You’ve probably seen the term Internet of Things (IoT) and, if you’re like most people, you might have dismissed it as a fad. It’s nice to know that, for example, a toaster can be connected to the internet, but businesspeople are rightly interested in why it should be done rather than whether it can be done.
IoT certainly had a rocky start and it’s taken some time for genuinely compelling business cases to start to emerge. But with up to a third of businesses already using IoT devices or data, and up to 21 billion connected devices expected by 2020, it’s time to get serious about things.
What on Earth is it?
At its heart, IoT is simply about collecting data through sensors and doing something useful with that data.
The sensors themselves can be anything from a simple switch, to a recycled phone handset, to a city-wide network of devices. Temperature, motion, open/shut, light levels, sound, proximity, location, position and orientation – almost any physical event or property can be useful data in the right situation.
Machinery is increasingly being built with IoT sensors baked in, and big players such as Amazon and Google, as well as industry darlings like Adafruit, are lining up to provide the data and analytics backbone.
Why businesses should love it
The benefits vary widely and can be very specific to a business. For example, an IoT mouse trap might seem like an extravagance to most, but to a restaurateur, knowing when their traps have been sprung could save them from a failed health inspection.
To a retailer, knowing when their customers are near a store through the use of beacons and loyalty apps can create opportunities for impulse sales with push marketing. And for those in warehousing or distribution, sensor-based data can be used to optimise stock locations, energy use, routing and many other factors to reduce cost and increase efficiency.
Can you imagine a future where a phone app can guide you to the nearest available street parking space? If you live in Santander, Spain, that future is already here. Smart cities depend on the IoT to deliver useful services to their citizens.
Vineyards can remotely monitor temperatures, receive alerts in the event of frosts, and remotely operate (or automate) smart sprinkler systems that could prevent a lost crop. Does your business depend on critical consumables? There may be a value in monitoring their levels and alerting your suppliers to have them replenished to avoid downtime.
Of course there are many complicating factors such as security and privacy, maintenance and the know-how required to set up the system and the data analytics to gain benefits from it. But these are known, solvable problems. The tech is very accessible and the next generation of consultants are already diving into the IoT at places like CoderDojo using Arduino boards and cloud-based analytics.
As part of your next digital strategy session, give some serious thought to how data about your business could help you optimise it or reduce risk. And if you’re looking for business ideas, there are many niches that aren’t even discovered yet, let alone filled.