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Heading into 2019, most corporate leaders are likely to have at least a basic awareness of the Internet of Things (IoT) concept, and an understanding of the major changes this high-profile tech trend is set to have on the business world.
IoT - the name given to the proliferation of smart devices that are able to communicate and exchange data with each other - has been seen as a promising future development for a number of years, but is now entering the mainstream. According to a recent global business survey by Zebra Technologies, the average annual spend on IoT technologies rose by 4% year-on-year in 2018 - with 86% of the companies surveyed expecting that number to increase in 2019 and 2020.
These figures are representative of the conclusions of other similar studies, and underline the fact that IoT can no longer be considered a far-off future prospect - instead, businesses should be dedicating serious thought to how this technology will affect their day-to-day operations, and how best to make the capabilities of IoT work for them.
Modern businesses have become accustomed to handling large volumes of data, but the advent of the IoT era is set to accelerate this trend to the next level. As key business functions and customer activities become increasingly reliant on always-online devices, organisations will be inundated with massive quantities of granular information, including data pertaining to usage trends, consumer habits and performance metrics.
As ever, this information can be a blessing and a curse. Processing this amount of data will require companies to invest heavily in storage, data processing and analysis, and will also place them under increased scrutiny when it comes to data security - especially in the wake of the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018.
However, companies that are able to navigate these challenges will benefit from a level of insight and visibility into their customer base, market conditions and internal performance that simply wouldn’t be possible without IoT. By getting their data management approach right, businesses can make more informed decisions than ever before.
For organisations with complex supply chains, the IoT represents a paradigm shift that will revolutionise the way they manage inventory. Rather than having to rely on manual stock-checking and barcode tracking systems, the IoT model will see all equipment, devices and most products integrated into the same network, providing seamless real-time visibility into the location and progress of every crucial shipment and component.
This intuitive new approach to supply chain management will give organisations a more accurate picture of their own output with reduced manual effort, while also improving the security of their stock, and allowing them to provide more useful information to customers. In some sectors, these fine margins of efficiency can make all the difference.
Working habits have changed a lot in the last few years, with modern professionals moving away from the antiquated model of fixed hours and a regimented office-based working culture, towards a more flexible and fluid approach. The IoT is set to accelerate this trend, while making it much easier for businesses to manage.
The capabilities of an IoT-equipped workplace will make it possible for staff in multiple locations to collaborate using shared cloud-hosted software, accessible from any device and managed on the same network. Videoconferencing, live chat and real-time productivity tracking are simple to achieve under this model, and the instant online availability of company-wide data makes it possible for critical tasks to be assigned to individuals working off-site.
Naturally, this approach to flexible working can only succeed with an appropriate data security policy and the buy-in of a committed, conscientious workforce, but the rewards for putting in the effort to make it work are well worth it.
Making the transition to an IoT-based operating model can be a lengthy and expensive process for some organisations. Updating and replacing legacy systems and processes is no easy ask for larger, less agile businesses - a challenge that’s compounded by the difficulty of retraining an entire workforce to adapt to a new method of working.
For managers looking to make the business case for an IoT transition, the upfront costs of the change should be weighed against the considerable financial benefits that come with a successful transformation. Once IoT technologies are in place, business leaders will be able to automate key processes; eliminate obvious inefficiencies; make more educated, data-driven business decisions; and generally run their operations better and more smoothly than was ever possible before.
One key consideration to remember about the IoT era is that its benefits may not end up being evenly distributed; any major sea change in the world of business creates at least as many losers as winners, and there’s no reason to believe IoT will be any different.
Indeed, many analysts have predicted that many industries will be fundamentally transformed by IoT, with the delivery and logistics sectors potentially set to become completely automated as a result of these technological advances. Demand for certain skills will inevitably decline as automation becomes a viable alternative, while other attributes - such as customer service and reactive expertise - will see higher demand than ever before.
Businesses on the frontlines of the IoT revolution should, therefore, give plenty of consideration to the ways in which their marketplace might be set to change, and do everything they can to adapt to that evolution. Companies that fail to find ways to remain competitive may experience setbacks, but for those that stay a step ahead of the curve, the opportunities could be endless.
If you’re looking for further guidance on how to prepare your organisation for the IoT revolution, contact Evaris today and take advantage of our expert insights. Call us on 0330 127 8171.