We’ve all heard about the broad range of benefits that the Internet of Things (IoT) can drive for businesses – reduced operating costs, optimised productivity and the development of new product lines, for a start. But surely those benefits are only available to large organisations? After all, big businesses can afford to invest in vast networks of connected sensors, and they have huge volumes of untapped data just waiting to be captured and analysed – and these factors don’t apply to small businesses, do they?
Not so. Businesses of all sizes contain data that can be harnessed to drive business benefits – and investing in the IoT doesn’t need to come with a hefty upfront cost.
The IoT begins at home
Consider, for example, the smart home. Many consumer-focused IoT devices are aimed at developing this concept – that is, enabling people to run their homes more efficiently and gain valuable insights into how they are living. Smart meters enable great visibility and control over energy usage, while smart doorbells allow visitors to be greeted and instructed remotely. Home security systems such as connected cameras for real-time monitoring are also popular. All of these capabilities are just as useful for small businesses, who want to keep tight control of their energy usage, or operate without the expense of a receptionist or security guard – and the upfront costs are very low.
Similarly cost-effective connected devices can be used to automatically reorder stocks of items like paper or printer ink when levels are low, saving time and preserving business continuity. A single, simple purchase and installation, and the benefits are felt on an ongoing basis – perfect for small businesses. For small businesses that expand enough to run a warehousing or other logistics operation, the same principles can enable tighter control over stock levels, and in turn more efficient cashflow.
Depending on the precise sector they operate in, many small businesses run hardware such as manufacturing equipment or engine – and these are likely to make up a significant proportion of a small business’s overall assets. As such, maximising their useful lifespan and keeping them operating at optimal levels is often even more important for SMEs than it is for larger organisations. Enter asset sweating – a simple-to-implement and cost-effective strategy powered by the IoT. Basic sensors implanted in valuable hardware can measure key metrics such as temperature or oil levels, and provide automatic alerts when certain parameters are hit. This ensures that maintenance and repairs are carried out at precisely the right time – and saves on unnecessary manual checks too.
On the move
Then there’s the ability for the IoT to drive remote and flexible working practices, through devices and sensors that can measure workers’ performance on the move, and foster more collaborative working even when staff aren’t at the same location. For small businesses that deploy one or more vehicles, IoT-enabled sensors can be used for more efficient and responsive route planning too. These tools are being harnessed by many large organisations – but they can be hugely beneficial for smaller businesses, who may be seeking to save money on premises.
A sliding scale
It’s also important to remember that the cost of the sensors and analytics platforms that power enterprise IoT are not only coming down all the time, but also don’t need to be purchased all in one go. The best analytics platforms are scalable enough to work both when businesses are just starting out, and further along on their journeys, as they expand and develop. Maximising the benefits of the IoT is a journey, not a one-stop destination – and this, of course, matches the ethos of ambitious small businesses perfectly.