Blog: 5 Ways You Can Use Internet of Things (IoT) for Businesses
Do you use Alexa to play music, shop, or turn lights on and off in your home? How about a "smart" doorbell to keep tabs on what's going on outside? If you do, you already have some experience with the Internet of Things (IoT), which is devices that connect and interact over the internet.
IoT for businesses can be useful and powerful. Many significantly improve customer and employee experiences. Technology is so intertwined with business success now that it's worthwhile to understand the potential of IoT and look for ways to put it to use.
1) Security and Building Access
Some of the first uses in IoT for business were in the realm of security. IoT cameras, sensors, and building access have revolutionized security systems and significantly reduced the number of human resources needed.
Consider smart locks. They can be used everywhere from offices to retail locations and enable digital keys that don't get lost, detailed record keeping of who came and went, and the ability to grant or revoke access at any time.
Connected cameras that store video files in the cloud offer hours of high-definition footage that can be reviewed in case of theft or other security issues. Keeping files in the cloud often offers more storage than on-premises, and the files can't be destroyed by fire or vandalism. While such systems require monthly subscription fees, the costs are usually reasonable if you shop around.
IoT sensors can follow the specific location of items in real-time all the way from production, packaging, shipment, to retail sales with inexpensive radio-frequency tags. It means hyper-accurate inventory accounting, improved speeds, and super-easy automated stock replenishment, etc. Once primarily used by big businesses, the costs of such IoT solutions have now dropped to the range of affordability for smaller companies.
Moreover, it's not just goods. GPS trackers are used in service scenarios to chart fleet and employee movements to evaluate workflows, boost efficiencies, and improve customer experiences. When was the last time you had a cable guy out to your home? Chances are you knew precisely when he was going to arrive thanks to an automated notification system that sent a text alert to your phone.
IoT has just about as many monitoring uses as you can imagine. In stores and offices, sensors can turn lights on and off or set room temperatures based on occupancy. Farmers use IoT to watch moisture levels in their fields and remotely activate irrigation systems. Manufacturers use IoT to keep tabs on each stage of the fabrication process for better quality control. The healthcare industry can use IoT wearables and other connected devices to follow patients' vital signs or chronic conditions.
Tracking and monitoring improve business productivity. If a farmer can automate irrigation, then he's not spending time driving from field to field. Less money is lost to wasteful mistakes if a manufacturing process is closely monitored for defects.
Modern offices now use IoT to improve employee collaboration and productivity. Meeting rooms outfitted with IoT solutions like smart monitors, easy-to-use communication, and occupancy schedules facilitate collaboration with remote workers and make workflows seamless.
IoT is also used to regulate lighting and environmental systems to improve worker comfort, which increases productivity and cuts energy costs.
In customer service, artificial intelligence devices, like Alexa and Siri, have the potential to improve efficiency and productivity by automating some communications with consumers.
Companies are very aware of the power of data in today's business environment, and IoT brings an avalanche of it. The challenge lies in how to parse and exploit the information you gather. Many are realizing that advanced number crunching and data gathering requires improvements in digital infrastructure.
Use examples in retail include using IoT sensors to track store foot traffic to evaluate interest in displays or quickly flag sales trends that can be taken advantage of.
The bottom line is a better understanding of your customers and employees, and that drives better business decisions.
Use IoT for Businesses to Improve the User Experience
Whether it's an office, retail, or service business, customer and employee experiences are everything to gain a competitive edge.
Take retail, for example. What's the great differentiator between brick-and-mortar and online? It's "tactile shopping." For items like clothing, many customers want to touch, feel, and try on certain products. Rebecca Minkoff stores combine that advantage with IoT mirrors in their dressing rooms that let customers adjust the lighting to match where they plan to wear an outfit and order another size or color right there.
IoT-improved user experiences make a difference in all kinds of businesses. Offices that leverage IoT solutions to improve productivity and worker satisfaction can be better placed to lead in today's competitive hiring environment.
You Need a Plan to Reap the Benefits of IoT in Business
So, if IoT isn't already impacting your business, it probably soon will. Still, many companies are sitting on the sidelines when it comes to implementing IoT solutions for good reasons.
In retail, a better IoT strategy could include a mobile point-of-sale solution. What if they don't have your size in stock? With IoT and mobile POS, so-called "endless aisles" are now possible where a sales associate armed with a tablet can transform the old answer of "Sorry," or the indeterminate "We can order it for you," to the definite "We can have that delivered to your home Wednesday." The consumer gets tactile shopping linked to an experience similar to online. The store receives additional sales.
IoT does bring security concerns. After all, anything plugged into your network that connects with the internet needs careful vetting. Some businesses simply don't have the technical expertise to handle IoT and have no idea where to start.
One thing you don't want to do is buy something because it's cool with no consideration of what substantive contribution it's going to make to your bottom line. Yes, the cost of many IoT solutions is coming down, but you still need to get value for money.
If you don't have the internal expertise, then this might be a good time to choose a small business digital services provider that can help you evaluate technologies, help you figure out where they fit in your business model, and then implement them for you, giving you the business value you expect.
IoT can be a major competitive differentiator for businesses, but it has to be done right.