivity and identify weaknesses in their supply chain. IoT wearables and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can also help monitor employee status and pinpoint their locations in the event of an emergency.
IoT in Energy and Utilities
IoT solutions for energy, oil and gas companies can keep equipment connected and secure, allowing for local, remote and even offshore monitoring of machinery. Sensors can help monitor oil and gas flows in pipelines, and machine learning and predictive analytics can help reduce the cost of sending maintenance crews to remote locations. IoT devices can also increase power grid efficiency and deliver robust security to grid systems.
Cybersecurity is a continued concern for IoT devices, and with good reason. As more IoT devices are deployed and more data is exchanged, they become a prime target for bad actors to breach your organization. Advanced cyberattacks like ransomware and other malware are still threats to IoT technologies. Fortunately, the Internet of Things has cybersecurity options both for on and off-premises usage. You can enhance IoT security with endpoint security solutions, and many IoT platforms require multifactor authentication for end-user devices to control access.
The Internet of Things is bringing organizations from healthcare and higher ed to retail and federal into a modern era of digital solutions. But there is still plenty of potential to tap into as well as uncover. If having the technology in place is the first step, then most organizations will see their 2020 IoT initiatives shape in the form of molding that technology to meet their specific needs. In other words, the next natural step is to create more meaningful uses out of already existing IoT devices. "Meaningful use" will range from better customer service to leaner, more agile office layouts and even smart cities.
IoT security will continue to grow in prioritization as well. Consider how many more devices will be deployed in any environment and it quickly becomes apparent that these are all potential breaches if not met with security consideration and strategy. Just as securing a data center is critical, so too will securing IoT devices. Increases in securing an IoT environment will continue occurring throughout the year.
When developing an IoT strategy, consider the specific goals for your business. It's a good idea to make a list of tasks that consume time and limit productivity that could be automated or streamlined by creating IoT-enabled policies or applications. You'll also need to consider how equipped your network infrastructure is to handle the new influx of data generated by IoT devices. A robust wireless network and fast internet connectivity are necessary to take full advantage of IoT, and cloud computing can help you access the data from remote locations and relieve storage concerns.
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