We dream of a day when our fridges can tell us we’re low on milk before we pass the market, and we fear the day our printer becomes self-aware. The fact is, the Internet of Things does neither of those – yet.
Today, IoT “leverages network connections to facilitate communication between devices and systems.” In other words, it’s when all our non-computer products use the internet to communicate with each other and us.
And from Nest heating systems to Google Home, it’s mostly about the domestic. But IoT is changing. Many companies have an eye on the business needs that IoT can address, and they are shifting from cool domestic products to devices and services that will completely change the way we do business, whatever that business may be.
Let’s look at 10 ways the Internet of Things will change your business.
Data collection will become even smarter.
Impacts – advertising, product development, marketing, purchasing habits
The first thing to realize about the IoT is that smart products can track everything. That means more data coming back to your company about how, when, where and why your customers are using a smart product.
As devices become ‘smarter’, they might even be able to learn about customer behavior, enabling those devices to both make more intelligent, innovative recommendations to customers and also to give you more intelligent, innovative insights.
These insights won’t just tell you how people are using products. They’ll show you the physical condition of the room when a product is used. They’ll show you exactly when and where people begin to interact with a product, and the entire process they use, step by step.
There will be so much data that entire new categories of findings – things we haven’t even thought of yet – will develop before our eyes. And these new categories might impact on every aspect of your business, from product development and marketing to logistics and supply chains.
You will discover new customer needs.
Impacts – business model, product development
All of this data will make one part of your job easier. Suddenly, without any market research or customer feedback, you will be able to see new customer needs. You can begin to anticipate the new challenges thrown up by new products and services before your customers realize they have problems to solve. You may even find it changes the way you structure your business, as you adapt to new customer needs.
IoT will change the way technology is integrated into products.
Impacts – product development
When IoT first started, companies essentially slapped computers onto existing products – like those refrigerators with touch screens that allowed people to tweet. But really, having a social media-friendly fridge didn’t make a lot of sense.
More thoughtful companies are beginning to design devices that use the internet for more logical reasons, and they incorporate sensors to collect purposeful data that can feed back into new product designs. In other words, network connections are used to enhance the product (and the data collection) from the beginning of the design process, rather than being tacked on at the end.
Inventory tracking and management will be completely automated.
Impacts – inventory, product tracking
Right now, almost every part of shipping and inventory is automated, but you do need a few people to scan barcodes or wait for deliveries. In the future, every part of the supply chain will be completely automated, including tracking changes in conditions, so workers will only need to be called out in the event of a problem.
Purchases and delivery will be lightning fast.
Impacts – sales, delivery, supply chains
As more devices become connected to the vast IoT network, it will become easier and easier for customers to research, find and buy what they want, the very instant they want it.
The Amazon Echo is already working on this, and we can see how that is impacting customer expectations. Customers are becoming less patient, less willing to wait to discover new things and have them arrive at their door.
What does this mean for your business? It means shorter sales chains, and it also means speeding up all parts of the supply chain in order to meet this new, instant demand. That means you’re going to have to have systems in place to respond quickly, and so will all your partners.
Integrated products will predict when problems will arise.
Impacts – supply chains, sales
One of the most convenient parts of IoT will be the ability for products to be able to requisition spare parts, repairs or customer support – before problems arise. Best of all, this will apply to both sides of the equation.
A customer’s boiler could arrange for a certified repair person before it breaks down, and your automated supply chain could warn you that inclement weather could delay a shipment and suggest a new route before the truck leaves the warehouse.
For both you and your customer, IoT will mean fixing problems before they come up.
Your operational efficiency will skyrocket.
Impacts – employee efficiency, employment levels, business processes
Not all of the improvements brought by IoT will relate to products and product chains. You will also be able to use IoT devices to track your employees. This will allow you to find inefficiencies and potential for improvement in your employees’ workdays.
You will find ways to help them accomplish tasks faster, and you will be able to put their skills to the best possible use after analyzing the data they generate in the course of their jobs.
This could be anything from eliminating red tape, streamlining processes or even finding the most efficient layout for the office so workers can get to their desks faster.
Your worker safety, health and related benefits will improve.
Impacts – employee health, benefits
If your employees have wearable technology, you will be able to help improve their health, wellbeing and safety – and trim the cost of their benefits packages at the same time, too.
With wearable tech, employees could send biometric information directly to the HR department, which could tailor both support and benefits packages to individuals. That means you could send someone home for a week-long mental health break if their biometric data shows they are suffering from too much stress, instead of waiting until they have a complete breakdown.
It could also mean that you won’t provide the same kinds of health insurance to a healthy 19-year-old as you would to an overweight 65-year-old. Insurance coverage could change dynamically, leading to packages that only cost as much as is absolutely necessary.
Finally, wearable tech could introduce new safety policies that improve your employees’ health, well-being and ability to do their jobs. The tech could monitor posture, joint stress and other vital signs to ensure everyone is carrying out their job safely. This will cut down both on time off due to injury and work injury payments.
You will need new experts.
Impacts – corporate structure, hiring practices
As suggested earlier, the tidal wave of data will mean you need data experts. You will need people who can interpret the masses of data meaningfully, and you will need people who will know what data is worth gathering when the IoT side of a product is being designed.
The simple fact is, it takes a lot of training and experience to become a good data analyst or an expert in IoT design, and these positions won’t be cheap. But the analysis you get is only as good as the data you collect, and the data you collect is only as good as the tracking your product is designed to do.
In short, these will be necessary jobs for the future success of your business.
IoT will allow everyone to enjoy remote working.
Impacts – office management, HR, employee benefits
The final employee-based prediction is again something we are beginning to see already: more and more people will be able to do their jobs from anywhere in the world.
The beauty of IoT is that the communication happens over the internet’s network connections. That means a person standing right next to a product can control it as easily as a person standing on the other side of the planet.
So while we see plenty of white collar workers being able to work from home or another city right now, in the future, every worker with a computer and an internet connection will be able to enjoy the flexibility of remote working. And that, by extension, will impact the size of office you need and even where you can draw your talent from.
With IoT, you’ll be able to be a global brand, with employees in every major city, all while managing everything from your living room sofa.
The Internet of Things is going to change everything from supply chains to employee hiring practices, but the changes aren’t an inevitability for every business just yet. Right now, things are kicking off just enough that those who adapt quickly and intelligently will survive, while those who wait for the whole thing to settle down or blow over will be left in the dust.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of IoT in your business, now is the time to get proactive. Research which products and systems will likely shake up your industry. Figure out what data you need to collect and what questions you want it to answer. Begin researching and investing in the innovations and systems that will collect that data or answer those questions. Get your strategy in place now, both on the product development side and on the office management side, so that when the time comes to adopt the new technology, you can quickly, easily and as cheaply as possible.
Or take a chance by being a late adopter who just follows what everyone else is doing.
Either way, IoT will change your business.