Twenty years ago, tech experts urged small businesses to get on the World Wide Web or die. Perhaps they overstated things a bit, but it certainly held true for many industries. The new call to action is to get ready for the Internet of Things (IoT) or face extinction. Again, it may not apply to all fields, but it certainly does apply to many—and probably more than you think. So what, exactly, is IoT?
IoT is a combination of sensors, networking, and analytics that can be combined to create greater production efficiency, better quality of life, and a higher level of automation. But, just as the Internet revolution suddenly connected tens of millions to the network, IoT expands that reach to tens of billions.
Analysts predict that the worldwide Internet of Things market will grow from $655.8 billion in 2014 to $1.7 trillion in 2020.
About 1.5 billion smartphones, tablets, desktops and laptops that connect people to the Internet are sold each year. Yet, this represents a small fraction of all connected devices. Currently, another 200 billion devices or things could be connected to the Internet, of which 14 billion are already connected. By 2020, we estimate that will soar to 32 billion.
Most of these devices operate without human interaction by automatically gathering data from sensors and reporting it to the operator, business owner or manufacturer. The most obvious examples are happening at a personal level. People wear fitness bands that communicate with smartphones and cloud providers. Nest thermostats let you use your smartphone to turn on the air conditioning at home when you leave the office.
How IoT Can Help Small Business Compete
Here are two examples of small businesses that have figured out how to compete against Goliath by finding low-cost ways to incorporate IoT into their operations:
Company A is a small business startup that specializes in monitoring systems and they figured out how to add sensors inexpensively to many different areas. Just as an example, let’s say they added sensors to a customer’s vineyard to detect freezes that could potentially ruin their grapes. When the temperature plummets, the sensors activate sprinklers that encase the grapes in ice, thereby protecting them.
The company figured out that they could use old smartphones, which cost them next to nothing, as mobile sensors. They reduced the cost of the sensor network at the vineyard to about one-tenth of what it would otherwise cost. Not only does this let Company A compete with larger rivals, but it enables small vineyards to hold their own against major vineyards that can afford more sophisticated systems.
The point is that it costs a few hundred dollars to get started with a sensor-and-mapping network rather than many thousands of dollars.
Company B, another small business on the leading edge of IoT, targets home irrigation systems. Traditional irrigation controllers are hard to setup and difficult to operate. These machines run primitive watering programs and they’re known to be one of the most hated home automation devices.
This company figured out how to inexpensively combine sensors, smart phones, and up-to-the-minute localized weather data to program and automatically adjust sprinkler schedules to keep a garden healthy while eliminating over- and under-watering. This saves homeowners 25-to-50 percent on their water bills.
The Secret to IoT Success: Keep it Practical
The initial hype about IoT centered on refrigerators that told you the milk was about to go bad or when to reorder groceries. This information is about as useful as early Internet nonsense such as Donuts.com—you order donuts over the Internet, and they arrive next day. It never caught on.
The same nonsense about the Internet of Things will likely continue. No doubt more than a few firms—big and small—will come out with some ridiculous-sounding applications. The point is to keep your IoT plan practical, useful, and affordable.
After all, it costs money for sensors and software, as well as for processing and storing data. So, it’s important to figure out how to justify those expenses by adding real value that people would be willing to buy.
Whatever the future holds for the Internet of Things, intelligent devices will become intertwined into people’s lives.
Have you taken the time to realize if the IoT can impact your business? Talk to CTI Technology about what we can do to get your business on the right path to having technology work for you!