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How Small Business Can Leverage the Internet of Things

The digital age gives owners easy access to customer, product, and market data that can be used to drive sales

In 1999, technology pioneer Kevin Ashton coined the phrase "Internet of Things" (IoT) to refer to the concept of "connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of." The IoT can also encompass car and plane engines, gas and oil wells, fitness tracking devices, and thermostats. In a 2014 New York Times article, writer Jeremy Rifkin stated, "Today more than 11 billion sensors are attached to natural resources, production lines, the electricity grid, logistics networks and recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores and vehicles, feeding big data into the Internet of Things. By 2020, it is projected that at least 50 billion sensors will connect to it." Although large companies and startup tech companies are the primary users right now, McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the IoT business will deliver $6.2 trillion in revenue by 2025.

Small companies can bolster their business significantly by leveraging this technology properly. Owners who come up with a comprehensive IoT strategy will be well equipped to manage a business in the ever-changing 21st century. According to CMSWire.com, many companies will need to start by updating their IT assets. "Add new devices, connect them to the cloud and enable them to talk to each other." Businesses must harness the power of technological connectivity in order to serve and understand their customers better.

Small businesses should first consider using IoT to collect customer data. The technology allows companies to easily and cost-efficiently collect new data which will offer invaluable insights about ways to improve business or keep up with the competition.

For instance, a coffee shop owner wanting to know the prime time to hand out flyers and promotional pieces could observe foot traffic data in order to know when to do so. IoT will also give companies the data necessary to predict the types of purchases customers will make, which in turn allows them to market more effectively.

Insurance companies, for instance, are already using deices that plug into cars to monitor their policy-holders driving matters. In turn, this allows them to price their insurance rates based on individual driving patterns and habits. Companies like Amazon and Netflix are already leveraging past customer choices to suggest similar preferences. By utilizing customer click-stream data and historical purchase data, they are able to provide each customer with unique recommendations. Gartner.com wrote, "The IoT connects remote assets and provides a data stream between the asset and centralized management systems. Real-time information enables more accurate understanding of status, and it enhances utilization and productivity." This is another way that small businesses can use data collection - to give each customer product suggestions that are specifically tailored to their interests.

This data can then be used to provide a better after-sales experience for the consumer. General Electric has utilized IoT sensor data from car and jet engines to determine when customers will need preventive maintenance and what actions can be taken to keep systems from failing. According to a 2014 article in Fast Company, General Electric wants to "create a kind of intelligence within the machines, which would collect and parse their data. A new GEnx jet engine with a multitude of sensors could spin off an awesome amount of information. GE would in turn help predict, say, when a crucial engine part required repairs." Small businesses should think about how this type of data-driven intelligence can be used to give customers an optimal experience.

IoT can also help small businesses save money and drive revenue. The digital age gives owners easy access to customer, product, and market data that can be used to drive sales. For example, businesses can track their current inventory and predict the number of items that will be needed at particular times throughout the year. This data can be used to make sure that the correct items are being advertised at the appropriate time. Companies should also consider pairing their IoT devise with business intelligence software, to help analyze the data they collect.

As the IoT continues to expand, small businesses have the opportunity to be early adopters and innovators in this new digital space.

More Stories By Keith Cawley

Keith Cawley is the media relations manager at TechnologyAdvice. a market leader in business technology recommendations. He covers a variety of business technology topics, including gamification, business intelligence, and healthcare IT.

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