The Internet of Things (IoT) – is a hot topic among businesses of all sizes today. It is a concept that may seem complex, but if you break it down into a few fundamental elements, it becomes more clear.
So what is IoT? IoT means taking all the physical places and things in the world, and connecting them to the internet. This ability to connect everything to the internet helps companies of all sizes improve their systems and processes, increase efficiencies, and even open the door to new products, services and business models.
How does IoT work?
Those “things” connecting to the internet fall into three general categories:
- things that collect and send information,
- things that receive and act on information,
- and things that do both.
All these things have a specific purpose.
Collect and send
The “collect-and-send” things category includes sensor equipment that detects temperature, motion, light, air quality, moisture, or other environmental conditions. It could be refrigerator temperatures in a food service operation, motion sensors in a fleet operation, so you know where your assets, or moisture in a storage location where the connected things require a certain humidity range.
Receive and act
These sensors forward their information to the receive-and-act things, typically in the form of a monitoring and analytics system that alerts humans to the possible need for action. For instance, if refrigerator temperatures wander out of range for a restaurant or grocery store, especially during non-business hours where monitoring isn’t being done constantly, the key employees could be alerted immediately. Then they can quickly act to make sure food doesn’t spoil and that they help ensure compliance with any local food safety regulations.
Collect, send, receive and act
Those things that both collect information and act on it involve a more comprehensive form of IoT, allowing the system to adjust itself appropriately and minimize human intervention. An example might be an agricultural operation, with sensors that collect information about soil moisture and, when needed, automatically turn on the irrigation system. Going even further, a system such as this could be fed weather prediction information, so it “knows” that because rain is coming this afternoon it won’t be necessary to irrigate immediately, despite a less-than-ideal soil moisture1.
The benefits of IoT
Why should a small to medium-sized business embrace IoT? There are many good things that this technology can deliver.
Let’s start with operational efficiency, because of the 24/7 monitoring that sensors help enable, companies can make sure their equipment is running at top efficiency by always tracking its performance and key metrics. Improved equipment operation means less business disruption in business, allowing for a more proactive approach to equipment repairs.
IoT can help detect and reduce threats to your business. With the vital data that sensors provide, you may mitigate threats to your business assets, whether from temperature fluctuation, power loss, water intrusion, or other potentially damaging events. Those threats may also include intrusions due to unauthorized access, thanks to sensors located on doors, windows, and other locations.
Importantly, the quality of your business data is significantly improved when you are able to monitor your assets and equipment 24/7. The more you know, the better you can manage.
Finally, IoT may deliver cost savings. Monitoring power consumption more carefully, for instance, can yield insight as to how to save energy. By eliminating some of the need for human intervention, you can also channel your people’s time and energy to higher-priority projects.
There are examples available in just about any industry that demonstrates the value of IoT. Here are a few that help show the range of ways that IoT can add value to your business operations:
- Fleet operators can benefit from IoT sensors by using them to track and monitor vehicles, how fast they’re going, schedule and actual arrival times and preventive maintenance. IoT can also help streamline regulatory compliance with electronic logging and reporting.
- A distribution or fulfillment center could use connected, sensor-equipped robots and drones to take inventory and map it to exact locations, as well as sensors on equipment such as forklifts, allowing them to detect the location of equipment or people, essentially seeing around corners and creating a safer workplace.
- A large car dealership could outfit each vehicle with sensors, always monitoring their location and status in real time.
- In a parking garage, sensors in each spot or video-fed analytics could detect when spots are open, whether the vehicles there are authorized, and whether each vehicle’s fees were paid properly upon leaving.
- A smart factory could use production line sensor monitors that notify management if there is a problem, or which communicate directly with robots to automatically adjust the assembly line in response to real-time situations.
- On an office campus, sensor-based locks could be remotely activated or de-activated, aiding with overall security and especially crisis situations.
These are just a few of the existing and potential uses for IoT. Each industry could devise its own efficiency-enhancing and cost-reducing applications for IoT. And they can start now. While 5G and LoRa (Long Range) networks will enhance IoT applications and drive many of them, current networks are more than capable of handling all but the most demanding IoT use cases today.