What can the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) market offer small and midsized businesses (SMBs)? Plenty, according to Sarah Lahav, CEO of IT help desk and service management specialist SysAid.
By the end of this year, the IoT will encompass 8.4 billion connected devices, or "things," predicted Gartner recently, a 31 percent increase compared to 2016. IDC expects global spending on IoT hardware to reach a whopping $400 billion by 2020.
It seems practically everyone is bullish on the IoT market. As consumers snap up connected cars and smart home appliances, large corporations are outfitting their offices, factories and other facilities with always-on sensors, automation equipment and other IoT devices.
Where does that leave SMBs?
Lahav believes that the IoT's growth is also an opportunity for smaller firms. Used strategically – and securely -- the IoT can enable SMBs to provide customer experiences that rival that of big companies, while driving productivity and efficiency.
Here are Lahav's top five IoT trends for SMBs.
Consumers have made Amazon's Alexa, the poster child of smart IoT devices, a hit.
The voice-enabled device pairs with the cloud to delight users by delivering the news, reporting on the weather, checking on Amazon deliveries and requesting and Uber ride, among many other capabilities. With an investment in smart devices, Alexa can also turn anyone's humble abode into a showcase of home automation. Meanwhile, Amazon uses the data it collects to improve Alexa over time.
A growing IoT market can help businesses get in on the act.
"The consumer world is rife with customer experience (CX)-related improvements and this has worked its way into the B2B [business-to-business] space too," Lahav said. "IoT devices not only allow SMBs to deliver a better CX, they will also collect customer touchpoint data that helps companies to further improve it."
Much like today's software has eliminated many of the manual steps involved in accounting, records management and countless other business tasks, the IoT can automate many manual tasks in the physical world.
"IoT devices or smart things will remove the need for manual labor elements and the associated costs. Not just in replacing discrete human actions but also activities related to the management of previously 'dumb' things," Lahav said.
"Plus, IoT devices will be used to glue existing automation together – in a 'sense, decide, and act' way – again reducing the need for, and cost of, human intervention," continued Lahav.
Improved Decision Making
Armed with better, IoT-derived data and a dash of analytics, small businesses can scope out new opportunities with laser-like focus.
"IoT devices will collect and transmit back a wealth of data. SMBs can use this data – with the help of a business intelligence tool and/or machine learning – to drive a multitude of business decisions related to products and services, customer behavior, service quality, staffing, support and customer service, and future business investments," Lahav said.
New Products and Services
Sure, the IoT is sure to bring new technical innovations and even inspire new business models. But don't neglect the value of the data coursing through the IoT itself.
"IoT devices will be embedded into existing products and services or be used to create brand new business opportunities – with the power in the 'connectedness' and the opportunities this brings," said Lahav. "Plus, SMBs shouldn’t overlook the less tangible opportunity of the availability of IoT data being a potential new service in itself – the insight might be more valuable than the product or service it is gleaned from."
Improved Business Operations
Finally, the IoT could have a big return on investment for organizations that plan and implement the technology wisely.
"IoT devices will not only remove some of the reliance on people, they will also provide opportunities to improve the way things are done – speeding up business processes and reducing the delays, and potential fallout, from human errors. The collected data is also a rich source to be mined for improvement opportunities that will improve business operations, CX, and margins," concluded Lahav.