The things that power the Internet of Things (IoT) make it easy for developers to build digital products for even the most specific consumer demands. In the workplace, that’s a big deal. Whether you’re purchasing tech for a mom-and-pop grocery store or a multinational food distribution service, there’s a good chance you can implement a made-to-order IoT platform that fits your budget and provides huge value for the money.
Legal offices, insurance agencies and tech companies alike have to shell out dough for basic hardware and supplies (pens, desk phones, computers, etc.), not to mention more specialized products related to their own business. LAC Group, an information management/knowledge curation group, says that office supplies cost them an average of $200 per employee per year. Depending on the number of employees, that costs can represent a huge part of any business’s overhead.
Internet of Things gadgets like beacons and RFID tags promise to help cut costs and streamline practices for any industry. One obvious benefit here is tracking. While slapping a tag on every piece of paper and pen in a workplace is horribly inefficient, tracking and restricting access to supply closets is easily doable. Smart locks and other similar devices could monitor employee consumption through company-provided phones or RFID-implanted name badges. For example, if Steve is dipping in the paper closet a little too often, his supervisors can bring it to his attention and give him a well-deserved warning, ending an easily overlooked problem.
Stat-tracking has become a field unto itself, providing value across a wide variety of organizations from retailers to software developers to warehouse suppliers and beyond. It’s also projected to see a huge boom in the wake of the IoT revolution.
Ken Hess, a noted system administrator with 20 years of experience, used food distributors as an example of how these metrics could greatly improve a business. According to Hess, food distribution companies could install sensors in their trucks that send temperature, humidity, and dock-to-dock travel times wirelessly to off-site computers, giving stores and warehouses a better idea of when they’ll be receiving their shipment and how much inventory they’ll need to prepare for.
As anyone who has worked in the shipment industry knows, vehicles aren’t the only things in motion. According to bitterwallet.com, Amazon package handlers are said to walk 11-plus miles per shift, making efficiency and employee safety primary points of concern. In Amazon’s case, employees are often tracked by the number and location of boxes they scan in during their shift. Employees who don’t hit their scan metrics are reprimanded and in some cases terminated, according to an interesting reddit thread on the topic.
The IoT could help Amazon-like companies by improving their metrics and their efficiency to boot. Instead of an employee pulling a scan gun from their holster, the employee could let the system know the package is ready to send by walking their smartphone (or similar, job-specific handheld device) past a dedicated beacon. It may only save a few seconds, but moments quickly add up in a large warehouse with dozens or hundreds of employees.
We’ve talked a lot about processors getting smaller, but those are far from the only hardware shrinking these days. As in Hess’s example, so-called “specialist” microchips can record a breadth of data businesses could only dream of knowing in the past. In addition to increased data collection, these helpful devices also reduce the chance of human intervention/tampering, a serious concern when the metric being tracked is used to reflect job performance.
You can bet your annual salary that there will soon be an influx of IoT devices hitting shelves, and one company has already gotten way ahead of the curve. Quirky, a GE partner, has created a virtual landscape for sharing and inventing the next wave of interconnected devices. One device that successfully emerged from the Quirky ecosystem is a “a personal dashboard” called The Nimbus.
The Nimbus is a four-panel data meter that gives users a glimpse at things like the health of their stock portfolio, the outdoor temperature, unanswered emails and local traffic reports. Users set the purpose and parameters of each dial via the Quirky Wink app. In an office setting, The Nimbus can be used to show employees how much time is left on a project, how many assignments they have on their to-do list, how close they are to hitting a projected goal or how bad traffic will be once they leave.
Spotter, another Quirky invention, is a valuable weapon in the war against wasted resources. As common supplies become more expensive, employers will have a greater incentive to install sensors that take human forgetfulness out of the equation. With Spotter, eco-conscious employers could reduce waste across the board by monitoring the use of everything from the color copier to light bulbs.
According to its Quirky page, “Spotter keeps you updated on what’s going on at home—no matter where you are. Monitor motion, sound, light, temperature, and humidity all from your mobile device. Use Spotter as a veritable extension of your senses, for anything from baby monitoring to washer/dryer notifications or perfecting your wine cellar; the possibilities are endless.”
This same technology is a perfect fit for the workplace. Rather than monitoring a baby, supervisors can keep a close eye on their employees’ lunch breaks or arrival and departure times. Rather than perfecting your wine cellar, Spotter can help resource managers ensure the snack cabinet is always stocked. The sensor can also let an employee know when a new assignment has been plopped on their desk via a phone notification. Spotter’s potential implications are only limited by your imagination.
Last, but certainly not least, is a Quirky product that has revolutionized a device found in every home and office in the world, the power strip. The Pivot Power Genius is a smart power strip that not only “pivots” at each socket, but also gives users the ability to control any device that’s plugged into it with their smartphone. Unfortunately, the controls are pretty much limited to turning an electrical appliance on and off, but that kind of power can have huge implications in an office.
For example, you could set the coffee machine to start brewing every morning at 8:00am. You could also turn off a printer from another country with nothing but an Internet connection and your pointer finger. And if you indulge in the occasional office prank, the Pivot Power Genius gives you easy access to your target’s lamp, charger or any other item requiring a plug.
With plenty of interconnected gadgets primed for release, we’re excited to see how the Internet of Things will improve enterprise efficiency. From tracking the use of resources to remotely managing appliances and personnel, these devices have the potential to revolutionize our 9-to-5 habitats. That’s a change that should be music to the ears of every employer and employee—as long as those employees aren’t loafing during their away-time or stealing office supplies.
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