The Internet of Things (IoT) is a massive network of billions of connected devices. Its sensors enable smart cities, intelligent infrastructure, industrial innovation, and so much more. This article will look specifically at how the IoT can benefit small businesses too.
Our article, which covered what IoT is, shared just some of the many new, connected technology applications. But your small business may not need a self-driving tractor or directly benefit from city streetlights that adapt to the environment in real-time. Nevertheless, Internet of Things technology is poised to make a difference for your small business too.
Those touting the IoT will rave about the endless opportunities this technology represents. But, what matters to you specifically is how the IoT can benefit small businesses. The good news? There are many advantages available to even the smallest company, including:
- Cost savings
- Streamlined processes
- Greater transparency
- Optimized logistics
The IoT promises many advantages, but the upfront investment can be daunting. Fortunately, as the technology matures, the sensors and compact yet powerful chips needed are more affordable. Plus, with 5G networks rolling out globally, real-time connectivity is more accessible too.
Plus, with the IoT, small and mid-sized businesses can identify many cost savings opportunities. These could run the gamut to include:
- Putting radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on expensive equipment to prevent loss or theft
- Adding IoT-connected thermostats and smart lights to the office or warehouse storage to control utility costs
- A motion-sensing camera tracking activity at your work site to improve security
- Printers that know they are low on ink and communicate with the manufacturer to order more
- Monitoring stock levels with IoT technology, making sure you’re never caught short when a customer wants something
- Smart locks using unique access codes to allow you to monitor who is accessing your building, where and when
Consider how the Internet of Things is shaking up retail. Amazon has been using unmanned, automated warehouses since May 2018. Now you may not be able to roll out the drones quite yet, but many small businesses can easily use RFID tags and IoT devices to improve inventory control. Mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) devices are also transforming retail by increasing convenience and helping to reduce accounting errors.
Plenty of IoT technology is also geared to automating mundane tasks. This can streamline processes and save your employees from time-consuming and mind-numbing routine chores. Voice assistants can also deliver alerts, prompt people with reminders, and learn to perform certain tasks. A Google Assistant or Alexa can quickly schedule meetings, create an office supply list, answer payroll questions, do fact-checking, and more.
Real-time awareness of the “things” connected to the internet is a big promise of the IoT. The objects of the Internet of Things have the ability to communicate with each other online. That can mean greater insights into work practices and consumer habits for a small business. A hardware and supply store, for instance, could install a connected floor plate to help track traffic into their shop. With detailed data about when people are coming in, the business could set more efficient staffing schedules to reduce waste and offer better service.
Additionally, with all of the data that is generated by the connected technology, businesses can gain the ability to predict as well. The data intelligence integrated with analytical tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can help the business avoid expensive repairs and costly downtime. The IoT provides the information to predict malfunctions and do preventative maintenance.
Deloitte suggests predictive maintenance “can reduce the time required to plan maintenance by 20–50%, increase equipment uptime and availability by 10–20%, and reduce overall maintenance costs by 5–10%.”
IoT trackers are used throughout supply chains today. Connected tracking devices are how we know where items are from the warehouse to the customers’ door. Plus, the additional data can help businesses verify quality, monitor compliance, limit emissions, and reduce product shrinkage. At the same time, the insights from IoT data can be used to improve processes.
The business might also have access to connected car data to determine where its vehicles are going. They can also monitor driver safety, mileage, and gas usage.
In today’s post-pandemic work environment, IoT building management technology can also help with protecting employee well-being. Tracking employee location and area occupancy levels can help the business direct workflows, improve utilization of assets, and ensure social distancing.
The IoT is vast, but it is widely connected. When your business starts out with devices compatible with its current technology, it can see a return on value much sooner. Plus, by paying attention to developing an integrated IoT infrastructure at your small business, it will be easier to scale up the advantages as your organization grows.
As you develop your IoT infrastructure, you may want to hire an IT expert to identify and help you address any short- and long-term technical and compatibility issues. They can also help you identify the best applications for your business and set you up with a building blocks approach to growing your IoT presence.
Beginning the IoT Transformation
The Internet of Things is a sprawling thing that is transforming the way we live and work. Your small business can take advantage of IoT devices to improve productivity, drive efficiency, monitor and control processes, as well as reduce costs. Starting with one small IoT sensor or virtual assistant, you can transform your business for greater success.