Connectivity may come to be the defining feature of the 21st century. It’s not just people who can communicate with each other over the internet, devices can too.
These online “smart” devices are part of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and look set to shape the future, not just of our private lives, but also of businesses large and small. The team at Components Bureau look at how businesses can take advantage of this technology to improve business processes and track customer behaviour.
Understanding the Internet of Things
In this context a “thing” is basically any item that can communicate meaningful information through a network. For practical purposes, this means any device equipped with some form of sensor and a means of getting online.
In spite of the name, these “things” do not necessarily need to connect to the public internet; they may well connect to a private network. In either case, they will be guided by instructions given either by automated systems or by actual humans.
The Power of Data
Ultimately, the power of the Internet of Things is its ability to transport, analyze and respond to data quickly and efficiently. Data transport has long been very straightforward, even basic smartphones are more than capable of sending and receiving large quantities of data in a very short period of time even if they only have a mobile data connection.
The issue has been analyzing and responding to the data.
This takes real processing power and either sophisticated computer systems or human intervention, all of which carries a cost. For a long time, this cost has meant that the many benefits of the Internet of Things were, for all practical purposes, only available to big businesses with deep pockets, which could afford hefty upfront investments in the hope of excellent long-term returns.
Now, however, the rise of cloud computing has made the Internet of Things accessible to businesses of all sizes and small business can expect to see major benefits from it.
How the Internet of Things can Benefit Small Businesses
What “things” are really good at is undertaking the sort of repetitive, monotonous tasks for which it is expensive to employ humans and which are prone to human error. These tasks are often being done at speed and/or without any thought (or resentfully because they are so boring).
Handing these tasks over to “things” can both have a direct benefit in terms of cost savings and/or increased productivity and also indirect benefits in terms of staff and customer satisfaction.
Here are some examples of how this could work in practice.
Keeping Track of Inventory
As anyone who’s ever managed an inventory will know, unless a human makes the time to go and check on stocks, the chances are that they will only find out something needs to be ordered when it is has already run out (or is on the point of running out).
With the Internet of Things, however, devices can tell you themselves when you need to order more supplies. In fact, in some cases, if you choose, they can even do the ordering for you.
Monitoring Customer Behavior
Even the smallest online companies often have a huge advantage over real-world companies when it comes to understanding their customers’ behavior, thanks to the wide range of statistics and analytics to which they have access.
The Internet of Things can help to level this playing field and allow real-world businesses to respond to customer activity in much the same way as their online counterparts already do.
Providing Much Greater Flexibility of Work and/or Service
The Internet of Things reduces the need for there to be humans on site, which vastly increases the options for working and servicing customers remotely.
While this has obvious implications for people in rural areas, it can also be a huge benefit in cities, which are notorious for their congestion.