Internet of Things for your business: what, how and why

The term “Internet of Things” (IoT) has been floating around for a while now, used more often as a buzzword than in practice. The biggest barrier is that most organizations do not really know what to do with the technology or how to get started. So, what is it, can it help your business, and how can you get going?

What is IoT anyway?
First of all, the Internet of Things describes a network of physical devices (“things”) connected to the internet that contain sensors, software or other technology that exchange data with other devices over the internet. These devices can be everyday objects like cars, refrigerators or fitness trackers as long as they can be connected to the internet to be controlled or communicate information. For example, a light that can be turned on or off with a smart phone app is an IoT device.

What IoT can do for your business?
The Internet of Things is about collecting data and doing something useful with it. The benefits it can offer a business depend, of course, on the needs of the particular organization. A business can have access to more data about their own products, assets, processes and systems, and as a result, has a greater ability to learn, react, or make changes. Whether it is the prospect of increasing revenue, reducing operating costs, or improving efficiencies, IoT implementation provides the data and insights needed to streamline workflows, automate processes, visualize usage patterns, meet regulatory requirements, and compete more effectively in a changing business environment.

A few examples of IoT at work
Healthcare:
Patient care is a clear application for IoT — from scheduling appointments to monitoring conditions like diabetes to ensuring the proper dosage of medicine has been administered. IoT technology is already helping hospitals optimize their supply chain while reducing risk: Supply cabinets with built-in wireless readers can record which staff members have accessed the inventory and what they took and when.

Electricity and utilities:
Automatic detection of outages by smart meters can lead to faster repairs. And other IoT implementations, such as the ability to schedule smart home appliances to run during lower usage periods, help to reduce consumers’ energy consumption.

Agriculture:
With the help of internet-connected pedometers that count a cow’s steps, cattle ranchers are able to increase the success rate of artificial insemination in cows. The cattle breeders know that when cows show increased walking activity, it is a sign that they are fertile. As this often occurs at night, it is easy for breeders to miss it. In this case, IoT helps to pinpoint the very short window of time when a cow is fertile.

Logistics:
IoT in smart logistics systems utilize the tasks around storage, sorting and distribution. Networked vehicles that also communicate with goods, collect a wide variety of data with their trackers and send it to a central platform, provide more transparency with their information, warn of failures and significantly increase the efficiency of a logistics operation.

How to get started
Most often, successful IoT implementation is about the ability to spot opportunities for efficiency and productivity gains or added value. Before you start with the nuts and bolts, try to get a sense of what you want to accomplish with your IoT initiative, and consider a few of these points:

· Where do you see opportunities to improve or automate business operations?

· What problems are you trying to solve?

· Do you have things that are already producing digital information?

· Can you use IoT to explore and find good business cases?

With a little thought, it should be relatively easy to see where the application of IoT will be useful to the organization.

Identify meaningful data
There is no use in simply collecting data in and of itself. It should bring some value to the business. Therefore, it is important to identify what kinds of data would be useful for your project or business. From here you can determine if additional sensors or devices are needed or whether already existing ones can be utilized.

Key Ingredients
These devices make up just one part of the basic elements needed for an IoT project. You will also need a communications network — usually the internet — to which you will connect your devices, as well as an IoT platform, and analytics and visualization tools.

There are various ways to go about setting this up. You can physically build an in-house IoT solution or rent a customized package solution and pay as you go. Either way opens up a whole new world of communication chains and distributed data sources. But be sure to choose carefully what is right for your business. For IoT projects are a continuous work in progress, and your solution needs to evolve as your project does.

Actionable data
The real challenge of IoT is not in connecting devices, but rather in the collection and analysis of all the data that is accumulated. By setting up a reliable place to collect all of the data that gets generated, you can ensure data quality and consistency. So regardless of the tools you connect to this place, each receives the same data. And through the analysis, companies are able to gain insights on the business and if relevant, either proactively or reactively, do something about them.

Start small, think big
Beginning with a small-scale IoT pilot project to prove a business case or demonstrate value makes it easier to get started. A successful concept project is often key to winning the approval for a larger IoT implementation. Once management is willing to invest further, you can scale up your IoT solutions step by step.

IoT Partner
It is not impossible to build your own IoT platform, especially given the large amount of open source IoT software around. However, it is a serious technical challenge, requiring a broad skillset… which means finding an experienced IoT partner is usually the better choice.

An IoT partner helps clients to explore what is possible and find potential use cases for IoT applications, to address challenges such as security, platform selection, analytics and more. Instead of doing it alone, working with an expert means you’ll have a partner that understands exactly what it takes to help you achieve your business goals.

Why it’s a big deal
When your interconnected things are able communicate their status, respond to events or even act autonomously, it creates smarter processes and systems that can support you without needing your attention. This leaves more time to focus on strategic business decisions and operations.

IoT can make asset tracking more cost effective; healthcare more personalized; agriculture more productive; and energy consumption and logistics more efficient. Harnessing the data generated by the Internet of Things will help businesses realize a significant competitive advantage.

So now you know a thing or two about IoT.

And if you’d like to learn more, we’d be happy to tell you all about our experiences helping companies with IoT. Just drop us a line at info@qbis.ch!