Some of the current applications of the Internet of Things feel more trivial than others. Humans have been outrunning each other for a hundred thousand years without the aid of internet-connected sneakers, for instance. And using telephones to close the blinds in our homes often feels like more, not less, work.
But commercial IoT is a different beast. It’s distinct from consumer IoT and arrives with different challenges and a separate set of benefits and opportunities. Here’s a look at five of them.
1. Make Your Buildings More Efficient
Optimizing and automating building functionality—including HVAC and lighting—is one of the first and most appealing steps a company can make to take advantage of commercial IoT.
Internet-connected company infrastructure can take a page out of the consumer IoT playbook by creating separate profiles for each part of a building, based on the habits and preferences of the people who usually occupy it.
A company headquarters with multiple floors and teams won’t have the same environmental requirements for each department—and after learning about typical usage, IoT devices like smart thermostats and smart humidity controls don’t even need to be programmed by the end customer. They’ll turn on when needed to the ideal temperature and reduce the temperature later when that part of the building is unoccupied again.
The same concept applies to automating facility and campus lighting systems as well. Unoccupied rooms won’t burn through your utility budget. Instead, IoT solutions can dim or turn off the lighting automatically.
2. Bring Intelligence to the Supply Chain and Asset Management
Supply chain management goes far beyond estimating the time of arrival for a shipment of finished goods or raw materials. Thanks to advancements in sensors and scanning technologies, companies can perform ongoing cycle counts as products roll off the assembly floor using tracker tags (e.g. RFID) in the field, including vehicles and other equipment (e.g. with GPS).
Passive RFID improves on existing inventory and asset management technologies, such as barcodes, because they require less manual intervention. No matter what kinds of products or assets pass through your doors or loading docks—be they delivery vehicles, computers, furniture, or heavy equipment—keeping track of them in real-time, from destination to origin, is easier now than it ever was.
3. Improve Customer Insights and Boost Conversion
Sensors and location beacons in retail businesses and other commercial locations can yield valuable insights for the company and make life easier for the customer at the same time. On the consumer side of things, location-based technologies offer opportunities like these:
Geofencing delivers personalized recommendations and discounts when customers make an appearance in a brick-and-mortar store.
Location beacons can provide walking directions to help navigate to a desired product or area of the building.
The insights delivered by location and geofencing technologies unlock huge potential for businesses as well. By gathering data about how customers move around a retail space and which areas see the most traffic, companies can make better decisions about layout, inventory and product promotions. Those insights can also offer information about which types of customers frequent a location at various times of day and throughout the year.
Another concept, sometimes called “geoconquesting,” uses geofencing to deliver offers to customers who pass close to a competitor location. When Dunkin Donuts rolled out a geoconquesting campaign based on competitor locations, they found that 36 percent of the customers who received the offer took them up on it.
4. Boost Safety Compliance and Facilitate Real-Time Decisions
Commercial IoT can be an ally when it comes to compliance and customer safety.
For companies that trade in perishable goods—whether a retail entity or a supply chain company tasked with safe delivery—the FDA provides regulations for temperature thresholds and the maximum time that products may exceed them. Refrigerated food products aren’t fit for sale after two hours in temperatures exceeding 40°F. As a result, companies need something more than a temperature gauge. They need wireless connectivity providing awareness of things like refrigerated truck delays, power losses (even brief ones) and other factors that might put their compliance—and their customers—at risk.
Commercial IoT delivers such tools in the form of remote temperature probes and cloud connectivity for immediate (and auditable) data trails. The ability to observe data in real-time and make more timely decisions can help risk-averse companies save face as well as money. Food recalls jumped by an incredible 92 percent between 2012 and 2017 in the U.S. alone. Reacting in a timely fashion to quality control issues could help avoid a recall—or greatly cut down on reaction time if one proves necessary.
5. Improve Workplace Safety and Access Control
There are many ways IoT can facilitate workplace safety.
Assets equipped with sensors can alert maintenance staff proactively about impending parts failures to avoid employee injury. Connected technology can also automatically grant or restrict access to parts of a facility based on which employees are authorized and which are not. In 2017, over 4,000 deaths resulted from preventable circumstances—and preventive maintenance and access control are two keys for bringing that number down.
Access control can be a big cybersecurity problem. Many companies take the end-to-end security of their data pipelines for granted. And that’s a mistake since the average data breach can cost a small business an average of $120,000 for each incident.
With IoT powering automated security gates and doors and employees using wearables or badges, your building’s security system can recognize the approach of employees and unlock doors to facilities of high-risk areas and then lock them again afterward, or even grant and restrict privileges for operating certain machinery.
As we can see here, the implications for the Internet of Things in the commercial world are even more compelling than those at the consumer level. They can add real value to an organization and help tackle longstanding problems, including efficiency, compliance, safety, customer engagement and much more.