Just a few years ago, smartphones and smartwatches felt incredibly futuristic and cool. Today, they're just the tip of the iceberg. Now that technology allows for almost anything to be digitally endowed with monitoring software, it seems like all our stuff is getting “smart.” It’s resulting in machines that run the gamut from cool to bizarre, like smart mattresses, earrings, and espresso machines.
These gadgets fall under the umbrella of The Internet of Things, or IoT, which defines a huge bag of terms—everything from Fitbits that send data to your smartphone to jet engines that send data to ground control.
There’s a lot of money to be made not just in producing internet-enabled devices, but by using them at work, whether it’s around the office or employing IoT initiatives for customers. In fact, Tata Consultancy Services found that companies with IoT initiatives in place reported an average revenue increase of 16% in 2014.
IoT in the workplace is growing explosively. So whether your workplace IoT devices are in your office plants or in customers' hands, it’ll be sure to affect how you conduct business.
The Smart Office
Some of today’s hottest IoT products, like Amazon’s Echo or the Nest thermostat, are marketed to the smart home—but IoT also heralds the arrival of the smart office. New smart office devices range from luxury items (like moisture monitors in your office plants' soil), to a necessity (like an app-controlled deadbolt lock for your office door or filing cabinet).
The Internet of Things has a lot to offer, but one of its most appealing promises is the potential to minimize the minutiae of your everyday life. By automating simple tasks, IoT can help eliminate the cruft of the workday.
Office Logistics, Done in a Snap
Some devices offer to save employees' time on logistics, like trackpads that record electronic signatures when you sign in at the doctors’ office, preventing someone from having to file your papers away.
Others are for scheduling. Robin, for example, is a tool for booking conference rooms through mounted tablets around your office. It can also tee up PowerPoint presentations, to avoid fumbling around with wires and monitors before an important pitch.
Office Management Done by Devices
Additional IoT devices are more service-based. The devices themselves do the work of an office manager, like restocking supplies. One of these tools is called Managed by Q, a cleaning service that we use here at Pilot.
Managed by Q relies on an app to communicate with offices about when they need their office cleaned, what tasks they need to be completed, and what supplies are required. If your office is low on trash bags or hand soap, you simply let the app know, and the service will refill your supplies.
At the moment, customers are the ones monitoring supplies, but it’s not far off from when we’ll have sensors that “close the loop,” which basically means the supplies will monitor themselves. You can see this technology at work in a number of Coke vending machines across the nation, which sense when supplies are low and submit a request for refills themselves instead of waiting for a human to do it.
Monitor Your Way to a Green Office
Other IoT devices can monitor atmospheric conditions in your office, like air quality or water levels. That way, if a pipe bursts over the weekend, you’ll be alerted immediately via email or push notification, rather than coming in on Monday morning to find your computer swimming in water.
This kind of monitoring also has environmental benefits. IoT light sensors can make sure lights are only on when there are people in the office, and IoT HVAC monitors can ensure you’re getting the right amount of heat, ventilation, or air conditioning. That way, your office will use the amount of power that’s optimal for your employees and the environment.
How IoT Creates Business Value
But IoT doesn’t just bring value to the office—it can help companies deliver better goods and services to customers. One consulting firm discovered that IoT leaders—the ones who are profiting the most from IoT initiatives across industries—are doing a couple things differently.
Most importantly, these companies are “more likely to digitally reimagine their businesses and produce substantial value for customers – not just value for themselves,” according to a 2015 global study by Tata Consulting Services. This means not just giving themselves better data or monitoring, but turning it into something of value for customers.
IoT Helps Businesses Deepen Their Core Value
Whirlpool is one of the companies using IoT to create business value for customers, not just themselves. They’ve recently started using the Internet of Things to bake customer support right into their machines. Now, their refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances have smart software in them that communicates customer support to their users.
Instead of having to call a representative to come to your home, the machine can help you right then and there. It can even alert users before there’s a problem. It’s required Whirlpool to reimagine what their value is to customers. Not only are they a manufacturer—they’re a service provider as well.
The car insurance company Progressive is also going deeper into their core value. Smart monitors installed in cars allows them to tell which of their drivers are safest. Not only can they tell when an otherwise unreported accident happens, they can reward good drivers for being good drivers—and be certain that the information is correct!
Progressive and Whirlpool are better able to deliver a quality product (and product experience) via the Internet of Things.
IoT Allows for Better Communication with Customers
IoT offers companies the world’s largest and most accurate focus group. It decreases the need for guessing about what customers want. They’ll actually know through real data from real users. This is groundbreaking—it can allow for better product development, better customer experience, and better advertising.
Auto technicians, for example, can use IoT data to inform customers about the amount of miles they’ve driven on their car along with a reminder to come in for a 6-month service. They’re able to deliver a much richer customer experience if they provide customers with useful information about their car usage, not just a form postcard reminding them to come in for a check-up.
Potential Pitfalls of IoT
Make no mistake: the rise of the IoT is not all sunshine and roses. There are some real issues surrounding security and reliability regarding the Internet of Things. There’s an ongoing debate over whether these stem from legitimate concerns or societal paranoia, but it’s clear that we’re all going to have to contend with these problems as the office gets more connected.
Privacy Is Dead
In a world of WikiLeaks, increased information sharing and data collecting, customers have a right to be concerned about their privacy.
Let’s say you have IoT enabled video cameras around your office for security purposes. You’ll want to know what’s happening to that footage, and that it’s not being used in any form by the company who provided you with the cameras, since they likely have access to the cloud-based data and footage.
Smart monitoring also brings up questions of ethics—if brands are collecting information, is it secure in their hands? Sure, they promise to keep it safe, but what if there’s a security breach?
A lot of offices are starting to use trackpads to collect signatures, whether its for guests signing into the building or patients arriving at a doctor’s appointment. But now that their signature is on file in an easily transferrable format, how does the customer know that their John Hancock is safe in your database?
It will become increasingly important to assure that your information is safe from a security breach.
Is Your Internet Up for the Challenge?
Another potential pitfall is poor internet connection. If you’re relying on an app to unlock your office first thing in the morning, you’d better hope that the internet is up and running. Increased connectivity means increased danger in case of an internet outage.
Whether it’s changing your whole business model, or just helping you be a little greener, IoT will bring with it increased problems when you lose connectivity. It brings high rewards, but also high risk. If your internet is down for only a few hours, you could lose out on a lot—whether it's your office tools or information from customers.
What’s more, IoT devices will put increased strain on your office’s internet. Offices are going to need more bandwidth to support the number of machines that demand connectivity, which might mean increasing your current plan with your ISP, or finding one that offers the amount of bandwidth you’ll inevitably need.
Get Ready to Take the Leap
Technology research firm Garter estimates that there are a little under 5 billion IoT-enabled units being used today. By 2020, they estimate we’ll be up to 20.7 billion, and the market for IoT will reach a staggering $7 trillion. That’s more than half of China’s GDP.
Tata Consultancy Services equated IoT to the rise of social media—companies that dismissed it as just a fad for millennials were slow to make money from the shift. Remember when people laughed at social media as a passing fad? It can be hard to tell whether something is a ship passing in the night or here to stay.
But the explosive growth of IoT, and the forecasted growth we’ll see in the next couple years, shows that IoT is here to stay. Your office should be prepared, whether that means implementing IoT initiatives to stay competitive or installing super-fast internet to keep up with your devices.
It seems we're nearing the moment the Internet of Things moves from think-piece fodder to an integral part of the home and office. Are you ready?