You’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things, IoT for short, but you may not have known it was called IoT and you may think it is decades away from ever happening. A “connected office” it isn’t that far-fetched either, nor is it years away. Per Gartner, 8.4 billion connected “things” will be in use in 2017 (up 31% from 2016).
IoT, or machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, means your devices are connected to the internet or to each other generally to increase productivity. For example, the coffee pot at your office automatically turns on a 7:55 am because the first employee to arrive just pulled into the parking lot. This menial task saves that employee 5 minutes and allows him to grab a cup of coffee and start work at 8:00, not 8:05. Some experts say the Internet of Things should be called the “Era of Assistants” as devices are taking care of routine tasks, measuring performances, and helping us solve problems.
IoT is already in many offices, homes, vehicles, and on your body (wearable technology like fitness trackers). However, many people just don’t realize how connected of a world we already live in and they take for granted a future living integrated with technology is already here.
Benefits of IoT for Your Office:
- Reduce Manual Labor – IoT increases efficiency because it removes the menial tasks like data collection, data entry, and communicating that data. Additionally, many bots perform simple tasks like automatically turning off the lights immediately when the last person leaves the office.
- Reduce Mistakes – Since humans are not entering data, it limits the mistakes, which improves efficiency and the reliability of the data.
- Increase Profitability – With manual data entry moving to bots, humans can focus on making decisions with that data rather than spending their time merely entering it.
- Work Silently – IoT works behind the scenes and can be triggered by proximity, presence, or data, such as the shades in your office automatically lowering when the temperature rises in your office or when the sun is in a certain position.
- Work 24/7 – Bots don’t need to sleep and they can always be on, allowing you to collect data 24 hours a day, every day of the year including holidays without hiring additional staff, paying overtime, or dealing with more employees.
- More Data Points – Because data is not manually collected, bots can provide data more frequently and in real-time for better analysis and timely decision making. For example, electric companies no longer get 1 data entry a month from a meter reader walking the neighborhood, they now get 7,300 data entries wirelessly every 6 minutes. This real-time data allows them and customers to see changes and to react promptly, and it saves them money not having a human travel to each home and business to report dated information.
Examples of IoT for Your Office:
One of the challenges of the Internet of Things is wrapping your head around the sheer number of things the IoT can possibly do. Here are some example of IoT in the office:
- Employee ID Cards – With proximity sensors, your ID badge can open the front door for you without having to pull your card out of your purse and simultaneously clocks you in for the day and turns the lights on in your office.
- Connected Meetings – Bots can track meeting attendance (with sensors in ID badges), take minutes, track decisions, schedule the next meeting immediately by looking at the participants’ calendar, and share the minutes as the participants leave the meeting. This technology can also follow up with attendees on specific action items with reminders and by adding items to their To Do list.
- Manufacturing & Warehousing – IoT includes robots, autonomous vehicles, and drones that move parts and goods around a facility. Sensors on shelves and in the floors, guide these bots and automatically track inventory in real-time.
- Smart Office – Sensors throughout your office adjust lighting, shades, and the thermostat when people enter and leave rooms or correlate to outside weather conditions. Additionally, printers, coffee makers, and vending machines automatically order supplies when stocks get low.
- Video Doorbell – When a visitor presses your doorbell, a video feed automatically turns on and can be streamed anywhere across the globe. You can remotely provide access to someone without physically being onsite such as sensitive spaces like your server room.
- Biometric Scanners – Some companies already utilize biometric scanning for time punching, but you can take it a step further and use it for computer passwords so you never need to change your password or worry about employees sharing passwords.
- Smart Standing Desks – A sit-to-stand desk can learn more than your favorite height (ideal for companies that share desks). It can learn your habits to optimize your workspace, such as rising after lunch meetings or talk to the fitness tracker on your wrist to give you a gentle reminder if you’ve been sitting too long.
- Telepresence Robots – These bots project a physical presence for remote workers to feel more included in the conversation and provide a realistic viewpoint for walkthroughs. (Like the Sheldon Robot on Big Bang Theory.) Now you can be in two places at once while minimizing the time and cost burdens of travel.
Obstacles for IoT in the Workplace
While these technologies are already in some offices, they are not commonplace (yet), partly due to these obstacles.
- Acceptance & Overcoming Fears – Many employees fear “Big Brother” surveillance from their bosses and the government, so having bots in the office makes them suspicious and concerned about job security.
- Need More Bandwidth – Having so many devices talking to each other and to the internet means your office needs more internet bandwidth and wireless access points.
- Lack of Universal Standards & Regulation – Since IoT devices are still relatively new, there is not a standard platform or coding language yet, so devices either need to be fluent in multiple languages or business owners may have to scrap costly technology to get compatible devices as standards evolve.
- Cost – Many bots and other IoT devices have a strong ROI, causing executives to at least consider getting connected, but prices will not drop until connected office products become more mainstream and cause production to increase.
Despite these obstacles, IoT will become commonplace in the next few years because of the ROI. Another factor driving automation and connectivity is the worker shortage in America with so many Baby Boomers retiring. This shortage forces companies to replace manual labor with robots and requires service professionals to optimize their time.
Soon there will be an arms race for IoT because it will drive profitability up and displace companies holding on to their old ways out of the market.