Industry 4.0 and IoT or Internet of Things are both terms used to describe a growing network of connected devices. Connected devices range from home thermostats to tablets and cell phones to fitness trackers to pacemakers and are used in all sectors and industries. According to Gartner, there will be 25 billion connected things by 2020. Many small businesses probably already use an IoT device they may not even think of as being one. Square card readers that everyone from coffee vendors to dog walkers use to collect credit card payments are one example of an IoT device.
The true value of an IoT device is not its ability to simply connect to the internet, however, but to connect to other devices. For instance, imagine your square card reader was connected to your espresso machine, so the espresso machine would immediately start making an order as soon as it was entered into the system. Instead of having one employee that needs to both take orders and make coffee, they just enter the information and the coffee makes itself.
This just one of the many potential IoT applications for small businesses. Retail is also not the only business that can benefit from IoT devices. Here are some other ways that businesses can implement IoT.
1. Digital Assistants for Business
Most people already use a connected device of some kind for personal use, such as an Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod. The truth is, however, that with more and more people working from home these digital assistants already have at least a moderate ability to do double duty as office assistants.
Just a simple voice command can cue your assistant to set a reminder to call an important client at a certain time, send a prospective client a gift or even give you a head’s up when it’s time to go pick up the kids from school. The problem with home assistants however, is that at the moment, they lack context to truly help you accomplish more detailed business tasks. But that is changing.
For instance x.ai has developed a digital assistant (Amy + Andrew) that can check multiple schedules to coordinate meetings at a time that works best for everyone, even across multiple time zones. This is particularly useful for remote teams or for businesses starting new enterprises in foreign countries. For now, the capabilities of digital assistants for business are limited, but they won’t be for long.
2. Smart Hubs For Security
While you may have insurance to cover business losses, the truth is these losses take a far more serious toll on small businesses than on big businesses. Small businesses are also more likely to have the small business owner’s personal fortunes tied up in the business as well.
This makes having good security essential, but security is also expensive. IoT devices, however, can provide the same level of protection as many expensive security companies at a fraction of the cost.
When business owners have a home office, they may not think to provide additional security for their home-based business or office, but a home office should still have additional security. A dedicated smart hub can help provide it.
Connected motion sensors, cameras, lights, fire alarms and other security features can all be connected to a hub to alert you when your business might potentially be in jeopardy. Some connected devices are also capable of responding differently based on different scenarios.
The Securifi Almond 3, for instance might have the best business applications, since it uses an IFTTT applet. IFTTT stands for If This Then That. It means that if one thing happens, the system will respond one way and if something else happens, it will respond differently. For instance, if someone makes more than three attempts at entering a security code to get in the office, the hub might contact you. If someone bypasses the code altogether and smashes a window, it will can notify the police.
3. Better project management
No matter what kind of project you are managing, there are generally certain things that can’t happen until other things have been completed. Staying on the same page and knowing when one job has been completed so the next can be done is one of the biggest challenges of project management.
Sometimes, projects can be held up for days waiting on tasks to be completed that were already finished days prior. Complications can also occur among remote teams when one team member in one time zone is waiting on another team member in another time zone to complete one aspect of a project so they can begin theirs.
IoT devices can send alerts to all interested parties when one task has been accomplished so the next stage can begin. When devices are connected to project management apps, they can even check off certain tasks as having been completed or move projects along stages of completion.
IoT devices can also help small business owners not have to be the “middleman” that moves things along.
For instance, let’s say you have:
- a graphic artist in LA working on a logo for a new product
- a 3D modeler in Japan working on the prototype
- and a web designer in Chicago creating the web page for the new product.
The 3D modeler can’t complete the model until they have the logo and the web designer can’t complete the web page until they have an image of the prototype. IoT devices can send alerts to all parties as tasks are completed or waiting approval and update the project management app so everyone can see at a glance exactly where things stand.
4. Better scheduling of services
There may be very little that takes more time for small businesses than scheduling. For businesses that need to offer appointments to clients, there are automated schedulers that they can access any time, which cuts down on the need for reception staff.
Most businesses also require the services of a number of different vendors, however, and that is where a range of new IoT products can help out. For instance, one company has created a sensor that tells trash collectors when trash cans need to be emptied.
While this may not seem like much of perk for most businesses, it can be a lifesaver to restaurants in busy metropolises like New York City or in hot, muggy areas like Georgia or Florida where trash can begin to quickly smell rank. Instead of having to take the time to actually call someone and tell them you need an extra trash pickup, your trash bin can tell them itself.
While there are most definitely a wide range of IoT applications that can benefit large businesses, there are plenty of applications for small businesses as well. And not just retail or storefront businesses. From better project management to new technologies that can help teams spread across the globe, IoT may turn out to be an even better friend to small businesses than big ones.
About the author:
Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate tech enthusiast. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie enjoys reading about latest apps and gadgets and binge-watching his favorite TV shows. You can reach him @bmorepeters