Business Utility of the Internet of Things
As exciting as the Internet of Things (IoT) is for consumers, I see even more exciting potential for businesses to benefit by adopting these technologies themselves and using them in the workplace. An Economist Intelligence Unit survey of C-suite business leaders found that 96 percent of executives expect their businesses to be using IoT in some respect by 2016. In addition, 29% believe that IoT will inspire new working practices among their employees, and 23% say IoT will eventually change the model of how their businesses operate.1
In the not-too-distant future, iWorkers will be operating within an almost limitless continuum of data that is produced, communicated, aggregated and analyzed continuously, helping them make the right choices at the right times. By increasing the number of interconnected endpoints, the IoT can increase that access exponentially, and they can significantly improve processes across the enterprise.
This promises an immense boost to the effectiveness of your workforce — if you provide them with the right tools.
On the Horizon
Based on the predictions I’ve read, the IoT is poised to deliver greater mobility of information to workers in the enterprise — revolutionizing everything from shipping to the day-to-day contingencies of office life. Companies that deliver goods and dispatch vehicles will improve logistics through in-vehicle technology that monitors information about traffic patterns and automatically updates routes, enabling drivers to deliver products and services faster and more frequently. Inside the workplace itself, IoT devices can boost productivity by keeping staff informed of everyone’s whereabouts. An employee’s phone or wearable device will be aware of where they are (at home, in transit, in a meeting) and, based on the digital calendar monitored by those same devices, can automatically update colleagues about whether that employee is running on time, is indisposed, etc.
Businesses can also benefit from greater efficiency and reduced costs by using sensor-equipped, Internet-connected devices at every step of a process to collect and send real-time data to the cloud. There, the data can be subjected to sophisticated analytics that locates points where excessive time and effort is being spent.
That kind of sensor-based intelligence and connectivity will take employee awareness and performance to a radically new level — when they become a reality. The IoT has not yet evolved to that point.
But that doesn’t mean the IoT exists only on the horizon. Some next-generation technologies are already having an impact on the workplace.
Here and Now
The primary way I’ve seen the IoT improving productivity in the workplace — in the here and now — is by helping employees easily move information from physical to digital, and vice versa.
One way the IoT bridges the gap between physical and digital is through visual search technologies (VSR). Utilizing recognition capabilities similar to fingerprint matching, VSR allows smartphones to read codes embedded in paper documents and digital signage, triggering access to more information and new applications. (Unlike unsightly QR codes, VSR codes are invisible to the eye.) Nothing a company prints or displays, from employee handbooks to other internal-facing messages, needs to stand alone and apart from related information available digitally. An employee can scan the relevant part of a document or image with a mobile device and immediately be taken to the next step in the process — for example, a training video. Perhaps even more useful is that VSR also allows employees to take pictures with a mobile device and attach audio and text files to it, bundling all associated information together and, therefore, making it that much more accessible and useful.
For example, let’s consider how Ricoh’s Clickable Paper — an interactive print solution that combines VSR, image recognition software and a mobile app — can offer business utility to iWorkers. Using the solution, a business could go from printing thick quarterly reports for its internal team to creating a slim booklet with a low page count, and multiple hotspots leading to additional digital content. With the Clickable Paper app on their iOS or Android smartphones, employees can snap an image of a page, and the app sends the snapped image to a cloud server. Their smartphones then display links to digital material such as a video by the CEO, charts and graphs, messaging frameworks, timelines and more.
Of course, as my colleague makes clear in this recent post about wearable technology, an influx of new connected devices means a greater burden on both the IT infrastructure supporting them and the business processes into which these new information streams need to integrate. The productivity gains from using intelligent IoT devices which can serve as endpoints on the Internet will only be realized if the information they send doesn’t inhibit or compete with other information streams already running through the enterprise.
Security is also a concern: having that many devices continuously sending and receiving data creates multiple points of entry for security breaches — whether they target the device alone, or the company network. Companies need to take this vulnerability seriously, and can’t afford to get caught up in IoT trends without training an eye on the new risks that come about as a result. A wide variety of solutions are available to restrict unauthorized device access, control device output and secure network devices. By combining technology-based protection with rigorous security policies that take into account the specific risks posed by IoT, you can help ensure your data remains safe.
Advanced technologies may seem to challenge human intelligence, but in fact they enhance it. Find out more in “The Human Side of Automated Processes.”
1 Witchalls, Clint, “The Internet of Things Business Index: A quiet revolution gathers pace”, Economist Intelligence Unit, October 29, 2013