Some experts predict that by 2020 the number of things connected to the Internet could exceed 50 billion. All facets of life are becoming interconnected. For some this induces nightmarish visions from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the ship’s computer, HAL 9000, kills several men. Others envision a life straight out of The Jetsons complete with robot maids and flying cars. In reality, the Internet of Things (IoT) presents limitless possibilities.
The IoT is Already Changing the Way We Live
From fitness trackers to connected cars, IoT devices are already transforming our daily lives. Through technological advances, we have better tools to help us increase productivity and efficiency. Smart refrigerators can sense when someone is running low on milk and send a message before they get home. Wearable devices can track steps as well as sleep patterns, bringing individuals more awareness about their habits and helping them to make healthier choices. While this impact on personal life is evident, how does it translate to the business world? The key is not in the devices themselves but rather the data sensors gather. Businesses can analyze that data and use feedback to make smarter decisions and cut costs.
Energy consumption can be a significant expense, and businesses can use the IoT to help cut these costs. For example, sensors placed in lights such as those designed by Enlightened can collect data that will help managers optimize how they use spaces. The sensors track motion, and lights can function independently, turning off when everyone leaves for the day. Smart thermostats like those produced by Nest can learn behaviors and program themselves to adjust the temperature automatically when a room is not in use. Using space efficiently is also important. Managers can analyze other data tracked by sensors including traffic patterns to see how space is being used by workers. They might turn a large unused conference room into smaller functional areas or restructure office space so that interdependent teams are near each other.
Businesses often invest heavily in equipment, and repairing and maintaining it can quickly eat into the bottom line. The IoT presents many options for reducing the time that equipment is down as well as improving its life span. For example, sensors can monitor equipment, automatically scheduling maintenance as it’s needed as opposed to routine inspections. In turn, this reduces the cost for parts and labor. Sensors can also detect abnormal conditions and alert users before a component breaks down. Companies such as SAP offer predictive maintenance solutions. IoT devices can also increase productivity. Machines can communicate with one another, reducing the need for human intervention. For example, a printer might order ink before it runs out. Microsoft has released its Azure IoT Suite to help companies improve their processes.
Inventory is a major asset for any business, so mismanagement and loss can exponentially increase costs. Data from sensors can be analyzed to decrease the number of products that are lost, damaged, or stolen. If inventory is low, IoT devices can help to place orders and restock automatically. For example, Coca Cola’s Freestyle Soda Machine has cartridges that contain RFID chips. When the cartridge is running low on syrup, it automatically sends a message to both Coca Cola and the business owner. IoT devices can also help increase the ability to track and communicate with products. Sensors such as RFID tags attached to inventory can track an object’s location, and GPS can be built in to locate an item in real-time as well as increase its visibility during transit. Innovative companies are already offering such services. Purfresh has developed a cloud-based cargo monitoring software, and Tile has created small Bluetooth devices that attach to anything and can be tracked using an app on a smartphone or tablet.
Although flying cars are not likely to arrive in the near future, the IoT will continue to change the way we live and run our businesses. By using sensors to collect data, managers can optimize the function of facilities. With improved technology, machines will need less maintenance and can monitor their own functions. Moreover, businesses will be able to control inventory with real-time tracking and data that helps minimize loss. In the end, IoT will help businesses cut costs and improve their bottom line.