What is the IoT and How Can it Benefit Businesses?

The IoT, or “Internet of Things”, to give it its full name, has been on the rise for a few years now. It is being mentioned more and more, and while many people are more familiar with consumer uses of IoT, it is increasingly being used in business too. It holds lots of potential for a variety of different sectors. So what exactly is it, and how can businesses utilise it to their advantage?

What is the IoT?

The Internet of Things refers to objects such as household appliances, machinery and other physical devices being connected to the internet and communicating data. Examples that most people are aware of include thermostats such as Nest, which gather and receive data to create a smart home, for example reacting to the ambient temperature or allowing you to switch on the heating via your mobile phone.

The origins of the IoT are thought to have been in around 1999, when Kevin Ashton of Procter & Gamble gave a presentation about the use of RFID tagging in the company’s supply chain. However, the term and the associated concept really began to take off around 2008/2009, according to a white paper published by Cisco in 2011.

Since then, the number of IoT devices and applications on the market has been steadily increasing. IoT-enabled objects tend to collect information, for example using sensors, and send this data to the user in real-time via the internet. While this can be handy for controlling your heating when you’re out, it also has massive implications for business.

The ability to collect even more data, remotely and in real-time, offers fantastic potential to make business processes more streamlined and efficient, in a range of sectors. Additionally, the advent of 5G is set to open up even more possibilities. This new technology will enable even more advanced devices thanks to its high speeds and low latency and will enable the further development and usage of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

The Benefits of IoT for Businesses

There is a myriad of different ways in which the IoT could be used in business – many specific applications are probably yet to be conceived. However, there are around five key areas that experts have identified where the IoT could have a huge impact in business.

Here’s how the IoT could help your business…

1. IoT apps could enhance your existing business services

IoT-enabled devices nearly always come hand-in-hand with an app on a mobile device, to help monitor the data being received. Many companies are starting to see opportunities to make their existing services even better, or to explore new avenues. For example, new services could be developed, or those which currently only make up a small proportion of the business and could be expanded by the connectivity of the IoT. Again, take the example of Nest – maybe a company already offers heating, but an intelligent thermostat controlled by an app vastly improves the product and service for the customer.

2. You will spend less on maintenance

One use for IoT that has been clear from the start has been for preventative maintenance in any company that uses machinery or electronic equipment – which is most businesses! The use of sensors constantly feeding back real-time data on machines means that any potential issues can be immediately flagged up before they become serious. This prevents expensive downtime later down the line.

3. You can better understand your customers

This is another instance where the vast amounts of data that the IoT can process is incredibly useful to businesses. There will be even more ways to analyse customer behaviour and therefore tailor products, services and marketing to individual customers. For example, in retail, cameras on the shop floor can monitor footfall, shopper responses to promotions and more, to help create a better customer experience.

4. You can optimise your business processes

There are various ways in which IoT applications and devices can optimise and streamline business processes. In manufacturing, for example, sensors in production systems can monitor production and identify areas for optimisation. Transportation and shipping of goods can be made more efficient using tracking of vehicles. And increased digitisation and automation of systems overall makes businesses quicker and more efficient.

5. You can make your premises safer and greener

Managing your company premises can be made much easier and more effective thanks to the IoT as well. A good example of this is Vodafone’s new business IoT offerings, Vodafone Building Surveillance and Vodafone Building Energy Management. The first uses interconnected video monitoring and CCTV to monitor several sites at once. The second monitors multiple systems, such as lighting, air conditioning and heating, using the cloud, all of which can be controlled via a dashboard to keep energy use to a minimum.

The fact that the big mobile networks are now offering IoT business applications is a sign that the Internet of Things is here to stay. This, in turn, means that mobile devices and the internet will have an ever-larger role in the modern business.