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Useful Or Useless? Identifying The Business Case For IoT

James McPhail's picture
Chief Executive Officer Zen Ecosystems

James is a strategic and visionary Executive and Sales Leader with significant experience in strategy and management within the energy industry. James is focused on building the business and...

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  • Jul 16, 2018 10:23 pm GMT

As mass market adoption of internet of things  (IoT) devices continues to expand, understanding which ones can benefit your business becomes even more critical. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the IoT noise, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the implications of increased connectivity.

What Is The Internet Of Things?

The internet of things represents greater communication between people and devices. An IoT device is a physical object that can connect to the internet and can identify and communicate with other connected objects. McKinsey & Company describes the concept as “sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects -- from roadways to pacemakers -- linked through wired and wireless networks, often using the same Internet Protocol (IP) that connects the Internet.”

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In 2017, the 8.4 billion connected “things” far outnumbered our world’s population for the first time. It’s clear IoT is here to stay. The question now is, how can we best utilize these devices to improve our quality of life, save energy, improve the environment and more? IoT has shown the capacity to achieve all of these things, but we need to recognize the best opportunities to avoid the eye rolls and realize its true potential.

Which Devices Are Useful And Which Devices Are Useless?

In its earliest applications, IoT was primarily used for industrial sensors and automation. As devices became smaller and smarter, more personalized services were created for individual use -- just think of the avalanche of wearable devices and smart home innovations we’ve seen in recent years. As with any industry, the market follows opportunity.

Unfortunately, both for businesses and individuals, some devices have given IoT a bad name. A design agency even launched a project called Useless after seeing too many devices on the market with little to no value. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between a fake product and a real one, but the common factor for useless devices (real or not) is that the addition of technology and connectivity doesn’t actually solve a problem and may even make it worse.

Of course, the tasks you take on in your personal life are inherently different from your professional to-do list, which is directly tied to a bottom line. During “you time,” you may have the flexibility to experiment with novel devices and test new capabilities that pique your curiosity. In contrast, being an early adopter of certain technologies in the business world can be associated with higher risk. To adhere to a business standard of productivity, an IoT device should have proven capabilities and should save staff time on tasks that can be automated and connected.

Finding What Does Work

While the devices that appeal to individuals may not always be relevant for businesses, the proven successes of the consumer market can provide great inspiration. Problems can be measured on many different scales, but businesses tend to have large ones simply based on the size of operations. If a consumer device effectively solves a relevant problem, it has the potential to scale up for a business.

As an energy management expert, I’m driven to solve the problem of too much energy use -- and that’s a pretty big issue for a country that represents 18% of the world’s energy consumption. Smart thermostats, which use IoT to be controlled remotely and learn from the environment, can have a significant impact on household energy bills. When we apply the smart thermostat concept to corporations, the benefits expand exponentially. Saving energy at home is great for a family, but when 100 different building HVAC system schedules are optimized using the energy-saving capabilities of IoT, we reach an entirely different level of significance.

Returning to the basic definition of IoT, any business implementation should increase communication and streamline operations -- whether that’s between employees or between devices. Process-oriented tasks with a series of steps are the perfect candidates for an IoT makeover. For example, a facility manager who controls the energy use of multiple store locations from a single hub saves time, money and reduces the possibility of human error.

How To Tap IoT For Your Own Business

If you’re still unsure which kind of device is best to start with, consider your priorities. Would you like to cut costs? Increase sustainability? Streamline operations? Increase employee satisfaction and comfort? It’s easy to become distracted by the potential and the “cool factor” of flashy new devices, but returning to your own goals will always help guide your purchasing and adoption decisions.

Once you’ve narrowed down your goals, your business should prioritize devices that are compatible, simple, efficient and easy to install. The best business IoT devices -- especially for small to medium-sized enterprises -- are effective on their own but also play well with others. Compatibility is important if you choose to scale up across locations or connect to other devices. The IoT solution needs to be simple for anyone to use by employing user-centric design principles and shouldn’t require an expert or extensive, ongoing management. End-to-end solutions that are easily added to existing infrastructure are going to be effective from the beginning with minimal disruption to operations. Ultimately, if a product can scale and is simple to use with minimal operational disruption, it’s likely worth investing in a trial rollout. You can always ask to test-drive a product and see it directly in action before you take the leap.

Just one look at the lists of the newest and coolest innovations in IoT, and it’s clear that new territory is being charted every day. Though these headlines are exciting, keep in mind that what’s best for you and your company may not be the newest or the flashiest product. What is a sure bet? Devices that automate functions, save money, increase efficiencies and make life easier will be the most effective.

This piece was originally published on Forbes

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