A foundational pillar of technology’s next wave is IoT. Businesses can use it to gain precise intelligence about how to improve or even automate many processes, and in IoT-relevant industries such as manufacturing, retail, automotive and logistics, small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) using IoT can reap efficiency benefits, strong return on investment (ROI), and competitive advantage.
By collecting and analyzing detailed data from sensors monitoring mechanical, logistical, and human real-world behavior, IoT helps small businesses gain precise intelligence about how to improve or automate the way they do business. While many large enterprises have already tapped into the power of IoT, savvy SMBs should also consider it.
IoT in practice
To use a real-world example, a supply chain manager might use IoT devices to improve and automate their inventory management. Let’s say they sell water softener salt: the supply chain manager could use IoT devices to monitor their customers’ use of the product. When it reaches a specific low point, the IoT device would trigger an automatic order for more salt and alert the supply chain manager of a reduction in inventory.
This real-time information ensures the customer never runs out of salt and empowers the manager to provide just-in-time inventory. Combined with machine learning, the IoT solution may even be able to predict what times of year salt usage surges – allowing even better supply chain forecasting and management.
The customer is satisfied because they always have more salt on hand, and the supply chain manager controls inventory levels and costs while delivering a better customer experience.
Investment in a competitive edge
A recent white paper, The IoT Opportunity for SMBs*, published by Apple subsidiary Claris International Inc., explores how hundreds of SMBs across the U.K. and U.S. invest in IoT.
The authors discovered that 77% of SMBs in equipment-heavy industries have developed an IoT tech solution. In an even stronger sign of adoption, of those that have developed a first IoT solution, more than 90% have developed multiple IoT applications, with the leading goals of improved efficiency, productivity, and speed.
While SMBs that have not engaged in IoT development cite a lack of development resources as the most common reason for not pursuing such projects, companies that have developed IoT projects have largely done so using in-house staff and within manageable budgets.
For instance, in the U.K., 81% of respondents said that they had been able to implement their most significant IoT project for less than £100,000 (to date) while 54% said they did so for less than £50,000. Most had a staff of 2-4 in-house developers to complete the projects.
When it comes to ROI, more than half said they had already seen this, or were expecting to see it within the next year.
Notably, three out of five SMB executives said they could see IoT as providing their companies a competitive advantage. The same number said they see competitors are doing more with IoT, and almost half agreed that their company was behind the curve on IoT tech and needed to catch up.
Low-code as a path to IoT success
Whether receiving strong ROI through IoT adoption themselves or simply noting the benefits competitors are receiving, it’s clear that business leaders are paying attention to the IoT opportunity for SMBs – but there are still problems.
The biggest barrier to adoption is the perception of inadequate expertise or resources required to develop IoT applications, and SMBs who could benefit from IoT seldom have large in-house IT teams.
One way to address this resource gap is via low-code development platforms. Low-code enables any individual – irrespective of their background or technical expertise – to quickly develop applications for their business.
Using low-code, any SMB can train its existing staff to develop IoT applications – or they can create an app with the help of a trusted partner. Either way they own their innovation.
It also means that SMBs don’t have to worry about competing with larger enterprises for talent that they can’t afford; technology graduates are at a premium, and some of the largest companies in the world are in the market for the best talent. Low-code enables SMBs to quickly develop applications that will allow them to digitise and achieve a competitive advantage, without the need to spend money they don’t have on recruitment.
What’s next for SMBs?
Particularly in the era of COVID-19, digital transformation has become a necessity, not an option. To survive, companies must embrace technologies that give them a competitive edge, and IoT is already showing its worth for many SMBs. Those who embrace it may improve their ROI with increased revenue, better operational efficiencies, and higher customer satisfaction. Those that don’t risk being left behind.