Why your business should embrace the Internet of Things (IoT)
Few technological changes have had as big an impact on the world of business as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Its rapid expansion shows no sign of slowing down – with over 20.4 billion devices expected to be connected to it by the end of 2020. But what exactly is it? And why is it so important for your business to get on board with it?
This article aims to give a brief overview of IoT, dispel some of the myths around it and explain the benefits it could bring to your business and customers.
What is the Internet of Things?
The term Internet of Things (IoT) refers to any device that is connected to the internet. It could be anything from a smartphone to a fitness tracker or a home automation device like Amazon’s Alexa.
In the business world it’s more commonly found in sensors, used in office buildings to help monitor things like occupancy and temperature, or in the manufacturing sphere where they are used to connect machinery.
In short, it’s the technology that makes buildings and businesses talk, turning everything that goes on within them into usable data – opening up a wealth of opportunity to refine and improve your business operations.
Why do I need IoT in my business?
Making the decision to implement an IoT system in your business can be difficult and it can often be hard to convince senior managers of the need to invest.
But the rate of growth of IoT in recent years has been phenomenal and companies that don’t adopt this technology run a very real risk of being overtaken by competitors.
There are already more connected things than there are people living on earth. Calculations suggest this amount is likely to reach 20.4 billion by the year 2020.
A study by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that 75% of business leaders – from a range of industries – were already exploring IoT, while 60% of those surveyed felt that companies which are slow to integrate will fall behind their competition.
What are the most common misconceptions about IoT?
- It’s not secure: This is understandable concern and those thinking of installing an IoT solution are right to query it – data produced by IoT devices, like smart sensors, is a valuable commodity and could be used to cause serious problems if it fell into the wrong hands.However, the reality is that security standards are so high that hacks are extremely rare, and your data is much safer being stored on an internet cloud platform than it would be on your own computer.Likewise, when data is being sent from a device to the internet, there is little chance of it being intercepted. The standard encryption level for most smart-sensor, IoT-connected products is 128-bit, which it is believed it would take even the smartest computer programmes around 100 billion years to crack.
- It’s just for big businesses: While this may have been the case in the very early days of IoT, things have changed. Developments in technology mean the costs are coming down all the time and IoT solutions are well within the grasp of many SMEs and start-ups. Unlike older Building Management Systems which required hard-wiring, IoT solutions can be installed relatively quickly and easily. Most sensors can be stuck on to existing objects and are small and unobtrusive. They can be used in buildings of all ages and don’t require complex rewiring. It’s also important to consider the likely return-on-investment that these solutions can bring in the form of increased productivity and cost savings (see next section).
What are the benefits to end-users?
- Your business will save money: IoT solutions and the real-time data they provide are invaluable in helping you to ensure your business runs more efficiently. They allow you to spot patterns and easily see areas where improvements could be made – for example, desk occupancy sensors help to show areas of your buildings that are under-utilised, while temperature sensors give you a more accurate picture of how to heat or cool areas, preventing unnecessary spending on these things.
- Your business will become more environmentally friendly: Companies that have installed environment-monitoring and occupancy sensors, measuring things like CO2, temperature and humidity, have been able to make big reductionsin their energy use by adjusting their air-conditioning and heating/cooling units. This type of information will be crucial when the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive – which sets ambitious targets for improving the energy efficiency of all buildings – is rolled out across the EU in 2020.
- Productivity will improve: IoT solutions can increase businesses’ productivity in numerous ways. Take, for example, the manufacturing industry, where machinery breakdowns can be extremely costly. Being connected to a network means potential problems that could halt production are spotted before they occur – CT clamps which measure the current travelling through cables will flag any unusual use of power before a machine comes to a standstill, allowing problems to be sorted proactively and minimising disruption.
It can also help to improve the productivity of your staff, by improving the experience for those who work in your buildings. Sensors can be used to monitor temperature, humidity and CO2 levels, ensuring a comfortable environment where staff produce their best work.
- Increased competitiveness: Connecting your buildings and equipment to the internet provides you with valuable data, which can be used to analyse systems and processes and quickly spot areas for improvement. Businesses that have these systems are more agile and can respond and adapt more quickly to changes than their competitors that don’t, ultimately providing customers with a more responsive, efficient service.
What should I consider when implementing an IoT solution?
The great thing about IoT solutions is their flexibility. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution and systems can be fine-tuned to your business’s needs. Make sure you talk through your aims with providers to ensure you end up with a solution that fits your business’s needs and be absolutely clear on what you want to achieve before investing.
It’s also important to look for good interoperability, which will make it easier to scale-up and add to your system as your business grows. Choose solutions that use common internet protocols like the Enocean wireless protocol and talk to each other in widely-used computing languages like J-SON or MQTT.
If your company is thinking about taking its first steps into IoT talk to us about our starter kits which have been designed to help businesses explore the benefits of IoT and smart sensors before committing to a large-scale solution.