Thinking About How to Utilize IoT in Small and Medium Businesses -1-

What is IoT?

These days, the word “IoT” is always in the newspapers.

IoT stands for the “Internet of Things”, and can be a difficult term to understand. “Things” refer to devices with sensors, and the system processes, visualizes, analyzes, and utilizes information collected from these devices in the cloud.

The functionality of sensors is improving, costs are dropping, devices with sensors are being produced, and it is now easier to install sensors on existing equipment. Various facets of the infrastructure are moving forward with faster communication speeds and increased memory capacity due to advanced cloud systems, which, combined with activities in the public and private sector, are leading toward significant changes in society.

The number of things connected to the internet (IoT) is estimated to exceed nearly 53 billion by 2020, resulting in doubling the worldwide volume of data every two years due to data collected from devices around the world. Although there are likely many people who have yet to realize the IoT revolution, it is a topic that involves everyone regardless of area or industry.

Outside Japan, various countries are actively involved in IoT usage, including Industry 4.0 in Germany and the Industrial Internet in the United States. To come out on top in the ever more competitive global market, one must consider utilizing IoT in business.

With this in mind, this special feature covers how to think about utilizing IoT in small to medium sized businesses in several articles.

How should small to medium sized businesses use IoT?

IoT covers a wide range of scales, from individual components and products, to factories, and onto globe-spanning operations, and will drastically change the future of various industries, beginning with manufacturing, as well as service value creation, etc. A connection between things and the internet makes it possible to gather vast amounts of information that was previously impossible, which can then be analyzed to create new value, and in turn, create new business.

Rather than utilizing IoT simply because it is available, it must be used for clear business objectives, beginning with feedback and challenges of the workplace.

There are two major uses for IoT

The first is to improve the productivity of your company and efficiency of tasks.

Adding tiny sensors to the production line delivers a clear picture of its operational status. This can then be utilized in analysis to find the most efficient way of operating to improve the efficiency of the production line. IoT can also do away with the need to track production progress by providing instantaneous information on work in progress by collecting manufacturing data in the factory.

The second use is expanding business and increasing sales.

Because most customers who visit retailers own smartphones equipped with sensors, developing an original application can help businesses connect to their customers using IoT. IoT also enables advanced visualization of the supply chain, resulting in advanced management of vehicles and transportation status and remote control in transportation and logistics.

IoT has the ability to revolutionize your business, regardless of your industry. If you have distinctive technology or ideas, IoT can be used make your presence known in the new global system. In this system, there are no barriers between large, medium, and small businesses.

For example, some small to medium sized businesses are incorporating IoT into the manufacturing process by attaching sensors to injection mold dies and collecting temperature, pressure, and vibration information to estimate product quality and the extent of mold deterioration.

Also, by utilizing data collected from sensors to formalize techniques which previously relied on experience and intuition, it is possible to solve the problem of passing on these techniques due to aging technicians, etc. However, to jump into this requires a wide range of information gathering and dissemination. Even without building a major platform or investing in infrastructure it is possible to use infrastructure and platforms to deliver service based on unique ideas. This service is available to all businesses large and small, and the only limitation to finding something useful from the flood of information available in the world is your own imagination.

Recently the Robot Revolution Initiative (RRI) announced the selection results of the “First IoT Tool Recruitment Event for Small to Medium Size Businesses” in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (October 4, 2016). Although not all of the ideas are necessarily applicable to small to medium sized businesses, 106 IoT tools for use in business were introduced at the event. Instead of thinking IoT has nothing to do with your business, it is important to gather information and foster an interest, thinking of ideas for your company.