It's 2016, and if you haven't heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), you may certainly have come into contact with a handful of apps and devices that comprise the IoT ecosystem.
From Jawbones and Fitbits that track your fitness levels to Nest, a thermostat that learns the heating and cooling patterns of your home and adjusts accordingly, IoT shows no signs of going away. (A brief debrief: IoT refers to sensors embedded in physical objects to transfer gobs of data via the same wired and wireless technology as the Internet.)
And according to a Business Insider Intelligence report, the Internet of Things is only going to get bigger: 24 billion IoT devices will be installed by 2020. These devices will make up the majority of the 34 billion devices connected to the Internet.
The Internet of Things has moved beyond parlor tricks and personal use. According to a McKinsey Insights report, businesses are harnessing the power of IoT in two distinct ways. The data generated from IoT devices can help businesses with information gathering and analysis through tracking behaviors and by providing "enhanced situational awareness [and] sensor-driven decision analytics," the report states. It's also helpful in automating and controlling various parts of your business, according to experts.
"Companies of all sizes are beginning to use the Internet of Things to automate their business processes, using triggers from data insights," says Freddy Mini, CEO of Netvibes, a company that creates personalized dashboards of the Internet. "By connecting all enterprise data into one dashboard—including internal data, social media, IoT device logs, etc.—the enterprise can programmatize its business logic: If these two things happen, then do this; otherwise do that. For example, [IoT helps with] real-time crisis alerts: When negative mentions of your brand increase on Twitter, email the PR team and text the social media manager."
"Closing the loop from data to automated applications can raise productivity, as systems that adjust automatically to complex situations make many human interventions unnecessary," McKinsey's report states.
I talked to several experts and small-business owners about the impact IoT can have on business operations. Their answers may provide you with some food for thought about the Internet of Things present and future.
Automation and Control
"Small-business owners should take advantage of the amazing technology available with IoT. Being able to leverage new technologies to automate processes that were previously only available in enterprise is now available with the rise of consumer-ready tech for small-business owners. For example, a centralized system powered by a system such as Wink or SmartThings can save and optimize energy usage by turning lights on and off during business hours or when no customers are around, record video automatically, and keep track of when doors, windows or the cash drawer is opened. All of this saves time and allows small-business owners to focus on the things that matter most to their business, while ensuring that the customer experience is consistent."—Nick Loui, CMO of Vixlet, a social media management platform
"Enterprise resource planning (ERP) practically runs a business on automation. It can forecast inventory and demand, manage accounting, manage customer relations and many other aspects of the business. Coupling this with the Internet of Things can change the game for many business owners. Imagine if someone is running an outdoors equipment company. Demand for their winter coats, hats and gloves will increase when it becomes cold outside. Using the Internet of Things, this company can hook up weather forecasts to their ERP system, automatically putting in more purchasing and work orders forecasting demand to go up. For small-business owners, connecting the Internet of Things to their ERP system will free up time that could be spent paying attention to more important aspects of their business. Further, ERP is becoming more affordable for small-business owners through new cloud-based systems."—Lindsey O’Brien, marketing communications specialist for e2b teknologies, a reseller of ERP and CRM and developer of accounting software
Information and Analysis
"Small businesses must leverage this paradigm shift or die. An updated [customer relationship management] will not only allow small businesses to simply gather data, but to have the analysis [for] actionable results and [to] create informed strategies to improve the sales funnel. [Small-business owners may want to] leverage IoT to create efficient supply chain management with RFID tagging to monitor inventory. And with simpler ways to gather and organize data, small businesses now have the opportunity to analyze their data and find opportunities to growth hack their sales and customer base."—Ja-Nae Duane, angel investor and co-author of The Startup Equation
"We've had customers use IoT [on their] call and email data to determine they close on Fridays, giving their employees a three-day weekend every week. Customer requests were small enough [so] they didn't have to work Fridays! Another customer used their phone system call records to more appropriately staff based on call volumes, allowing them reallocate that money for technology to better serve their customers needs. Their exact quote was, 'We didn't understand the value of the data, until we HAD the data.'"—Michael Bremmer, CEO of Telecomquotes.com, a tech solutions company
"Investigate BLE Beacons. Beacons can be used by small businesses to tag existing mobile customers then retarget them on Facebook and other social networks. BLE Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy to send out signals to Bluetooth-enabled devices, specifically mobile phones. SMBs can use existing apps or their own app to push out this custom beacon messaging to their existing customers, tag them digitally [and] then upload their information in real-time to a custom database. That database then matches customer data to existing Twitter or Facebook profile information. Right now, it's projected that 85 percent of the top 100 U.S. Retail Locations will be equipped with beacons by the end of 2016—that’s about 3.5 million unique locations. Estimates for total beacon deployment continue to skyrocket and worldwide deployment is projected at 400 million beacons by 2020. If you haven’t looked into beacons as a hyperlocal mobile marketing initiative for yourself or your clients, now is the time."—Casey Markee, founder of Media Wyse, a digital marketing firm
Read more articles on digital tools.