The world of enterprise IT is quickly shifting towards the promotion of an Internet of Things (IoT) philosophy, which has created constantly-connected environments across the business landscape, from high tech firms to retail and manufacturing businesses. It’s inevitable that everyone (and everything) will be brought into the connectivity cloud through the IoT, and it’s being made possible with technology like Wi-Fi and RFID, which improves facility efficiency and in turn increases sales and builds revenue.
Wi-Fi and RFID pave the road to an Internet of Things
The interest in bringing always-connected devices into retail and manufacturing spaces has been most recently fueled by firms like Microsoft and Cisco, who are interested in using their hardware or software to power the Internet of Things revolution. At its core, IoT is simply about bringing connectivity to virtually any device in your home, at the store, or in factories. At first, the focus in retail and manufacturing spaces was to use RFID technology to tag products for sale or inventory. Today, however, IoT is being promoted not just through technologies like RFID to keep track of goods, but also with computers and Wi-Fi connectivity to improve efficiency and ease of access.
This isn’t a completely new concept—Wi-Fi powered IP cameras have been used to remotely monitor facilities for years. However, the idea of connecting even smaller devices to a collective facility’s network, whether it’s a thermostat, Point of Sale register, or even an electronic door, is beginning to take shape. The Wi-Fi Alliance is especially interested in placing Wi-Fi at the core of IoT and Machine to Machine (M2M) connectivity. The logic behind the Wi-Fi Alliance is that computers (and Wi-Fi adapters) are finally small, cheap, and efficient enough to replace traditional equipment that would otherwise lack connectivity or operate with diminished speed performance, such as Bluetooth. These devices would collectively bring a facility to life, allowing it to better monitor activity, make improvements, and better serve its users.
The emergence of smart stores and factories
In Germany, we’re already starting to see the benefits of an IoT-powered facility that combines the connectivity of Wi-Fi and RFID. Siemens AG recently piloted a new 100,000-plus square-foot factory that uses its IoT-based connectivity to manufacture without any human interaction, except for the initiation of the order. RFID technology is used to identify the parts that are needed for production - for example, in the case of Siemens, the company built a soap dispenser using exclusively robotic machinery connected in tandem using Wi-Fi.
Meanwhile, Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco continue to advertise IT services and potential solutions for bringing the Internet of Things to retailers. For example, Intel’s retailer-oriented IoT technology is advertised as having the potential to improve inventory management and in-store customer analytics, and even allow for more efficient sales and CRM. The benefits of IoT for retailers, like for manufacturers, is about the collective benefits brought forth by many devices communicating with each other. The data and analytics provided from the devices can allow retailers to capitalize on its most popular products, and know when and where more salespeople are needed.
Only the beginning
What’s happening in the retail and manufacturing spaces is simply a preview of what’s to come for every other industry. IoT will evolve the way we do business, just like computers have through their gradual mass-adoption over the past 50 years. As technology companies perfect their products for these emerging spaces, we’ll continue to see more prototype facilities envisioning ways to utilize IoT connectivity to improve performance for industries of all kinds. It’s especially important to note, however, that the IoT revolution will not be the same for all industries and all firms. Some, like Siemens, will embrace the paths towards 100-percent automation, while others will favor smarter, more in-depth analytics.