Small businesses have been presented with myriad opportunities to modernize their operational processes and management frameworks in the past decade thanks to the release of powerful new technologies. Perhaps the most important one of all has been the smartphone, which almost instantly changed the face of the private sector, as well as the workforce, and continues to evolve and mature as management strategies reach optimal levels.
International Data Corporation recently predicted that growth in the smartphone market - which has been massive for more than five years now - is finally beginning to slow thanks to several underlying factors such as increasing maturity in developing nations. The researchers stated that double-digit increases in shipments were seen year in and year out, but that that 2016 will see a 5.7 percent increase, or the first 12-month period of single-digit expansion recorded.
This simply means that smartphone penetration is hitting closer to the 100 percent mark globally, leaving the market little room to continue on with the burgeoning growth seen throughout the past decade or so. However, now that firms are reaching more comfortable situations with these devices, the next stage of IT innovation is knocking on the doors, and that is the Internet of Things, which will be responsible for another explosion of gadgets in the workplace before long.
If you would like a quick rundown of some of the ways in which the IoT is expected to impact small businesses specifically, check out this video from Website in 5 Days:
Because the IoT is going to come with similar challenges to those presented by enterprise mobility a few years back, entrepreneurs should be conscious of the types of preparations that need to be completed ahead of deployment. Cloud services, more advanced mobile device management software, highly integrated communications solutions and other tools will likely be invaluable as the IoT begins to scale up, and acquiring these technologies should be a priority today.
Certain trends that surfaced in the past few years showed tremendous potential and appeared transformative, but then did not take off the way analysts expected. This includes mobile payments, which many experts believed would be the norm for transaction processing by now, but have not even reached the 50 percent penetration rate thus far and will not likely cross that plane for another couple of years.
Suffice it to say that the IoT is not looking like one of these trends, but rather more similar to mobility, analytics and cloud computing, which reached massive adoption rates within only a couple of years of hitting the market, exceeding expectations in the process. Gartner recently reported that, by the end of this year, more than 40 percent of organizations from around the globe will be using the IoT within one or more of their operational strategies.
Considering the fact that the IoT is just now catching on in the consumer marketplace, with individuals purchasing wearable gadgets, specifically, a bit more quickly now than they had a couple years ago, this is a notable prediction. Right now, Gartner estimated that 29 percent of entities are using the IoT for at least one function, but another 14 percent will be tacked on by the end of the year thanks to the diversification of the technologies involved.
"While there is near-universal acceptance of the importance of the IoT, less than a third of organizations surveyed were actively exploiting it," Gartner Research Director Chet Geschickter explained. "This is largely because of two reasons. The first set of hurdles are business-related. Many organizations have yet to establish a clear picture of what benefits the IoT can deliver, or have not yet invested the time to develop ideas for how to apply IoT to their business. The second set of hurdles are the organizations themselves. Many of the survey participants have insufficient expertise and staffing for IoT and lack clear leadership."
Roughly 9 percent of respondents to the accompanying survey stated that they are not looking to implement any strategies for the IoT because they cannot identify actual business user cases for the gadgets involved. That is an extremely low number from one perspective, as the IoT is just now getting moving and will likely diversify further at an accelerated rate as competition heats up among manufacturers and others involved in the trend.
More than half of current adopters told Gartner that they are using the IoT to become leaner, more productive and less wasteful with respect to spending, while others are looking to position the technology in a way that improves customer relationship management.
"2016 will be a very big year for IoT adoption. We are starting to see a wide range of IoT use cases across virtually all industries," Geschickter added. "But, the big challenge now is demonstrating return on investment. Executives need to validate the contribution that IoT can make in order to justify large-scale rollouts."
"Small businesses should evaluate their IT asset management strategies."
Bracing for impact
Small-business owners will first want to look into their own document, IT asset and mobile device management strategies to identify the types of steps they will need to take to ensure that the IoT is a beneficial trend rather than one that disrupts operations and increases risk. When the company is running like a well-oiled machine, though, integrating new gadgets and solutions will not be nearly as complex or difficult, boosting the efficiency and seamlessness of the ventures.
Entrepreneurs might need to tap the support of their managed service providers to ensure they are taking the right approaches to the IoT, especially in terms of solution delivery, employee support and corporate security. The devices involved in this trend will have much different management requirements than those of smartphones, tablets and portable computers, and leaders need to be proactive in their development of policies to optimize functionality in the business.
As has been the case with several other trends to have surfaced in the past few years, early adopters are likely to get a little more value out of the IoT than those that drag their feet and wait too long to deploy.