The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming, whether you like it or not. According to Gartner, Inc., the number of interconnected devices in 2016 will jump 30 percent to 6.4 billion in common use, and more than double to 13.5 billion by 2020.
Over the next four years, we're likely to see a revolution in how we live our lives... and of course, how we manage and operate our businesses.
What Is the Internet of Things?
In case you aren't familiar with the concept, the Internet of Things is a general phrase used to refer to Internet-enabled devices (such as "smart" gadgets) that are all connected through a single, remotely accessible network. For example, your smart TV, thermostat, and refrigerator might all be accessible to control via your personal tablet.
In the future, more varieties of appliances and fixtures will be designed to join such networks.
How Your Business Will Change
But how will this phenomenon change your business?
1. You'll know where everything is at all times.
Currently, most companies rely on barcode tracking systems for inventory management. But when almost all your equipment, devices, and even products are integrated into the same network, inventory management and tracking will become so intuitive you might not even have to think about it. Instantly updating numbers will be at your disposal at all times, and you'll have the ability to tap into those metrics any time you want.
2. You'll have to keep track of even more data.
All those interconnected devices will open the floodgates to even more data than you currently track (which is probably a ton). You'll learn in-depth metrics about your customers and their behaviors, your employees and how they work, and even the gritty details about how your business operates. This is all worthwhile information ... but you need to be prepared to handle it, with data analysts and visualization software.
3. Everything will be faster.
With the IoT in place, everything will be faster, since interconnected devices could include everything from traffic lights and cars to public transportation. When that's the case, you'll have shorter commute times for yourself and your employees. More important for the impact on your organization, this means faster deliveries. On one hand, this will be a luxury -- you'll get you what you need faster -- but it also means customers will expect and demand faster, more efficient service.
4. Energy and production will be cheaper.
Thanks to smart grid coordination, energy is going to be cheaper. Not only that, your machines will be able to find new and smoother ways to operate, and your maintenance routines may also become easier. The bottom line is that you'll expend less money to produce your inventory, and most of your costs will likely decrease.
5. Remote work will become even more feasible.
Thanks to cloud-hosted software and readily portable devices like tablets, remote work is already a solid option for many professional positions. When IoT technology becomes commonplace, and all devices are manageable on one network, it will become even easier to manage everything remotely. Given one tablet and an Internet connection, you may be able to manage an entire production line, or an entire store. Most professionals won't be prepared to cross this gap immediately, but it will be there as a possibility.
6. Device management may become nightmarishly complex.
There are a few potential downsides to IoT integration. One of the hardest to adapt to will be overall device management. You could have a hard time keeping all your integrated devices updated with the latest software and connected to the network; this will be both expensive and intense in terms of IT needs. Still, the benefits of increased productivity and reduced labor costs should balance this out.
7. Productivity will increase.
As a general rule, your entire business will be able to operate more productively, with lower expenses. The cost of upgrading all your devices may be initially steep, but you'll end up paying less for staff, and you should be capable of producing more products, thanks to the efficiency challenges your new technologies will have solved.
8. Some industries will disappear or radically change.
Many industries may fundamentally change when IoT becomes mainstream. Some might even become obsolete or completely disappear; for example, the delivery and logistics industry could conceivably become almost completely automated. Others will start to be in higher demand, and still others will become more efficient, and allow for higher profitability and more entry to new entrepreneurs. Pay close attention to how your industry develops, and be prepared for some major changes.
Four years may seem like a long time for the IoT to develop fully, but that doesn't mean you can afford to delay. The sooner you start thinking about the future of your firm, the more proactively you'll be able to prepare.
Don't get too ahead of yourself, either. Instead, pay close attention to how this new technology develops, and get your business ready to adapt to those changes gradually. Stay ahead of your competition and get the most out of your new technological additions.