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IoT isn't just for the big players-in fact, smaller companies often have better agility to implement practical initiatives for both internal operations and commercialized solutions.
In 2017, Tech Pro Research reported that 38% of its survey respondents said their companies were currently using IoT devices. Another 16% said that they were planning an IoT rollout in the next year, and 24% were considering IoT use.
Most of these survey respondents were using IoT for environmental monitoring and sensors for their buildings. The adoption has been helped by the number of building security and environmental companies offering environmental monitoring packages, along with implementation and post-installation monitoring services.
We already know that large enterprises are engaged with IoT, even injecting it into their robotics and automated manufacturing operations—but what about the 89% of US businesses that are operating with 20 or fewer employees? What kinds of IoT should these small companies be thinking about?
For many SMBs, the answer comes in one of two ways:
- They should adopt IoT that is both practical and affordable for their internal operations.
- They should pursue their own commercialization of IoT solutions that fit the needs of a particular industry niche they are familiar with.
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Let's take a look at the internal adoption of IoT first.
IoT for internal operations
"Recently I've seen a number of intriguing examples of IoT projects being focused on tiny businesses in old traditional industries, such as fishing, winemaking, plant nurseries and more," sad Bob O'Donnell, president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research. O'Donnell cited examples of local fishermen in New Bedford, MA, who were reducing paperwork while meeting compliance regulations through a simple network of sensors and cameras, and local vintners who were tapping into tiny weather stations to better care for their vines.
To be clear, these aren't eye-popping, world-chain ideas or innovations," O'Donnell said. "In fact, most of them are pretty simple and arguably, pretty boring, especially if you're not familiar with the day-to-day needs of these kinds of vertical industries."
That's precisely the point. Small businesses for years have been leading innovators of new and creative uses for technology because they are continuously pressed to reinvent how they operate so they can stay in business with the limited resources they often operate with. To do this, the tools and the uses for tools they fashion for themselves—including what they do with IoT—are decidedly practical because whatever these businesses invent must pay off right away.
IoT devices continue making inroads in the business world, so organizations should have a defined IoT structure in place to ensure that data and operations are properly secured. These guidelines cover the procurement, usage, and administration of IoT devices, whether provided by the company or employee owned.
Commercialization of IoT solutions
The second way small businesses jump on the IoT bandwagon is by commercializing IoT technology themselves. The advantage of small companies in commercialization is that they can be entrepreneurial and fleet of foot when it comes to creating a new IoT solution that the commercial market wants.
A prime example is the smart trashcan—an IoT-equipped trash can that emits a signal when it is full. This is a practical solution to trashcans overflowing on streets in cities like New York, where a trash container can reach capacity two or three times in a week. The IoT technology does one thing: monitors the trash—but it meets a vital health and sanitation need as well, and it allows a central point to monitor trash, which reduces the need for at-the-scene physical inspections.
Monitoring trash cans is a specialized niche—and the kind of market where a smart and entrepreneurial small company can succeed.
The bottom line for SMBs is that they should have a plan for IoT. This plan doesn't have to be elaborate, but it has to be a little more than just seat-of-the-pants IoT adoption that happens when an IoT vendor with an interesting product drops by the office.
Here are some guidelines.
Look for practical IoT that will work for your company right away. If your company is very small, any IoT it purchases needs to pay off right away. This means that the IoT implementation shouldn't be lengthy and that you should see results quickly. Examples of common IoT that small companies have implemented for immediate benefit include security and monitoring systems for facilities, environmental monitoring systems for facilities, and tracking systems for mobile devices.
Select IoT technology you can build on. Like other IT solutions, IoT solutions should be chosen only if they can be readily integrated with other types of IoT and systems you might want to add to your company later. Many small companies don't have onboard expertise to determine cross-compatibility with other solutions. If you can't determine this yourself, it's worth paying a consultant for a couple hours to evaluate whether the IoT technology of interest will be able to interoperate with other IoT you might bring on in the future.
If you're in a specific industry niche and you discover a unique use for IoT in your operations, consider commercializing it. Large companies that sell commercial IoT depend upon many smaller ones to come up with novel solutions that their megalabs often overlook. If you can license your product idea or sell the product directly, consider it.
Develop a roadmap. If you expect that you will continue to build on your IoT use, take the time to meet with staff and sketch out a plan. For instance, if your first step is to secure the business premises with a sensor-based security system, will your next logical step be to add environmental controls for building temperature and humidity? Even if IoT is an operational support system and not your main business, it pays to stay at least a couple of steps ahead of where you are with an IoT vision of where you want to be in the future.