The Internet of Things—it’s the buzz phrase that all the “smart” companies are using. But what does it mean for you?
Out of context, the Internet of Things, or IoT, may sound like vague concept unimportant to your day-to-day operations. But when you start to peel back the layers, IoT can reveal itself to be an advantage—even a necessity—for your business’s growth and survival.
Loosely defined, IoT is the web of internet-connected devices that populate our world. For your home, that could mean an app-controlled thermostat or security system. For entertainment and shopping, that could mean access to information about the game you’re watching or the shirt you’re buying. For your business, it could be a means to collect and analyze data, or even keep your employees safe.
While the idea of connected “smart” devices is a concept seemingly out early sci-fi work, the earliest commercial use of IoT came in 1982, when a one-off Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University became the first internet-connected appliance. (The machine would transmit information on whether it needed to be restocked and if the soda inside was cold enough,) Less than a decade later, just as the internet’s first webpage went live, Mark Weiser published a landmark article on the then-nameless concept. Titled “The Computer of the 21st Century,” the 1991 piece predicted the rise of interconnected hardware and software, adding they would become “so ubiquitous that no one will notice their presence.”
The phrase “Internet of Things” itself was coined by Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, who uttered the words during a 1999 presentation to Procter & Gamble. IoT became a buzzphrase in the aftermath of Ashton’s speech, inspiring white papers and even a European conference, but it didn’t become a reality until some point between 2008 and 2009. That’s when—thanks to rapid increase in smartphone and tablet use—internet-connected objects first outnumbered humans, according to Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group. By 2012, the number of internet-connected devices in the world reached 8.7 billion. That includes an increasing variety of items, including smart fridges and Apple Watches.
But just because something exists, it doesn’t mean businesses and consumers have to automatically jump on board, right? Well, when when it comes to the Internet of Things, it may be smart to begin looking at a strategy. Consider these factors:
While many businesses are eager to tap the potential of the Internet of Things, leaders in the area are providing IoT services that can benefit companies ranging from corporate giants to small businesses. While these companies are innovating in their fields, their services can also provide benefits for commercial and residential users looking to dip their toes in the Internet of Things water. Here are three examples:
Packaging and labeling company Avery Dennison is positioning itself to be a player in the Internet of Things. In spring 2016, the 81-year-old, California-based company, which provides labels for companies such as Nike and Hugo Boss, announced an agreement with IoT startup Evrythng to create unique web identities for more than 10 billion pieces of apparel by 2019. Evrythng bills itself as the “Facebook of things”—it creates web identities for things such as light bulbs and packaging, then connects the items in a manner similar to a social network.
Under the deal, Avery Dennison will attach special labels, some that include sensors to apparel, shoes, and other accessories. Evrythng will be able to track the labels, and the products will provide consumers a variety of benefits including: a verifiable manufacturing history of their products, the ability to easily re-order products they enjoy, and the potential to connect to third-party apps and enroll in loyalty programs. Retailers may be able to benefit as well: The companies expect the smart labels to help reduce the number of fraudulent returns.
Personal-computing giant Microsoft has signaled it is going all in on the Internet of Things, and it’s touting the concept’s usefulness for consumers and businesses. The company is making its Microsoft Azure product a focal point of its IoT strategy. The cloud-computing solution offers an IoT suite that allows businesses to capture important data through connected devices.
First released in September 2015, the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite allows users to collect and use information such as temperature readings and operational performance. Microsoft runs a frequently updated IoT blog pushing the suite’s many uses. Companies deploying Azure’s IoT capabilities have been able to improve operations by keeping workers safe in desert heat and using smart fridges to help with vaccine storage. The blog also contains highlighting the challenges of IoT adoption and the need for cities to adopt an IoT strategy, and entertainment-driven pieces, such as a post about how Indy 500 fans can access live racing data.
Founded in 2012, SmartThings is a Palo Alto, California-based company that is building an open platform for the consumer IoT. The company’s work is centered on the concept of “smart homes”—residential houses equipped with lighting, heating, electricity, or other features that can be controlled remotely through a mobile device or a computer. SmartThings’ hub includes connectivity for various household smart devices, including: motion sensors, moisture sensors, locks, garage door openers, and thermostats.
For curious consumers, the company offers a SmartThings starter bundle that includes motion sensors, presence-detection fobs, smart outlets, and more. The company has received heaps of praise for its Internet of Things work, with media outlets including Fast Company, CNET, and Mashable doling out superlatives for SmartThings. It’s work also caught the attention of Samsung, which bought the company for $200 million in 2014.
Just getting connected to the Internet of Things doesn’t guarantee success—just ask Google, which seems to be regretting its Nest acquisition. But as the technology becomes more sophisticated and its use becomes more widespread, it’s a safe bet that more small businesses will jump on board. Solutions like Microsoft’s Azure offer a wide variety of IoT applications, while companies like Avery Dennison are offering specific services that could have far reaching business implications. No matter your industry, IoT could have an enormous impact on future business success.