Whether they gather around the watercooler or conference table, the employees at your company communicate with each other. But what about everything else at your office? What if your building’s locks communicated with the light switches, thermostat and coffeemaker, and everything knew how to automatically turn on when the first employee arrived each morning?
That sounds pretty good—and it’s already on its way to becoming a reality. Technology research firm Gartner Inc. predicts that 20.8 billion connected devices will be in use worldwide by 2020, making up what’s called the Internet of Things. Basically any device with an on/off switch has the potential to be connected to the Internet or other devices. We’re already seeing this with things like the Nest thermostat and Samsung Family Hub refrigerator.
Businesses can reap benefits from the Internet of Things, says Harrison Ambs, head of digital strategy and design at Stickboy Creative, the Fort Myers website design, custom software, and digital marketing firm. Those benefits could be everything from a more efficient office space to better data on their customers.
“The more things you can connect, the smarter all of them get,” he says. “And the more data you can get, the smarter the decisions you can make.”
Intrigued by the Internet of Things and wondering how to use it to your advantage? Here are four important points to consider as you navigate this increasingly connected world.
A better understanding of your customers can help you reach them better.
According to Ambs, retailers are already using things like puck-sized beacons that pick up the Bluetooth signal on customers’ cell phones and track where they go and how long they stay in certain sections of a store. That kind of thing could be applied in other industries and situations to glean insight on customer preferences.
“The more information you can get from your customers passively, without them having to enter that data, the better off you’re going to be,” he says. “Then you can come up with ideas and strategies to help service them in ways they didn’t anticipate.”
Good security is vital the more connected you are.
“Every smart device you put into a business is like installing another door on your building,” says Ambs. “It’s a potential hole in your Wi-Fi someone can get into.”
Research the devices you’re interested in and remember that many are new products lacking years of security testing. Be sure to rope in your IT and security team to ensure that all new connections are made safely. “You’ve got to think about it like another computer that’s connected to your Wi-Fi,” says Ambs.
The right products and solutions for your business may not exist yet.
Ambs says bigger companies are still just “sniffing around” when it comes to the Internet of Things, and the products that exist—such as Nest thermostat and Samsung refrigerator—are aimed at the largest possible markets. “The low-hanging fruit with a lot of people and greater need will come first,” he says. Those devices will then lead to a trickledown effect that creates technology that can be applied to more specific realms, like a way for delivery trucks to communicate with a warehouse without any human input.
And what’s here today may not be around tomorrow.
Don’t blow the budget on cool but unproven technology at this point. “It’s early; we’re barely at the crawling stage,” says Ambs. “Things are liable to change very quickly. Don’t buy Betamax, is what I’m getting at.”