- IoT for business is coming into its own, providing value to companies that invest in the technology.
- The internet of things can produce operational efficiencies, develop new business models, and generate additional revenue.
- Implementation and investment is daunting, but a strategy of attack will help.
The idea of automating homes and businesses to make them smarter isn’t new. For decades, pundits and vendors have touted everything from automated light switches to connected thermostats and smart refrigerators. At this year’s CES, a wide range of smart objects made their debut, including a smart dispenser that gives treats to dogs when no one’s around, smart toilets, a kitchen touchscreen that responds to voice commands via Google Assistant, and a self-cleaning litter box.
As innovative as these home-friendly products are, they don’t provide the value and impact delivered by smart objects for business. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and the internet of things (IoT) have redefined the business landscape, and the IoT evolution has pushed the smart business model to a tipping point.
Connected devices and services are no longer just ideas that will have value someday. They’re here now, and they encompass ecosystems of sensors, devices and other products that work together to solve business problems. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, there will be 20.4 billion IoT devices.1
Awareness of these smart devices and networks is growing. We found that 81% of US internet users are familiar with the concept of smart devices and the connected home. In addition, 77% have already installed smart home devices or think they will in the future. And we’re moving from awareness to impact, as 30% said they cannot live without smart devices.
It’s a business
Smart homes make people’s lives easier and more pleasant. They turn lights on and off with voice commands, adjust the home’s temperature and ensure your morning coffee is ready.
In the business world, the dynamic is quite different. These connected solutions affect an entire company — and sometimes an entire industry. And the impacts are far more substantial: IoT can produce operational efficiencies, enhance the customer experience, improve employee productivity, create new products, develop new business models, and generate additional revenue. Ideally, these smart solutions will produce significant value for everyone in the ecosystem.
In fact, a growing number of companies are already using IoT solutions to handle everyday tasks, with a scope that ranges from smart devices to smart buildings.
In the healthcare arena, for example, IoT solutions can locate essential medical equipment instantly, monitor how long patients are waiting to see doctors or find out where a patient is at any moment. An IoT system can also deliver alerts to staff and advise administrators about where to position nursing stations and medical equipment for quick access. Automating these tasks can improve patient care and could even save lives. For example, the Mercy Virtual Care Center delivers 24/7 care “through audio, video and data connections by clinical and support staff to remotely monitor patients in four states.”2
Similarly, a hotel can use IoT-based solutions to quickly identify frequent visitors so they can get special attention. Both Hilton and Marriott have used IoT to create personalised, connected rooms to enhance the guest experience.3 And in response to workers’ complaints about harassment, a number of hotel operators — in conjunction with the American Hotel and Lodging Association — are giving their employees portable safety devices that alert security staff when workers feel they are in need of assistance.4 These IoT-based panic buttons are being tested and deployed nationwide by major hotel operators.
Another industry getting value from the IoT is manufacturing. These companies can use connected sensors, cameras, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other wireless technologies to monitor machines and other assets to track their performance and predict when they’ll require maintenance. They also can track which factory machines are meeting the manufacturer’s standards and which ones are falling behind, enabling manufacturers to deal quickly with problem machines. On a larger scale, IoT can make supply chains more efficient, cost-effective and secure.
The sum of the IoT’s connected systems and other digital technologies in the business world is increasingly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The 4IR encompasses areas as diverse as AI, robotics, 3D printing, blockchain, quantum computing, nanotechnology and biotech to create new opportunities for organisations in all industries.
The core of these technologies is the data. Though IoT devices collect, store, and move data, the brainpower comes from analytics tools, AI, machine learning, and human insight. The convergence of these technologies is what transforms raw data into actionable information and insights — the equivalent of digital gold.
With such insights, companies can understand their customers, employees, equipment, processes and events in ways that were unimaginable in the past.
Of course, when you’re dealing with a technology that encompasses ‘everything,’ it can be intimidating and challenging. Where do you start? How much will it cost? How long will it take? How do you build an IoT architecture and then scale it to create ecosystems? How can you make it secure, compliant and free of privacy violations? How do you find workers — or upskill existing staff — who are knowledgeable about this technology?
To deal with these daunting challenges, companies must create a strategy that encompasses all these points. Often, it pays to start small by automating one process — for example, getting notifications before machines need preventive maintenance so they can be serviced before they break down — and then gradually building on that foundation. In some cases, organisations may require the help of third-party providers who are experts in IoT technologies and processes.
Clearly, IoT challenges confronting businesses are more complex and time-consuming than those facing consumers. On the other hand, the rewards are so much greater.
A modified version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.