Is The Internet Of Things (IoT) A “Thing” For SMBs?
Anything can be an Internet device. All it needs is a small chip and a Wi-Fi connection. The Internet of Things (or IoT) is already a reality, and it’s growing. It provides new opportunities for businesses of all sizes. It can streamline the operations of small and medium businesses, save them money, and present whole new ways of doing business.
Areas Where The IoT Will Aid SMBs
Equipment will become “smart” about itself. When a machine starts to malfunction, internal sensors will notice the condition before it becomes obvious. They’ll send out an alert to repair the device before it gets worse, or to order a replacement before it breaks down. It might even order the replacement parts itself.
Problem reporting will include issues as simple and common as low batteries. The result will be lower maintenance costs and fewer disruptions in operation. For warning devices such as smoke detectors, it will mean greater safety.
“With more and more systems shipping with Internet connectivity, the concept of predictive maintenance is likely to expand exponentially in the Internet of things.” – Jeff O’Brien, ReliablePlant
Internet-based security systems are less expensive and easier to connect to monitoring equipment than old-style closed-circuit TV cameras. Motion sensors can report unexpected activity. Access control systems can record who has been in an area and when they arrived and left. The best ones provide better security than analog access cards, and they can easily revoke individual access when necessary.
Inventory And Ordering
Tracking systems let a business know exactly what it has in stock at any moment. When integrated with ordering systems, they allow ordering new stock just in time. Storage requirements are lower, and there’s less waste on items with a limited shelf life. Real-time tracking can help identify the source of any inventory shrinkage.
Real-time tracking of goods provides even more benefit when used with analytic software. It can determine which items are selling well from day to day, identify items that are often bought together, and determine how much of a boost sale pricing creates. Recognition of purchasing patterns can prevent running out of stock unexpectedly.
Storage for inventory or supplies with strict temperature and humidity requirements can malfunction, or doors might be left open. Not catching the problem quickly is expensive. Environmental monitoring systems will detect anomalies and alert the person in charge.
A heating and cooling system in a work area can adjust its temperature targets based on whether specific rooms are currently in use. When no one is in a room, it can let the temperature drift more, saving money.
Electronic Price Tagging
Keeping accurate prices on the shelves is a painful task for a retail business. Some stores just display useless bar codes. Errors in displayed prices are common. If the price at the register is higher than the price on the shelf, the customer feels cheated. Some stores have scanners for customers, but seldom enough of them.
This is an area which is still under development, but some exciting electronic solutions are bound to arrive soon. Kohl’s has started putting electronic price displays in its stores. According to employee reports, they aren’t networked and have to be set manually. They’re a cautious first step toward price displays that are connected to a central system and coordinated with point-of-sale devices. With electronic pricing, it will be easier to run short-term sales and observe the results. Incorrect price labels will be a thing of the past.
A bit Of Caution
Each device on the IoT is a simple computer in its own right. Adding hundreds or thousands of devices raises network management and security issues. Mistakes can result in a very slow network or let intruders get in. Introducing IoT to a business requires careful thought and planning.
Currently, adding IoT devices to a business in a big way is for the adventurous. As the technology matures, it will become not just easier but necessary to take advantage of its possibilities in order to compete.