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Harnessing the Power of the IoT

November 28, 2017

SMBs have an important opportunity to realize cost savings and greater efficiency by joining this new wave of connectivity.

The pace of technological innovation has never been faster, and it can feel overwhelming at times. But it's important for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to keep up with developments so they can identify and harness the ones that provide significant benefits to their enterprises. The Internet of Things (IoT) certainly falls into that category.

IoT includes everyday devices that connect to the internet, sending and receiving data. This offers new potential for devices to report on various business conditions or circumstances and either adjusting systems or signaling necessary action, potentially saving time and money.

IoT opens up big data to small business

"The Internet of Things offers tremendous potential by enabling businesses to generate and have access to big data--often in real time," says Roger Meike, director of innovation at Intuit. "It is both an introspective microscope for detailed self-evaluation and a telescope to provide big insights."

In order for America's 28 million or so small businesses to remain competitive, they must be able to make sense of the data they have access to, Meike adds. "They will need tools and technology to take advantage of the information that can be gleaned from sensors and effectors of the Internet of Things."

Network reliability and bandwidth are key enablers

IoT promises to make bandwidth and network reliability more important than ever, as it is expected to generate 600 zettabytes of data by 2020. "I believe this will have a radical impact on the way small and midsize enterprises will manage their IT infrastructure, especially those with micro data centers or remote office/branch office sites," says Bob Davis, CMO at Atlantis Computing. "IoT will force organizations to move business applications and data away from centralized data centers to factory floors and retail shops."

Prime areas of IoT potential benefits

Sound challenging? Maybe so, but it's doable--and worth it, because IoT offers so many potential benefits to SMBs. Here are some of the most promising areas:

  • Lighting and HVAC. Automated, sensor-based, and remotely controlled lighting and HVAC systems allow businesses to adjust heating, cooling, and lighting based on a variety of factors, from occupancy to time of day, in order to increase efficiency and cost savings. "HVAC, lighting, and energy management are popular IoT projects for SMBs because the ROI is predictable, and the break-even point is relatively short," notes Julian Watson, senior principal analyst of IoT at IHS Markit.
  • Inventory management. IoT has inventory applications across multiple industries, from manufacturing to retailing--even fish farming. In a retail environment, sensors can be used to track merchandise and to optimize inventory and improve sales, says Goro Yumiba, CEO of SATO Global Solutions. For example, if the last on-display item of a particular style or size is sold, an IoT application can notify a sales associate in real time, enabling immediate replenishment of shelves.
  • Equipment and facilities maintenance and management. IoT sensors can help improve maintenance compliance and response times in the case of breakdowns and performance issues. Software can be configured for preventative maintenance scheduling; reminders and task completion can be organized and retained for all building personnel to reference for quality control and work-order tasking or follow-up, says Bud Hammer, president of Atlantic Westchester. IoT can make it possible for facilities managers to monitor operational status remotely and to proactively solve issues and potential problems even before they are detected by occupants.

The big unknown: security

IoT's potential benefits for SMBs are impressive, but the technology also needs security measures, as well. "IoT devices tend to have weaker security protections than regular computers," warns Mike Baker, founder of cyber security provider Mosaic451. He says IT pros are focusing their efforts to counter security threats on three areas:

  • Secure mobile device management and limited employee access to consumer data. It's important that IoT apps and networks provide the capability to trace all activity to a particular user.
  • Data loss prevention. Businesses must monitor the flow of outbound data and stop it based on predetermined policies already in place.
  • Utilizing standard Web filtering technology to block use of, or at least posting to, social media sites. The access to dynamic content and personal information many social media sites provide makes them potential entry points for hackers. "Making Web filtering policies a collaborative effort between management and all employees can ensure that all needs and viewpoints are addressed," Baker says.

When all is said and done, the question of whether or not to adopt IoT solutions boils down to the same kind of cost-benefit analysis business owners apply to all such decisions, says Tom Coughlin, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and founder of Coughlin Associates. "If the numbers show that streamlining operations with IoT technologies saves a company money, then the benefits outweigh the costs," which makes clear the wisdom of incorporating IoT, he says. "In the beginning, I think the sweet spot for SMBs is low- to mid-level operation cost options, depending, of course, on the type of devices, the strength and type of internet connection, and where it's deployed."

This article originally ran on Inc.

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