The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t just growing—it’s exploding. Gartner estimates that 6.4 billion connected devices are in use as of the end of 2016, which is a 30 percent jump from 2015. By 2020, that number will leap to 20.8 billion.
What’s interesting is the proportion of these IoT solutions are aimed at business users rather than consumers. Many IoT devices installed around the world are business focused, reflecting a golden opportunity for managed service providers, who can use IoT sensors in business environments to monitor and control those environments for their customers.
We’re already seeing IoT solutions make their way into certain industries, such as freight and shipping. BlackBerry offers a service called Radar, specifically designed to track cargo-carrying containers. Low-maintenance sensors fitted to the containers detect environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, along with the status of the container doors and the load itself. The system can tell the location of a container and whether it’s moving.
This data is fed back to a cloud-based service that collates it to provide a real-time picture of a company’s logistics. Integrating this into a broader supply chain management system can bring new efficiencies to freight transportation by taking the guesswork out of asset management.
Using a service like this, retailers can better anticipate the arrival of perishable goods and the condition goods are in when they arrive. In turn, this can help them refine inventory management and pricing strategies.
From logistics and buildings to printers
Just as the IoT can be used to manage things on the move, it can also handle stationary assets. A niche application involves managed services for building energy efficiency. By marrying IoT sensors with remotely controllable HVAC systems in commercial properties, these companies are offering customers energy savings in return for regular payments.
Managed print service (MPS) providers understand the value of connected devices. They’ve traditionally faced a difficult challenge as they try to keep track of hundreds or thousands of devices in the field, along with the ink, toner, and paper consumables those devices use. Keeping these supplies in stock and the machines running smoothly is a time-consuming task that can end up becoming more of an art than a science.
Printing devices equipped with the right sensors and connected to an MPS’s central monitoring service can inform the company of their status. A printer that can tell a company how much paper and toner it uses and automatically requests more saves the service provider some guesswork and avoids unexpected service disruption for the customer. Similarly, if a device can detect internal wear and tear and request a service call or a device swap, it can minimize downtime at the customer site.
IoT solutions enable managed service providers to keep their services up and running. Not only does this translate into higher customer satisfaction, but it also lowers maintenance costs for suppliers by enabling them to plan their engineers’ visits rather than react to unexpected service calls. Maximizing the availability of billable services to the customer also optimizes the service provider’s revenue.
Understanding long-term trends
The IoT proposition goes beyond day-to-day operations monitoring, as it also enables managed service providers to offer their customers new insights. IoT sensors generate significant amounts of data, which can then be used by analytics systems in the cloud to spot emerging trends.
A managed print service provider might show customers unexpected long-term patterns in their print usage across key locations and suggest ways to create cost savings. An asset-tracking company might be able to highlight weak spots in a retailer’s supply chain that are costing it money in spoiled goods.
The smart home and personal fitness markets may have captured the public’s attention and bought the IoT to the foreground, but we shouldn’t overlook the business-to-business opportunities for this exciting technology. Managed service providers stand to benefit from greater intelligence about what’s happening in the field—and this can give them a competitive edge, both in terms of internal efficiencies and tangible customer value.
How could your managed services model benefit from the use of IoT solutions?