|Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.|
Getting Your Small Business Ready for the Internet of Things
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) concept is gaining a lot of attention and momentum in the technology world, and promises attractive benefits for companies of all sizes.
For small business owners, IoT can lead to a number of potential improvements in the way your company operates and the services and products it offers. But like most major technology shifts, we may have to wait for today’s hype to calm down a little before we start to realize the promised benefits.
The IoT is a term covering a range of technologies that, together, equip physical objects with sensors and internet connectivity so they can provide data about their operations and their environment.
In the manufacturing world, for instance, this can mean adding sensors to airplane engines to track wear and provide notification when parts are due for maintenance, if parts are wearing out prematurely, or if the engine’s performance is less efficient than expected potentially signaling a problem.
In this example, adding intelligence to an airplane engine can change the relationship between the airline and the engine’s manufacturer. Instead of relying on historic data to provide maintenance, the airline can change parts as needed — potentially saving money by not replacing parts prematurely, or reducing the risk of engine problems if a part doesn’t meet its expected service life.
With most IoT applications, sensor data is transferred automatically to the cloud for analysis and notifications based on pre-determined conditions. This may vary according to industry and application, but in general terms, obtaining sensor data is just the first step — the real business value will come from using the data to take appropriate action.
Small Business Efficiency
While in early stages of adoption, IoT technologies are making inroads into small business operations. Smart thermostats, for instance, help companies maintain desired environmental conditions in offices, warehouses and production facilities, while IoT-connected water-detection sensors can provide early warning about emerging leaks or fluid spills.
Some companies are using smart product tags to monitor stock levels in warehouses. By tracking stock levels and sales, companies can reduce the amount of money tied up in excess inventory or help reduce shrinkage.
IoT sensors and smartphones are also being used in fleet management applications to track vehicle locations and maintenance needs without a company having to invest in dedicated fleet management equipment systems.
Similarly, smart security systems can allow business owners to track and control access to a building remotely, be notified of unexpected motion in a given location, or check entryway visitors on mobile devices before deciding whether to let them in.
Small Business Opportunities
For many small businesses, widespread adoption of IoT technologies will likely create opportunities to provide services based on IoT data. For example, large equipment manufacturers that use sensor data to identify maintenance opportunities may call on local service providers to perform that maintenance.
Similarly, companies looking to use IoT in their operations will likely need professional help, creating opportunities for businesses that provide technology services.
While the widespread promise of IoT probably remains a few years off, it can be helpful for business owners to start to monitor this emerging area and to think about the implications for their companies.
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