We all hear about the Internet of Things (IoT) 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 three 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 (computer numerical control) 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 (voice over internet protocol) 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
IoT 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 a 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:
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?
Software-as-a-Service (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 power - in order to gain value from these new devices. Without doubt, we are at the beginning of an exciting time in computing.