Technology is a great playing field leveler when it comes to business. Now that the Internet of Things is gaining the attention of large companies, one cannot help but wonder how it can affect small and midsized enterprises (SMEs) and change the way people work.
Here are five ways SMEs can leverage the IoT.
Tap more data
If you have not considered tapping big data, now is a good time to start. Even if you are analyzing the data you already have, it is time to consider unlikely sources of information that would help you with your business.
The Internet of Things will collect data from the surroundings and sending it to a datacenter. That can be combined with other Internet-based information. With the IoT, you can gather new types of data easily and cost-effectively, giving you a wealth of data you could mine for insights to stay competitive and innovative.
For example, a clothing retailer can combine forecasts from the Internet and local weather data from the IoT to create daily specials on appropriate pieces of clothing. For longer-term planning, when data points to an extraordinarily cold winter, the retailer can increase its inventory for jackets, sweaters, and thick clothes early in the season. It could also look for ways to make the store warmer and more comfortable for shoppers once winter arrives.
Another potential use of the IoT is determining consumer behavior patterns. A pizza parlor owner who wants to know when to hand out flyers and lunch coupons can take a look at foot traffic data and determine when there would be a lot of people walking past the restaurant.
Keep better track of everything
Location tracking with the IoT can be painless and simple. In hospitals across the country today, sensors and tags are keeping track of equipment. The people tasked with caring for that equipment can locate an item in a fraction of a second. They no longer waste time poring over written logs or hunting the equipment down. Further, the institution saves money by not having to replace lost equipment.
Tracking can help taxi companies dispatch the nearest cab to a call-in passenger. Companies could locate service personnel deployed in the field to respond efficiently to on-demand service calls. Inventory management becomes a lot simpler and quicker, too. Tools, equipment, and vehicles can all be connected to transmit their location data and other information, such as how long they have been in use and who is using them.
Reduce manufacturing costs
Device interconnectivity in the IoT will give rise to smart grids, which use sensors, meters, tags, and other tools to collect data about energy consumption. The smart grid can make use of this information and efficiently control the flow of electricity, even tapping energy sources such as wind, solar, and water.
More efficient energy consumption allows businesses to manufacture products in an environmentally friendly way. It also helps businesses reduce electricity expenditures by using cheaper sources of electricity and identifying energy-inefficient assets that can be replaced.
In the future, product features will be secondary to service. Consider today’s smartphones. If you compared their specifications, you would not see too much of a difference in features. Consumers choose their provider primarily on the basis of its service, not the phones it offers.
The IoT can increase service levels. Because inventory management will be easier through asset tracking, retailers can quickly and accurately locate the product a customer wants. With all that data available, SMEs can tailor fit a customer’s brand experience, thereby giving the SME a better way to engage with its customers.
Interconnected products can also help SMEs predict what the customer will want next, even if the customer does not know it yet. For example, sensors would allow a coffee shop manager to know that a customer has been sitting at a table for 20 minutes. The manager could have an employee bring that customer the day’s newspapers or offer a selection of reading materials — or a piece of cake to go with the customer’s latte.
Improve after-sales service
The service does not necessarily stop when the customer leaves the shop. For products that need maintenance or after-sales service, the IoT can make the effort more efficient. For example, General Electric’s technicians know when they should visit their jet engine customers for preventive maintenance, as well as what action will be needed before it the system fails. It’s all based on GE’s analysis of sensor data gathered from the engine via the IoT. Analysis of all that data can also help in the design of product improvements.
These are only a few of the ways SMEs can leverage the IoT to their advantage. The more a business incorporates the IoT into its operations, the more it will discover that the benefits go far beyond these.