Imagine the world where cars are connected to traffic lights, coffee shops are connected to our wallets, and we’re able to pick up our preferred hot beverage with our favourite slice of cake without having to wait. This is what the Internet of Things (IoT) promises to do, enabling more connected devices to communicate with each other and decide what’s best for the humans that use them.
Since 2008 there have been more devices connected to the internet than humans on the planet. And as that number continues to expand the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communications will become (if not already) a part of all business networks. Here is a quick look at 5 IoT devices your network probably isn’t ready for, starting with one advancement that has already woven its way into the fabric of our everyday lives:
1. Smartphones, tablets and BYOD
Ever-increasing numbers of mobile workers have already introduced workplaces to the Internet of Things in the form of workers’ smartphones, tablets, and laptops. All these can be used to work remotely, and future generations of digital natives entering the workforce will come to expect that they can use their Internet-ready devices to work where they want when they want. It’s essential that your business can meet these expectations, so you need to ensure it has the right unified communications system in place.
Documents can be shared and accessed through online workspaces, meetings can take place remotely through VoIP & video conferencing, and additional workers can be recruited online when necessary. Devices will soon be capable of identifying the most appropriate workers for tasks, and alert relevant staff about changes in their to-do list and priorities. As well as ensuring your business continues to attract the best workers, these IoT-based systems make it easier to keep communications effective and your business operating incredibly efficiently.
2. Lights, meters and gauges connected to the internet
The growth of home automation (including Internet-connected light bulbs) is slowly creeping its way into the working world. Not only does this allow us to control office lighting like the almighty beings we are, but geo-fences mean that they only turn on when someone’s in the nearby vicinity or at a scheduled time. If you really wanted to, you could even schedule the lights to change hue or shade depending on current activity – if your colleagues in sales hit their targets, dance party!
Heaters and thermostats, too, will be connected to the internet, getting a sense of both your office’s preferences and also any changes in the weather that they should be prepared for.
These changes, coupled with the growing availability of sensors, will enable greener yet more cost-efficient working environments. They save energy by intelligently turning themselves off and also help prepare your business for the unexpected.
Whilst lighting and meters enable cost savings, they can also be helpful tools in terms of your business’ operations. Gauges and meters can measure stock levels, measure flow and automatically complete time-consuming asset management processes (with the aid of RFID).
3. Printers connected to the internet
Printers and other common business products will have ‘smart’ features allowing them to intelligently monitor all aspects of their usage levels and functionality. As with internet-connected lighting and heating, this will enable printers to gain a sense of their own usage patterns: ready for action and turned off when not. On top of that, printers will be able to communicate with suppliers to purchase supplies when they are low, and inform technicians as soon as an error is detected.
High levels of internet connectivity between your business’ products can have a range of applications. In waiting rooms, for example, mobile devices can communicate with office-based products to send any relevant alerts to clients about recent developments that they should be aware of, or delays, freeing up time in the meeting itself. The shared interface of the Internet of Things greatly lowers the need for humans to input large quantities of data, adding to the efficiency of your business, and will ultimately lead to:
4. Smart data
Devices connected to the internet and each other produce a huge amount of data that can be cheaply stored. This data itself will become part of the Internet of Things: it will analyse itself in real time for patterns and abnormalities. Commonly known as ‘big data’, this constant analysis will cheaply provide insights into the way work happens in your business, the way your network functions, whether fraudulent or criminal behaviour is taking place, and even how this data can become an alternative revenue source for your business. One major source of data will be:
In consumer markets we have seen all sorts of wearable items, from watches to glasses (like Google Glass), ready to become a part of the Internet of Things. Just as personal phones and laptops have collapsed traditional divides between business and home, through things like e-mail, so too will these wearables.
AR (like Microsoft’s HoloLens headset) and VR (like the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift) allow us to ‘stream’ workplace environments, or even create pseudo-offices, or attend a conference from the comfort of your home sofa.
Smart watches can provide a business with their employees’ calendars, location and productivity. Additionally, it enables organisations to collect even deeper insights into their employees’ health and work/life balance. But this is a fine line between privacy and intrusion that data managers must tread carefully upon.
Should you evolve your network infrastructure to cater for the IoT?
For IoT business networks to be effective, workers must feel its benefits: thanks to the Internet of Things they can be allowed to work in creative, innovative, and free ways, all while remaining a part of a potentially global workplace.
Embracing these new IoT devices isn’t just a case of plugging in a few sensors, though. Your network infrastructure needs to be optimised to process new data to generate any value from them. This can be difficult, particularly when you consider that the biggest generators of value come from the most revolutionary changes – but you don’t necessarily need to begin a huge, risky network overhaul. Rather, you can get value from the IoT with existing technologies, such as Unified Communications – if you’d like more information or are filling your head with questions, get in touch with an Immervox telecoms expert now.