We all hear about the Internet of Things in relation to smart fridges or clever thermostats, but these examples are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Big data from smart connected devices is going to change how we do business over the next few years.
You only have to look at the research to get an idea of the numbers involved. According to Gartner, 20.8 Billion Connected “Things” will be in use in 2020, roughly 3 for every man, woman and child on the planet. In a separate report from ABI Research, it is estimated that these devices will have captured more by 1.6 zettabytes (1.6 billion terabytes) of data by then with use-cases as diverse as wearable technology, beacon-based sensors and industrial CNC machining tools. But what does this mean to the average business? Why should they care about IoT and all that data? How will it change what they do?
Internet connected devices are already pervasive in the office, in fact it was estimated that as far back as 2008 there were more internet connected things than people in the average office. However, it will be the IoT revolution that will bring the smart office into reality; not with one huge change but through many small changes, each new IoT device or data insight making a small improvement or a slight efficiency gain.
Broadly speaking the changes will be in two ways, one will be the transformation of the office environment and the other will be how businesses intelligently engage with customers or clients.
Transformation of the office environment
In the office the IoT revolution will facilitate a connected environment. Devices like Philips’ hue lights and Google’s Nest thermostat can turn a smart office into an intelligent ecosystem where office managers can crowdsource the optimal workplace temperature and lighting. Hot-desking will become easier with VoIP business phones that automatically divert to your nearest phone and presence detection that automatically sets up a desk and computer to your preferences. Smart watches can already nudge you when a meeting is due but with interior geo-location they will also be able to give turn-by-turn directions through the office for the times you are in an unfamiliar location.
Ultimately the main disadvantage of working remotely will be overcome with a virtual physical presence in the office using robotics and virtual reality technologies, facilitating those informal interactions and ad hoc meetings that are essential to office productivity.
Intelligent customer engagement, bringing omnichannel to business
The internet of things will not just change the workplace, it will also bring about a revolution in customer data across all customer facing businesses, be they business-to-business or business-to-consumer. Omnichannel is a hot topic in retail; it is defined as the multichannel sales approach that makes the transition between shopping online from a desktop or mobile device and shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store seamless. IoT will bring omnichannel to all small businesses by facilitating more intelligent customer and product interactions across different touch points.
This will happen in a few different ways:
- Ad-tech is at a turning point in what it can offer marketers, and soon businesses will finally be able to complete the circle between marketing and sales. With enhanced metrics and better artificial intelligence, gleaned by analysing IoT data, we won’t just know who to target as potential customers, we will also know when they are most receptive to a sales call or a targeted advert.
- Businesses will be able to recognise and differentiate between customers walking through the door and deal with them appropriately. Beacons and biometric sensors will be instrumental to this, as will devices such as Google Glass seamlessly delivering customer information in real-time to sales people in a store or office.
- Customers themselves will benefit from more accurate, more granular information from businesses. If a customer agrees to extra monitoring and information to be available to the business, they will demand the businesses to be more open and transparent about what they are doing with the data and look to get more in return.
Tying it all together
All the data generated needs sophisticated systems to deal with it. It’s all very well collecting data, companies have been doing this for years with the realisation that data is valuable combined with the ever reducing price of data storage. However, the real value is in gaining the insights from the data - how can an office become more productive and employees happier? How can we please our customers and create great products?
SaaS companies will be pivotal in finding this value, using tools to delve into the data in order to generate insights and create opportunities for businesses in ways we haven’t even thought of yet. All these SaaS companies will have one thing in common though, a fast analytic database to tie it all together, you cannot drive insights without a powerful engine underneath.
So in many respects the IoT revolution will rely on more than a vast number of simple internet-connected things. It will also rely on the fundamentals of data analytics – databases, storage, compute – in order to gain value from these new devices.
Without doubt we are at the beginnings of an exciting time in computing.