How SMBs Can Leverage the Internet of Things Today, and Tomorrow
At a number of recent big industry events—from DreamForce to Dell World—the Internet of Things (IoT) was a big focus. The potential impact of connected devices on every facet of our lives is commanding the industry's attention. Though the IoT has not yet gone mainstream, now's the time to understand exactly what it has to offer—and most importantly, what it has to offer your customers.
THE INTERNET OF COWS
During Dell World this past October, Andy Rhodes, Dell's executive director of IoT solutions, shared with me a couple of ways in which SMBs can take advantage of growing connectivity. First is from a productivity standpoint. Dell, for example, is working with India-based Chitale Dairy to help increase the milk yields of its cows. India produces a large percentage of the world’s milk supply, Rhodes says, but its yield per animal is lower than that of competitors. The solution? Connected cows. Dell has helped the dairy more precisely track what its cows are eating, when they eat, when they take their co-vitamins, and other important metrics to see their effects on milk yields.
More efficient production, milk or miscellaneous, is one way to take advantage of the IoT; more efficient energy use is another. Rhodes points out that housing business operations in smart buildings is a huge opportunity for SMBs to reap IoT benefits. Even smaller smart buildings can see upward of 30 percent in energy savings, which can significantly cut down on operating expenses.
YOUR NEW BUSINESS MODEL: DISRUPTION
While operational gains from the IoT may provide meaningful quick wins, small businesses should also look for opportunities to disrupt—ones that call for transforming their business models. While most of us are familiar with start-up disruptors like Uber and Airbnb, there are lesser-known stories of existing companies adapting to exploit opportunities. Going back to the smart-building concept, Rhodes pointed to Dell customer KMC Controls, a midsize building management company selling brick-and-mortar building management systems. "They saw a future in collecting data on buildings and analyzing why they are inefficient." Now the firm is driving the adoption of that data to help customers be more efficient. And ELM Energy, another of Dell's small-business customers, shifted its business model after identifying a niche in the energy grid management market.
BEING CONNECTED DOESN'T MAKE YOU CUSTOMER-CENTRIC
While leveraging data from a variety of devices can lead to a better understanding of customer needs and behaviors, it doesn't automatically mean you're a customer-centric company. Adam Bosworth, executive vice president of Saleforce.com’s IoT Cloud, illustrated it this way: His wife has a "connected car," and when the engine light went on recently, she expected the dealer to trigger an alert in her car app saying it had been notified the car is having a problem. And since it could access her calendar app, it could suggest a few free times to have the car picked up for servicing, and ensure a rental car is ready free of charge as part of her warranty program.
Instead, she had to call the company, wait 30 minutes on hold, speak to someone who wasn't aware her car was having any issues, and then be informed it would be two weeks before the car could be checked out. The car with the engine problem.
That the car was connected raised expectations for a better experience, especially when one was needed most. That the vendor didn't deliver, then, caused even greater frustration.
The gap in expected and actual experience turned out to be enormous. The company had a vast divide between what it knew (through its connected devices) and how it applied that knowledge.
The Internet of Things, like social, mobile, and other modern technology, has the potential to be a game-changer for companies willing to take full advantage of what it has to offer. It can help you be more productive and efficient. It can lead to new opportunities and business models, in industries ripe for disruption. And it could help create better, more meaningful customer relationships. But only for those willing to think through how to make best use of data—not only to increase revenue and profits but to improve the experiences customers have with you, each and every time. Which, in the end, is a great way to increase revenue and profits.
Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based advisory firm focused on small and midsize businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.
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