The Internet of Things (IoT) is grabbing headlines, and advice about its potential impact on your business is as available and varied as the Internet itself.  While there are many predictions about how quickly a world of fully-interconnected devices will be realized, there is little disagreement about the bottom line: the IoT has already started, will expand dramatically, and will transform the way organizations function and the way consumers benefit from the products they buy.

What can your company do to prepare if you already haven’t started? How can you mobilize networked devices and products to maximize operational efficiency and improve the customer experience?

Research firm Gartner calls the IoT a “powerful force for business transformation,” and defines it as a “network of dedicated physical objects [things] that contain embedded technology to sense or interact” with each other and the world around them. By the end of 2015, Gartner predicts that more than 4.9 billion connected objects will be in use, up 30 percent from 2014.  According to the forecast, this number will reach 25 billion by 2020.  From every consumer product you can think of, to every business device, transportation mechanism and piece of industrial equipment imaginable, the things that comprise the potential future of the IoT are theoretically limitless.

Of course, there are some serious challenges ahead for those developing the technology to connect absolutely everything, and for those businesses that want to employ it right now.  According to a Cognizant report, these challenges include privacy and security hurdles, a lack of computing technologies and standards, and data management problems. On the security front alone, just imagine a retail company that invests in new smart technology, such as networked shelving that monitors and reports inventory, only to have that network hacked, leading to a larger cyber intrusion into customer data.

With the potential opportunities and challenges in mind, here are some considerations for your organization.

Know your industry

The benefits of networked objects vary by industry, and so it is important to understand how potential developments in the IoT relate to your marketplace. As the Cognizant report details, automotive and transportation-focused companies will benefit from connected devices – in the areas of vehicle performance and traffic monitoring, for instance – that improve the customer experience, reduce pollution, and increase safety and revenue.  Manufacturers can use smart sensors and digital control systems to allow machines to communicate on the plant floor, improving flexibility and efficiency, while reducing energy consumption and costs. Healthcare companies can better monitor equipment, staff and patients, improving outcomes and increasing savings. Depending on your business, you might use the IoT in the products you sell, or in the devices you use to make your products, or both. You might use the networked objects to monitor employee productivity, or to assess and improve customer engagement.

Assess your current technology infrastructure, then improve it

Clearly, a world of completely connected devices will use a large amount of data.  Handling all of that data brings us to the cloud – and hopefully your business is already there. To prepare for the demands of connecting objects, customers and employees in the IoT, companies should assess their cloud-based strategies and develop a plan that is flexible enough to grow with the data. This Forbes article provides a good overview of IoT preparation, from improving your cloud strategy and investing in new technology and security, to improving your employee training.

Understand how the IoT can help your partners and vendors

Not only will your organization find operational and customer benefits in connected objects, the companies you do business with will gain efficiencies as well. Your shipping or logistics partner, for instance, will employ increasingly effective smart technology to track deliveries, improve speed, and streamline global compliance procedures. In fact, DHL launched Smart Sentry in 2011, a wireless locator device that provides real-time tracking data as well as shipping conditions including temperature, humidity, pressure and much more. Your suppliers also will use the IoT to reduce costs for sourcing materials. In this environment, it will pay to find partners and vendors at the forefront of IoT adoption.

Despite the challenges, the Internet of Things is poised to radically improve organizational efficiency and productivity, decrease operational costs, and improve a company’s understanding of its customers and its partners. Are you ready to benefit?

Let us know how the IoT will impact your business.