Internet of Things (IoT)—a network of internet-connected objects able to collect and exchange data using embedded sensors—is forging into the business world. And it’s not just large enterprises that will be reaping its benefits. “There’s an incredible opportunity right now for small businesses to become more efficient by capturing data and having it easily accessible via the cloud,” says Seth Winterer, founder of Digital Logic, a Louisiana-based online marketing company that helps clients use analytics to improve their operations.
It’s an important next step for big data, and potentially, for small businesses looking to level the playing field. While big data has revolutionized the way companies operate by curating insights from large troves of information that come from far-flung sources, sensor-based technologies can accrue valuable data from your own premises or properties.
To be clear, the full impact of IoT is still in the near future; currently, this technology is still very much in its infancy. Nonetheless, here are four ways IoT technologies are being used by small businesses right now.
How many employees do you need on Tuesday afternoons? Are you surprised by long lines to finalize transactions at odd times of day? Perhaps they are not so odd after all. To get a crystal-clear picture, retailers are installing motion sensors on their doors to analyze foot traffic patterns. The data from sensors eliminates the guesswork so you can track what time of day (and which days) your store is busiest. Over time, this can help you figure out how to keep customer satisfaction high and optimize staffing for any given week, day or hour.
With a new generation of IoT-based fleet management tools, local businesses that service or deliver to homes and commercial accounts, such as florists, plumbers, restaurants and pharmacies, will find it much easier to make driver operations and vehicle safety more efficient. Sensors can track everything from drive time and battery problems to whether drivers left the engine idling when they stopped, which can be a real fuel-waster. These devices also act as an official mileage log, making it much simpler for small companies to report mileage to the IRS for tax-deduction purposes.
The advancement of “smart home” technologies has spilled into the small business realm, with plenty of owners installing thermostats that automatically sense and adjust store temperature to control heating and cooling costs. Businesses that sell food and climate-sensitive beverages, such as supermarkets and microbreweries, are taking it one step further. Sensors are now being placed within refrigerated units to help predict maintenance issues that might affect power consumption and monitor temperature fluctuations to ensure food safety.
One huge advantage e-commerce sites have over brick-and-mortar establishments is that those sites track every movement of customers’ journey, understanding how they browse, what they buy and what is likely to get consumers to return for more purchases. Now, “Main Street” stores can utilize a similar feature. Heat-mapping technologies, which analyze feeds from security cameras in real time, track shoppers’ flow around a store to see which areas of the sales floor attract the most attention and which products have greater sell-through. “This helps you quickly figure out where to strategically put different things in the store,” Winterer says. “It can be a game changer.”
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