How the IoT Helps Mind Your Business' Bottom Line

The smart home — with IP-accessible and controllable light fixtures, door locks, thermostats, video cameras and motion detectors — is growing in popularity among those who want to lower power, heating and cooling bills, deter burglars, and check in on the dog while at work. For the small business owner, these sensors and their associated applications can help optimize business operations in several ways, as well as avert disasters.

Smart Home Technology Can Be Even Smarter at Work

When it comes to smart homes, one of the most accessible elements of this technology is the smart thermostat. Similar to the way an individual would use such technology, businesses can also use this technology to lower and raise temperatures by time of day and week. The biggest implication for small business owners, though, is that the thermostat or other sensor readings can alert owners to inefficient practices, oversights, or incorrectly installed equipment, and in the end, help save money and improve efficiency.

Energy Control and Monitoring: For example, there are companies that install wireless gateways to relay the data generated by all these sensors, analyze it, and give you information that can turn into cost savings for your business. Powerhouse Dynamics, for example, offers subscription to SiteSage, a service that installs electrical, temperature, contact, pressure and water sensors in a customer’s multiple locations, as well as wireless thermostats, watt, water and gas meters. Like a smart home, it can be programmed to lower or raise ambient temperatures and turn lights off and on throughout the day and night. But it’s a lot smarter than that. The readings it continually takes are analyzed and sent to the small business owner’s mobile devices with reports and alerts to help business owners make smarter power-related decisions.

SiteSage can pinpoint sources of excess usage or off-hours usage. It can tell you if heating and cooling systems are operating at the same time at cross purposes, or if a refrigeration unit is short-cycling — a good sign that someone has left a door open. It can also tell you exactly what you’re paying to operate any particular device, over time, and compare efficiencies of different models in multiple sites.

Then there are the real-time alerts that can save frequent in-person trips to check, and save the day when things do go wrong. Think restaurants and freezers; SiteSage can alert a restaurateur if his freezer temperature goes above 20 in time for him to rescue an expensive inventory of sea bass. Similarly, think medical facilities and medicine refrigerators.

It can be something as simple as a smarter mouse trap, (now actually in development); one that tells you (before a health inspector finds it) that there’s a dead mouse in the restaurant kitchen, or in the bathroom before a customer notices.

The Smart Business Goes Beyond Smart Thermostat

Smart Inventory Management: There are at least two companies — Panasonic, in the point-of-sale business, and T+Ink, in electrically conductive ink — that are smartening up shelves with sensors that can report when products are being placed or removed.  Panasonic’s PowerShelf uses weight sensors for this function; T-Ink’s Smart Shelf is an overlay of ink-printed circuitry that can even recognize products by their unique packaging footprint. This not only alerts retailers to depleted stock, it can report which placement in the store moves product fastest.  If a suspicious number of the same item is taken at once, it can alert to possible theft.  T+Ink’s shelves are still in field trials, but CEO Tristan Louis says that their cost structure should be low enough for smaller customers. He says that T+Ink will package software, shelf overlay, and data for about $3 to $5 dollars a month per two feet of shelving.

Smart Point-of-Sales: Another category of business smarts gets two dissimilar products to work intelligently together. An example here is the integration of point-of-sale systems and security cameras.  Smartened cameras “bookmark” their recordings when the POS alerts them to suspicious transactions.  In this way, retailers can go straight to the relevant clip that records what happened at checkout when cashier B voided too many transactions or comped too many meals within a short period of time.  Such suspicious transactions can then be quickly observed on video, confirming whether a worker is pocketing cash or giving meals away to friends. Store owners can quickly furnish proof of theft to police, avoid falsely accusing innocent workers, or simply dismiss the bad apple before they do more damage to profitability.

Companies in this space include Genetec and Axxonsoft, but there are many others; your POS vendor may be a good place to start your research.

What all these applications have in common, of course, is mobile access, in real or near-real time.  All these reports and notifications, as well as controls, are presented to users on smartphones and tablets as well as desktop, as small business operators are more often on their feet and on-the-go than sitting at a back office desk. What inefficiencies small business owners once may never have noticed (overuse of electricity, areas to cut back, theft, etc.), can be optimized in near real-time with smart home and business technology, helping make faster optimizations and saving money over time.

Are you designing innovative smart technology? Enter the CenturyLink Innovation Challenge for a chance to win funding and more.