The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been rapid. Worldwide, the number of IoT-connected devices is expected to reach 43 billion by 2023 – a full threefold increase from 2018 according to McKinsey, which will amount to a market forecast to surpass US$176 billion by 2022.
IoT devices represent the physical manifestation of the digital transformation taking place around us. Use cases are vast – hardly any industry is exempt from its benefits. In the utility sector, for example, sensors in water pipes could feedback maintenance data to programs that predict when fractures are likely to occur. In precision agriculture, crop health can be revealed thanks to sensors that measure light, humidity, temperature, soil moisture, and feed it back to farmers.
In healthcare, chronic condition monitoring will drive the most IoT endpoints. And in automotive, IoT connectivity manifesting in a range of ‘add-on’ devices, accomplishing tasks such as fleet management.
Aviation, construction, logistics, and transport are among so many others that are reaping the advantages.
But, while we may think investments in IoT are the reserve of only the largest manufacturers or airlines – where the technology would just be one of many initiatives among blockchain and AI for example – smaller-scale businesses can access and benefit from IoT, enabling new ways of working.
According to Vodafone’s 2020 IoT Spotlight report, businesses see IoT as an essential element of being future-ready, with 73% agreeing that organizations who fail to embrace IoT will fall behind within just five years. Erik Brenneis, IoT director at Vodafone Business said IoT has “grown-up”, becoming an essential technology for businesses that want to be resilient, flexible, and quicker to adapt to change.
Here are three ways SMEs can leverage IoT for a competitive advantage.
#1 | Operations, inventory, and logistics
Everyday, the automated warehouses of online-only retailer Ocado sorts orders using robotics, software, and barcodes – all of which eliminate the need for people, and have enabled the retailer to overtake more traditional supermarket competitors.
Smaller businesses today can use barcodes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and IoT devices for inventory control. A combination of the Internet of Things and RFID can create ‘smart stores’ that are equipped with sensors and cameras to allow remote and centralized inventory management, including automated restocking. Small businesses can also adopt IoT robotic carts to make delivery fully automated and controlled by a central app or system.
Elsewhere, the Internet of Things can help provide end-to-end visibility of deliveries, especially where long-distance shipping is concerned about feeding connected tracking device data into transportation management and supply chain platforms. The increased visibility at specific stages of the journey also gives businesses a competitive advantage by highlighting areas of inefficiency.
In addition, IoT offers deeper insights into supply chain data for the condition of stock like perishables, allowing businesses to verify the quality of deliveries. This data can be used for data-led risk assessments or improve certain aspects of processes, while connected devices can gather emissions data to keep them in line with regulations to proactively manage cargo as needed.
# 2 | Workspace efficiency
As artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) software develop, voice assistants have improved to be able to take notes, set reminders, and deliver alerts. Microsoft’s Cortana and Teams software have both incorporated IoT technology to enable note taking, set reminders, and deliver emails on the go.
Besides the benefits of productivity, businesses are using voice assistants to offer better customer service and increase revenue by reducing costs. In a bid to improve products and services, and reach new audiences, products are being integrated or optimized for assistants like Siri and Alexa, while chatbots are continuing to deliver efficiencies and valuable data to businesses.
Considered a precursor to smart devices, thermostats were able to manage heating based on a preset temperature. IoT improves a businesses’ ability to manage environments across large premises remotely, with some devices able to implement machine learning to increase efficiency and cost savings further. Heating and ventilation costs consume up to 40% of a total building’s expenditure – IoT sensors can identify inefficiencies in these systems, enabling businesses to save electricity consumption and costs.