What is the Internet of Things and how can it help your business?

What is the Internet of Things and how can it help your business?

Sarah Rees

Sarah Rees
20th February 2017

With over 24 billion devices expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to become a life-changing reality in the coming years – but what does that mean for you and your business?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used to describe a network of everyday devices that connect to the internet, such as baby monitors that send videos to your smartphone or the Amazon Echo, which operates on voice commands and can do everything from turning your television on to researching the temperatures in Canada.

Admittedly, some of these IoT devices might be deemed gimmicks – do we really need to be able to control the kettle via smartphone? – but the business potential of internet-connected devices is huge. Even within a small business, the incorporation of IoT-supported systems can unlock many bountiful benefits that could be the difference between survival and failure in the inter-connected future. An AVG survey found that 66% of small businesses in the UK think IoT will help their bottom line – and they have every right to be optimistic!

So, what are the potential benefits to your business?

Reduction in operating costs

While you’ll have to pay out initially to purchase your devices, their application across your business can help cut costs by automating systems and processes that would otherwise require a member of staff. For example, you can install smart locks or sensors to monitor your premises rather than hire a security guard. On a wider scale, the NHS are using IoT devices to help them cope with tight budgets by getting patients to self-monitor at home and send their data via their phone to the surgery, reducing the need for a doctor to visit them at home. The same thinking could be applied if you are a tradesman or run a repair business – by providing your customers with monitoring devices to gather information about what needs doing to save you visiting the premises in person.

Increase in productivity

Those devices that save you money may also save you time, helping you to increase productivity and be more efficient managing your business. For example, using IoT devices to monitor stock and rotation could help prevent waste and ensure you have a ready supply when customers come calling. If you operate a shop, sensors can be installed to monitor customer behaviour to help focus your production line. Whatever your business, IoT devices are great at gathering and sharing lots of data, providing powerful, accurate information to help you target your services and products more effectively.

Saving energy

Investing in IoT devices presents an opportunity to make your business greener, saving money as well as earning brownie points with your environment-conscious customers. For example, IoT thermostats can monitor and control your heating, lighting and air-conditioning systems, allowing you to switch them on only when required and thus reducing the amount of energy being wasted. You can control these devices remotely via your smartphone, or set up automated systems to make the decisions for you.

Developing new products

IoT doesn’t just ease existing systems, it can also support and enable growth and expansion, developing your business in ways that weren’t previously possible. Be inspired by Uber – the ride sharing service simply wouldn’t exist without IoT – and ask yourself what you can do to refine or develop your products and services using IoT. Pest Control businesses could put sensors into mouse traps so they react when a rodent approaches, while a wine delivery service could install sensors into the bottom of cases to alert them when the customer needs more. Think outside the box!

Working remotely

The internet may have made working remotely possible, but IoT will make it easy. By networking your devices to allow all data and information to be available on your smartphone, you only need an internet connection to work from anywhere in the world. You can also be assured of accurate information – for example, you won’t be reliant on potentially subjective reports from your colleagues – and may find you can reduce rent and bills on business properties by working from home more often.

Boosting customer relationships

While IoT can make your life as a business owner easier, it can also help you serve your time-poor customers quicker and more efficiently, making your services more attractive to new customers while safeguarding your existing customer base. For example, using a credit card reader that attaches to your smartphone makes it easy for customers when you are selling your homemade jam at a street market.

You will also be able to offer a more personalised service by using IoT, which is a great appeal to customers. For example, by networking devices given to your suppliers, you can tell customers which part of the country their food was harvested in, or send out easy-to-use devices to allow repeat customers to transmit data on the performance of their radiators so you can arrive at their house with the right part. These small additions to your service can make all the difference when operating within a competitive market.

The age of IoT is coming, but it needn’t be a source of intimidation to small businesses. Rather, IoT provides unparalleled opportunities to grow and refine your business, streamline your operations and make processes easier, more productive and more profitable. View the rise of inter-connected devices as the chance to take your business to new heights and bring your operations into the technological age.