Everything you need to know about how the internet of things could affect your business
It’s likely you’ve heard a lot more about the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) in recent years. This massive technology trend is taking the business and consumer world by storm, and promises to fundamentally change how Australians manage both business and their personal lives.
But what exactly is the Internet of Things? And how is it going to affect Australian businesses? While there’s a lot of interest in the technology from a consumer perspective, the Internet of Things also offers a great deal to business – both opportunities and some significant challenges that need to be addressed for the technology to be used safely.
An introduction to the Internet of Things
In the most basic terms, the IoT is powered by the idea of taking as many objects as possible and inserting chips or technology into them so that they can connect to the internet. For example, one representation of the IoT is installing an internet-enabled light bulb in your home, and then controlling the light online from your smartphone or other internet-enabled device. In a commercial sense, a drill on an oil rig or components in an airplane that collect and then transmit data about their functionality to a head office or operator are also IoT-enabled devices.
The primary driver behind the IoT is one of convenience. Your IoT-enabled car knows what time you’ll be home based on the traffic data that it’s collecting, and then tells your IoT-enabled air conditioner to switch itself on at the right time for you to come home to a cool, comfortable temperature without wasting energy. In the office, an IoT-enabled printer would be able to tell when it was low on toner, and automatically place an order for new toner.
At the largest scale, the IoT is being used as the foundation of what is called ‘smart cities’. A ‘smart city’ is one that reduces wastage and helps efficiency in areas such as power supply, traffic flow, garbage disposal, and more.
What impact will the IoT have on business?
The impact that the IoT will have on business, both for operations within the business itself, and how it interacts with its customers, is many and varied.
1. It will make collecting customer data easier
Data is gold to the modern business, as it helps them to understand the behaviours, preferences, and habits of customers. Each IoT device provides the company that built it with data on how consumers use it, and that in turn helps the business to refine its engagement with its customers.
2. It will make organising the business easier
Smart, IoT-enabled devices will make it easier to manage inventory and logistics operation by reducing the need to manually track inventory levels and keep tabs on inventory changes automatically. It also makes tracking the inventory in transit easier. This convenience frees staff to focus their energy on high skill tasks instead of tedious administration tasks.
3. It will facilitate remote work
Remote workers tend to be happier and more productive, so a business benefits from facilitating the ability to have workers off site. IoT-enabled devices can allow remote workers to be fully ‘connected’ back into head office, helping with accountability and also allowing staff members to leverage the resources and capabilities of the head office so they can do their work seamlessly.
4. Your business will be able to serve customers more quickly
Speed is key to the modern business, and we’ve seen that consumers are researching and making purchases on ever-shorter buying cycles. The culture of instant gratification also means they will want to have their purchases delivered quickly. The efficiencies that IoT technology enables will help address consumer information enquiries more quickly, and ensure that they have their purchases in the fastest possible time.
5. You’ll be able to do more with fewer staff
One of the many efficiencies that IoT introduces into the workplace is automation. Automation is when a task is handled from end-to-end by technology; think of a factory line in which a robot handles various production and assembly tasks. IoT can remove the need for a human touch from data collection and management, or consumer-facing tasks, including sales and customer support. In Japan, for example, robots are being rolled out to department stores to provide consumers with information and purchasing advice, reducing the need for human salespeople.
The IoT won’t render human staff obsolete, but it frees them up to concentrate on tasks that the IoT devices can’t do. As a result, businesses will be able to resource them with IoT devices to do much more with fewer headcounts.
6. You’ll need to make some new hires
On the flip side to the previous point, the increasing role that IoT will play in the organisation will also mean that you’ll need new, specialised skills in the organisation to manage it. The more reliant your business becomes on IoT, the more expensive it will be if things break or the technology is managed inefficiently. Businesses will need dedicated teams of IoT specialists within the broader IT organisation in order to preserve the integrity of their IoT investments.
7. Businesses will need to be far better at security
For all the benefits that IoT enables, it is also an extreme security risk. Hackers can take control of cars that are IoT-enabled. Far too many IoT devices are built to poor security standards. In the rush to derive benefits from what IoT devices enable, it will be important not to lose sight of the very real impacts that poor security practices can have on a business; particularly larger organisations, which are already natural targets for hackers.
Businesses will need to enact strict security policies around the rollout and use of IoT-enabled devices, and this will be another one of the key roles of the IoT-focused staff within the technology team.
Leveraging the Internet of Things for business advantage
The security concerns of IoT aren’t going to be enough to stop the investment and leverage of the technology. The competitive nature of today’s environments are such that too much competitiveness is lost if the organisation eschews the use of IoT devices. But, as it is a new technology, businesses will need to grapple with it while best practices and standards are developed.
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