Chances are, your business is IoT-ready. Whether you are an information-based business, provide services, or sell products, you can improve your business by using the IoT even now.
Much of what we can do with the IoT is business analytics. This sounds fancy, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as collecting a little data about your customers, employees, or business processes and then making changes based on what it says. Interestingly though, most businesses are collecting a lot of data.
Forbes recently reported that “80% of enterprises and 63% of small & medium businesses already have deployed or are planning to deploy big data projects in the next twelve months.”
The difference the IoT brings is that with low cost sensors, businesses can affordably collect data of their choosing from the physical world. The analytics wave was and is largely based on analyzing data that businesses already had sitting around in the cyber world. The IoT enables them to collect data from the physical world, not just their accounting or customer database.
Let’s get right to it. In this article, we’ll look at some examples of IoT applications that businesses can start using right now to gain value from the IoT. We’ll look primarily at two approaches using IoT applications—tracking and customer interaction—but there are many more.
If it moves, track it
Any business that deals with physical products or uses physical assets to render services deals with the problem of materials or inventory loss. In years past, tracking some items, like pallets or tools, was too expensive to justify and costly enough to make a dent in profitability. New low-power, wide-area technologies, which came of age in the last year or so, are more affordable and allow longer battery life.
This is important because it reduces the cost of maintenance and upkeep, allowing for a positive ROI for the first time. This means that you can now place trackers on inventory, tools, or other assets so that when it goes missing, you can find it. And more importantly, you can find out why it goes missing and address the actual problem, not just the symptom.
Another concern from some employers is tracking employees, their productivity, and keeping them safe. And this tracking doesn’t necessarily have to be about the employees. When collecting activity data on your entire workforce you can see patterns.
These patterns could show whether your company has laid out tasks in an efficient manner. Are forklift drivers taking too long in certain areas of the warehouse? Do employees have to wait for a certain task to be done before loading things up? Track them and find out. Of course, you can also find out which employees are more efficient than the others, and have quantifiable evidence. These can be used to help provide constructive feedback, thank the high performers, and for your performance reviews.
The IoT can improve workplace safety as well. If there are dangerous areas of the worksite, set your tracker to alert if anyone enters the area to notify them and management to keep them safe. Keeping track of a fleet of vehicles can also be done much more cheaply than in the past. Alerts can be set if vehicles leave a certain area, making sure employees stay on track.
Check in with your drivers without interrupting their work or distracting them from driving safely by automatically tracking the progress along their route. Vehicle gone rogue? Shut it down over the air. Track vehicle condition and perform preventative maintenance saving your company lost time and money. Using the IoT to improve your business doesn’t have to be off the wall and it doesn’t have to wait.
Engage with your customers…as IoT companies
The Internet of Things also allows for new ways to interact and engage with customers. Some companies, like Amazon, have gone about this in a very direct way. The Amazon Dash Button is a button you place in your home and when you hit the button it orders a product—like bags, paper towels, or whatever—that Amazon then delivers to you. It’s a simple idea, that makes shopping very simple for consumers. This is an example of using the IoT to interact with customers in new ways
Brick and mortar businesses can get involved as well. Suppose you are a store selling high-end pet products. You know that your foot traffic is pretty good, but you aren’t sure how that traffic relates to your customers’ purchases.
Customers come in, walk around, ogle your products, pick them up, put them back, think to themselves. You ask them if they need help, “no, just browsing” they say. During busy times these customers come and go so you can’t see what is being browsed, and it’s hard to remember anyway. Not all of these customers are browsing.
Some are checking out prices, comparing to other stores or online. And some are just curious what premium pet products even look like. In any case, with an instrumented sales floor you can now understand customer foot traffic and see where your customers, or rather, where your potential customers are going and what they are looking at. This combined with your sales data can give insight into how your store is “converting”.
Just like websites or presidential campaigns optimize their websites for conversions (downloads, or sales, or donations), stores can now do the same with low cost sensors.
Customer interaction can happen in other simple ways. Imagine again, you own a store and you would love to get some very simple feedback from your customers. So, when your customer finishes checking out you ask them to hit the green button on the counter if their customer service was satisfactory and the red if it was unsatisfactory. They smile (or frown) and tap the green or red button and go on their way.
This feedback could provide historical customer satisfaction data and enable you to track how well you are meeting the needs of your customers. You could also use this system to understand your employees to see if certain shifts have more difficult customers or have less service oriented employees.
The buttons could be more product-centric. They could have three options:
- I didn’t find what I wanted
- I found what I wanted, but it was too expensive
- I found what I wanted, and bought it
This on its own or combined with foot traffic data could be used to provide a profile for your company on its price competitiveness and customer satisfaction.
Much more is possible with a little creativity and your business is more likely than not ready to use the IoT to improve. Whether you sell products or services, specialize in information technology or premium pet products, you can put the IoT to work today.