It’s hard to imagine a world without the World Wide Web. And yet, it’s not even 30 years old. What started out as a platform that would allow humans to talk to humans—from websites to email to social media—has rapidly grown to include machines and objects (aka “things”) in the conversation.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term to explain the way any non-human thing connects to the internet. The implications of this technological development are far reaching, and have already begun to have a wide-reaching impact, small businesses included.
But don’t take it from me. Have a listen to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web:
While the technology behind an IoT is here today, it’s still early: we’re just in the creation phase of the IoT. This means that while some new tech has trickled into daily use, overall the greatest possibilities are still a function of the imagination.
The list of small businesses using technology in conjunction with the IoT is growing fast. Those businesses that are early adopters gain an edge over those who aren’t.
IoT is changing how we do business
As more inanimate objects become capable of interacting with the world around them, it will fundamentally change how we do business. And it already is. As a Harvard Business Review article points out:
“...In a connected world, products are no longer one-and-done. Thanks to over-the-air updates, new features and functionality can be pushed to the customer on a regular basis. The ability to track products in use makes it possible to respond to customer behavior. And of course, products can now be connected with other products, leading to new analytics and new services for more effective forecasting, process optimization, and customer service experiences.”
As the Internet of Things grows, the old ways of doing business won’t work. But small businesses are already adapting. For example, a Houston bike shop began using electronic tags to digitally manage inventory, streamlining their business and reducing labor costs.
The Internet of Things will impact businesses in the near term, and increasingly over the long term through:
- Data: We will have exponentially more data around our products, services, and customer interactions with all aspects of our businesses.
- Inventory and assets: The more we know about our inventory and assets, the more we’ll have the ability to provide more efficient production, maintenance, and fulfillment.
- Staffing: IoT introduces automated offices, customer service, and resource management. This will inevitably impact how we allocate human resources.
- Customer expectations: Customers will expect you to know that your product has failed before they do. And they’ll expect you to already be working on a remedy before they reach out to you. Check out Tesla’s over-the-air repairs if you don’t believe me.
RFID: The core technology that is blowing up the IoT
Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) is a tagging device that emits a small radio frequency, allowing you to track an item’s whereabouts, receive data updates, and even remotely control the item. It’s the technology behind contactless credit card payments, pet tracking chips, electronic toll payment systems like E-ZPass, etc.
If your business manages numerous assets (especially from a maintenance point of view), handles a large product inventory, or involves a complex production cycle, you can benefit from RFID.
While RFID sounds like “big business tech,” it’s actually very accessible to small business. Whether it’s a Wisconsin cranberry farm using RFID to monitor temperature and humidity, or a European hotel using it to manage laundry service, RFID is helping small businesses around the globe use the IoT to grow their businesses.
Because it’s relatively inexpensive and so powerful, it’s no exaggeration to say that RFID is the tech that’s on the brink of ubiquity. Therefore, it’s better to be ahead than behind. Check out this great resource from the RFID Journal that can help you dig into how you can start using RFID technology.
Add efficiency to the office
Designed to make living and working spaces more efficient, numerous IoT connected consumer products have already hit the market, which means you can give your office space (or your home) a techno-face lift right now.
- Nest thermostat: The thermostat is, logically, the central point for energy usage in the home. So, Nest uses that as an entry point for a fully automated home or office. The Nest thermostat can improve heating and cooling efficiency, but it goes further by including a sophisticated security system, smoke detection, and more. It is also designed to integrate with smart light bulbs, connected appliances, and more.
- Amazon Dash button device: Does it feel like you’re constantly ordering more hand sanitizer for the office? As an Amazon Prime member, you can use the dash button device to place an order when you’re out, literally with the touch of a button. The Dash button is simply a single-purpose, wifi-enabled, instant order device that you stash in a convenient place, and use to restock consumables. This concept is still in its infancy, but you can expect this technology to grow. It’s not inconceivable that we will have connected containers that automatically place an order when the stock gets low, for example. The device is an extension of the Dash app, but depending on your office, it could be a great way to add convenience and efficiency to your office maintenance schedule.
- Smart light bulbs: Smart light bulbs are indicators of what connected devices can achieve. Not only do they add efficiency, but they provide an entirely new kind of experience in the workspace. They can change color to reflect your mood, the weather, or your brand; they can automatically adapt brightness and power use for optimum efficiency, and they can be adjusted remotely via apps.
To discover more ways connected devices can bring your office space squarely into the 21st Century, this article offers a list of some great IoT tech you can start using now.
More and more devices are connected to the internet. Naturally, as a result of the functions they perform, these devices aren’t designed or equipped to interact with humans in the traditional way: a la monitor and keyboard. Instead, they interact via voice.
Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri popularized the voice assistant revolution, but voice recognition technology has a long history. Today, voice assistants do more than just help you surf the web. They aid with navigation, purchasing decisions, and integrate into the automated home, to name just a few capabilities. And already, voice assistants are being embedded into standalone devices, like Echo for your home, and CarPlay for automobiles. As a technology, it promises only to expand further.
Comscore estimates that by 2020, half of all internet searches will be voice search. That’s a revolution, my friend.
As IoT grows, voice interaction is predicted to take an even larger role. And right now, voice search is the next big SEO play for your content marketing strategy. This means you’ll be doing your business a favor in the short run—as well as the long run—if you begin optimizing your content for voice search.
Connect customers to connected business
Nearly everyone has a smartphone, and as a result, the retail shopping experience has been radically affected. “Connected consumers” want to have access to instant information regarding goods and services. The more your business is integrated into the IoT, the more you’ll be able to provide value to your customers through improved insight into what they want, what they need, and what you can provide.
This can offer up distinct possibilities for retailers, such as:
- Just-in-time promotions
- Real time inventory
- Carry out specialized tasks via chatbot technology
- All the data their interactions provide is at your fingertips
Service providers, too, can make use of customer behavior and inquiries to provide faster service. For example, a plumbing business that tracks driver location in real time can quickly allocate a plumber to an emergency with a more accurate ETA.
The Internet of Things is radically shaping how we interact with the physical world around us. And, of course, as it changes what’s possible, it will change how we do business.
It’s tempting to talk about technology as if it’s all roses, but of course, with anything internet, there will emerge new security risks and challenges with the IoT. But that comes with the territory.
The truth is that the Internet of Things is becoming a full reality. Businesses need to keep up with the tech and find creative ways to use it because there’s a good chance their competitors already are.