When we hear about the Internet of Things (IoT) we often think of consumer products like wireless thermostats and multiroom speakers, meaning business uses are often overlooked.

Indeed, in a recent study by Dresner Advisory services, most industries rated IoT as not important.

However, advocates of IoT say there’s huge potential for the technology to transform business intelligence, especially when coupled with big data. They see IoT as a core justification for businesses to implement big data analytics, ranking it in the top three use cases, alongside customer analysis and data warehouse optimisation.

To get a better understanding of the potential business impact, let’s take a look at three current and future IoT business uses that harness big data.

1. Visualising data insights

When most people think of data visualisation they imagine charts, graphs and tables of numbers. Although fairly easy to understand, these simple formats fall short of today’s needs.

With more and more data being collected, the way we represent and communicate findings has become increasingly important. We’re no longer looking at simple, single purpose databases with a binary purpose, but rather complex and nuanced datasets combining all kinds of insights, requiring us to analyse the relationships between many variables.

This means that business intelligence analysts of tomorrow are tasked with communicating these complex relationships in a way that the less scientifically minded among us can understand and react to as fast as possible.

One way to do this is to bring data back into the ‘real world’ by using IoT devices. One company that’s pioneering this idea is data analytics service Sisense, which offers a business intelligence package that combines big data with intelligent voice interfaces, chatbots and IoT devices.

This includes a bulb that connects to the Sisense data analytics platform and can be programmed to change colour to reflect performance on certain metrics. For example, if daily sales are tracking below target the bulb can be set to light up red, changing to green when the target is met.

Skullcandy, a headphone manufacturer, has begun using this 'sales bulb' to alert its teams to their progress. Brent Allen, director of infrastructure and web operations, said:

We’ve seen a big change with the sales team. At first they smiled and thought the product was funny. I think that these physical manifestations of data bring about that reaction — it's just too new.

But now it’s a big part of their day-to-day — they love it. It’s important enough and it’s simple enough, easy enough to use, and it’s been so thoroughly engrained into the sales team and IT at this point that it’s something we’re going to stick with.

Although certainly in the early stages, with more devices able to sync up via the internet to real time data analytics platforms, it’s easy to see a whole industry develop out of visualising data not just in real time, but in real life.

2. Enhancing human resources

The biotechnology industry is especially keen on IoT, with 100% of survey respondents in the Dresner study rating IoT as important to the industry today.

It’s easy to see how biotechnology products such as wearable tech could have HR applications. It’s a technology already embraced by many, with forecasts predicting 322m units to be sold worldwide in 2017, meaning a short leap for businesses to introduce wearables to the workplace.

There are multiple uses, from improving safety through ‘smart helmets’ that monitor worker alertness, to enhancing operational efficiency through GPS tracking.

One of the most promising uses is to encourage employee wellness by offering rewards to those who reach certain fitness goals. Some companies have already adopted such policies as part of their benefits package.

Hannah Dempsey, associate director of social media at digital marketing agency Jellyfish, said:

Our private healthcare offers extra benefits for those who are active and monitoring their health. Staff are given a corporate discount on a popular fitness tracker and can cash in their steps to accumulate points and earn rewards, such as free coffee or cinema trips.

In the past we’ve also had a fitness leader board and challenges, where staff members could compete with each other on the number of steps they were taking, which brought out the competitive side of a lot of people – myself included!

3. Networking machinery

IoT means basically any object can be connected: from a bouncy ball up to a skyscraper. Indeed, Cisco estimates that 50m objects will be IoT enabled by 2020, and that there might be as many as 1.5trn networkable objects across the globe.

IoT advocates say that by connecting machinery to the internet, businesses can benefit from enhanced communication and control, resulting in time and cost savings. How exactly does this play out?

In terms of communication, IoT-enabled air conditioning units could be fitted with sensors that report whether its filter is functioning properly. Likewise, GPS-enabled objects such as wheelchairs can be more easily tracked, helping hospitals to better organise their resources.

Cost savings come from greater control and automation. Remote control will allow engineers to adjust and optimise machine functions from anywhere in the world, with many of these processes being potentially automated, removing the need for human involvement altogether.

Meanwhile, sensors can be fitted to machinery to monitor performance data, allowing potential faults to be detected before they happen. This lets businesses minimise equipment failure and more efficiently plan scheduled maintenance.

A final word...

With the Internet of Things still in its infancy it’s already clear that this new technology will revolutionise not only our home lives, but work as well.

Crucially, businesses that will benefit most from connected machines will be those that intelligently define which data should be monitored, efficiently collect and analyse as much data as possible and effectively use these insights to improve business function.

Nicholas Chowdrey

Published 27 April, 2017 by Nicholas Chowdrey

Nick Chowdrey is a freelance content marketer and journalist, and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Nick on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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