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Trend #55: The Internet of Things and Business

Have you heard the phrase “the Internet of Things” and wondered what exactly it meant? This term has grown increasingly popular in the last five years and is an important one to know. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the digitalization and connectivity of any item or device. Your smart phone and laptop aren’t the only things that can connect to the Internet anymore. Anything from your refrigerator to your lightbulbs can be enabled with internet access and controlled wirelessly. These types of devices have been around for several years now: smart watches, at-home security systems controlled via app, and virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Siri are now in millions of homes.

However, the future of IoT goes way beyond what we see today, and that future is coming soon. According to a HubSpot report, there will be 31 billion IoT devices in the world by the year 2020—more than four for every person on earth. Clearly, Internet-enabled devices are here to stay, and the possibilities are endless. Businesses that can capitalize on this trend will be better prepared for a future where everything is connected. IoT is already impacting business in several key areas.

Product development. Almost any business has the potential to add internet connectivity (and, therefore, interactivity) to its products. Appliances such washing machines and dryers, coffee machines, and cash registers are being programmed to sense and respond to the environment around them. Medical devices, factory equipment, and transportation are all areas that are delving into the realm of IoT as well. Businesses that are able to find creative ways to implement IoT into existing products will be a step ahead as consumers start to expect their devices to be “smart.” Technology from companies such as Arduino make it easy for anyone to add interactivity to existing products.

Production and inventory management. Manufacturing and inventory management are already incorporating IoT. For example, sensors on packaging automatically alert employees about changes in temperature, weight, condition, etc. Also, inventory tracking can be automated, which means that companies can more efficiently get products to consumers and keep track of shipments. Order fulfilment is another aspect of the IoT that will likely be prevalent in homes within the next couple of years. The Amazon Dash Button is a Wi-Fi-connected device that automatically reorders products such as soap, toilet paper, and plastic wrap with one press. As these devices become smarter, they will be able to automatically sense when a reorder is needed. Companies will need to have the ability to manage this type of instantaneous order fulfillment.

Data. Data generation is another aspect of IoT that has massive implications for business. Every device that is connected to the internet is constantly collecting data about usage and users. For example, if a washing machine can automatically sense that your family uses a load of detergent every two months, companies could use that to market detergents to you right as you run out, giving you a promotional discount right when you need it. This type of data increases the level of customizability of marketing campaigns and the ability to directly target customers. IoT will help companies get to know their customers better than ever.

Marketing. One example of IoT in marketing is in the retail space. Technology called “beacons” send notifications to shoppers based on their location. A shopper walking by a department store might receive a notification telling her/him that the store is having a 20% off sale this weekend. This can help improve sales and get customers through the doors.

Customer relationship management. The current state of customer relations is fairly passive—customers come to companies when they have a problem, and companies attempt to solve the issues. However, with the Internet of Things, companies will know when service is needed. They can reach out and solve the issue without customer involvement or action. This will build customers’ expectations that their needs will be fulfilled before they become aware of them.

Increased efficiency. The Internet of Things also offers companies improved internal efficiency in areas such as energy savings, employee effort, and productivity. Businesses can monitor processes and operations digitally, determining where productivity and costs can be made more efficient.

Need for employees. If the Internet of Things becomes as prevalent in the workplace as anticipated, most companies will likely see a need for fewer employees than they currently have. Many of the routine tasks completed by people will become automated. Meanwhile, employees who are skilled in IoT processes and knowledge will become more valuable.

Security concerns. The Internet of Things, with all of its benefits, also leaves us more vulnerable to hackers and malware. As the Internet of Things amasses more information about people and businesses, this information becomes vulnerable to hackers. It is important to consider the country (or countries) in which the product is made. Many supply chains are global, but regulations around technology are local. Products are often not made with security features in mind, which can save time and money. This past September, California enacted the United States’ first Internet of Things security law which mandates “reasonable” security features on “smart” devices.

Classroom Implications

Ask students what types of IoT devices they have in their homes. How have these devices changed the way they live, shop, or complete routine tasks? What IoT devices are used in school or in their workplaces? Use these questions to spark a discussion about the potential for new “smart” devices. Ask students to brainstorm products that they think could be effected by the Internet of Things within the next few years. Also, lead the class in a discussion about the ways that IoT can improve business operations and efficiency.

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