INTERNET OF THINGS

The SME IoT

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The Internet of Things (IoT): a space in which technology, which has been a gentle murmur in the background for many years, has become an impressive reality with enormous potential to transform the ways in which an organisation does business. Research undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that around 96% of respondents are expecting to engage in IoT solutions by the end of 2016 and that IoT will positively impact on unlocking revenue and driving customer service. The same survey found that 63% believe a slow integration will be a competitive disadvantage.

For small to medium enterprises (SMEs) it may seem that this adds yet another competitive advantage to the business, giving those with the budgets even greater scope for growth and transformation as they invest in new technology and solutions which the SME is unlikely to afford. However, this is not entirely true. IoT is, in essence, the ability of devices and objects to connect to one another through the internet and thereby allowing them to send and receive data which can be used to streamline processes, improve functionality and so much more. This very ubiquity levels the playing field for both enterprise and SME; investment need only be as intensive as the project or solution demands.

“The SME needs to develop a long-term strategic plan which allows for the steady introduction and implementation of IoT devices and solutions,” says John Eigelaar, Co-Founder of Keystone Electronic Solutions. “Instead of a heavy initial capital outlay, ensure that the technology used today is scalable and capable of adapting to fit the technology of tomorrow. Then assess the overall scope and determine precisely what your technology needs are each step of the way.”

A recent Gartner report found that integration is the keyword when it comes to the success of IoT. The research found that ‘half the cost of implementing IoT solutions will be spent integrating various IoT components’. In order to address this and to mitigate any unexpected cost, the SME needs to know how well it can handle integration, what platforms are in place and the challenges which could arise. As Gartner said—start small and frequently re-assess.

One of the driving factors in the rise of IoT over the past few years has been the steadily dropping price tags on specific devices, solutions and technologies. Hardware, chips, wireless transceivers—these all used to cost a lot more than they do today. Now, a chip is yours for only a few hundred rands. This has significantly lowered the barrier to entry for the SME as it allows for solutions which don’t need a lot of capital outlay, just a lot of careful planning and a clear vision for the future.

“The SME does not have to fork out a fortune to create a solution,” says Eigelaar. “A device as basic as the Raspberry Pi or as intuitive as Blue Penguin can be used to form the basis of an entire installation. As long as the goals are clear and the long-term strategy in place, the SME can start reaping the benefits of IoT.”

In fact, the SME is already most likely in the perfect position to take advantage of everything that IoT has to offer. Already, the tighter budgets and leaner operating parameters of the SME has seen them turn to the cloud for storage, software and an array of as a service (AAS) solutions. They already have systems in place which are capable of handling the introduction of IoT to the stable. For IoT is one thing—data. If the organisation does not have the ability to handle the volumes of data generated by IoT, then it isn’t even coming close to harnessing its potential, according to Eigelaar.

Data is where the information hides. It is where the SME can glean information about customers, processes and people which can be used to improve productivity and functionality. It can also be easily scaled and handled through the cloud. With the right investment into cloud-based solutions, the SME can handle the data of IoT and pull value from it.

“The promise of IoT is that your business can become more efficient, and more readily capable of recognising opportunity and taking advantage of it. Fortunately, the hype of this technology is often true, especially when implemented correctly. Many organisations have been able to change the way they operate as a result of a well thought out IoT solution,” says Eigelaar.

Taking a closer look at where technology in the IoT space has progressed, Eigelaar refers to a recent solution implemented by his company in a mining environment, where they developed and installed an app onto smartphones. These were then handed out to machinery operators and controllers, giving them insight into how their roles impacted on the business as a whole. The apps were capable of tracking employee behaviour and provided real-time data and insight into activities and performance goals. The result was that employees became far more engaged with the business as they saw the part they played in the ecosystem and how valuable their contributions were. It was a fundamental shift from worker to insight-driven employee and the data generated by IoT created a rich stream of information which was collated and used to change systems and improve working conditions.

According to research gathered by SME Insider, the Internet of Things can improve the customer experience, drive operational efficiency, streamline financial performance and secure new business, transform through new business models and enhance compliance standards and parameters. SMEs can assess energy consumption, gain a clearer view of employee behaviour and productivity and leverage insight for a competitive advantage.

“IoT will help you become more efficient—not just when it comes to people and products and services. Imagine being able to see why your electricity bill is suddenly so high, or being able to control air conditioning, lighting and security from a remote location. There is also no small benefit in having access to remote cameras and security systems which can see why an alarm has been triggered on your premises and alert the relevant security personnel. You can assess the situation and make the right decisions quickly,” explains Eigelaar.

The implications for IoT are almost endless and their application within the SME does not have to be a full-service, fully connected solution which costs a fortune to install and maintain. Instead, it can be the gradual development of IoT capabilities which integrate with existing systems, build on legacy solutions and streamline one element at a time. It is not a fad or a trend. Careful investment in IoT is more about choosing your solutions wisely than in watching IoT from a nervous distance.

IoT is backed by some of the biggest names on the technology floor. According to IoT Analytics, IBM, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Apple, SAP, Samsung, HP, Amazon, Orange, Facebook and Dell are just some of the companies investing in IoT solutions and technologies. With this level of commitment from deep pockets it is very likely that there will soon be a flurry of interesting solutions on the market. And, for the SME, this means lower costs with improved capabilities. Of course, if your business model happens to be in the development of an IoT solution, perhaps one of these giants will soon be knocking on your door…

Maria Muller

(Sources: http://www.smeinsider.com/2015/12/17/what-can-the-internet-of-things-do-for-your-business-infographic/; http://www.arm.com/files/pdf/EIU_Internet_Business_Index_WEB.PDF; http://iot-analytics.com/)

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