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The Supply Chain Management Blog covers the latest in SCM strategy, technology, and innovation.

How IoT Drives Big Improvements in Small Businesses

Guest Author

Lana Prout 
Director, Cloud Business Group, Oracle

What happens when you turn the common refrigerator into a smart device? For one thing, it simplifies trips to the grocery store. “I can use my phone to look in the fridge and see what I already have and don’t,” say Harish Gaur, Senior Director, Product Management, Internet of Things Cloud at Oracle. Technology has also transformed his front door. “When my doorbell rings, I can see who’s there and talk to them, even if I’m thousands of miles away,” he adds.

To be sure, the Internet of Things, or IoT, is bringing digital functionality to the analog world in a way that has implications not just for consumers, but communities, governments and organizations of all sizes. It encompasses everything from household appliances and personal “wearable” devices to autonomous vehicles, medical equipment and industrial supply chains. The trend is quickly gaining traction. Research firm Gartner predicts that the number of connected things will reach 25 billion by 2020.

For small- to medium- businesses (SMBs), the implications of IoT may be particularly profound. Even seemingly simple applications, such as using sensors to monitor equipment, can lead to productivity gains, operational efficiencies, quality improvements and better analytics.

Connecting All Industries

The benefits of IoT go beyond household gadgets: Connected devices are transforming entire industries. Farmers, for example, can realize better crop yields and reduce water use by using soil and nutrient sensors to track plant growth. They can remotely monitor equipment, crops, and livestock, and even track and analyze data to run statistical predictions for their crops and livestock.

Manufacturers can remotely monitor many aspects of their operations. In one example, Gaur describes a 50-person injection-molding company that relies heavily on robotics for 24/7 production. “Rather than pay employees to watch over the robots at night and on weekends, the company uses IoT technology to monitor the robots remotely and alert a technician if something is off,” he says. “They have visibility into their operations even when someone isn’t physically on the factory floor.”

Similarly, small businesses such as a bicycle maker uses decals with sensors to gauge inventory levels in real time. “When a bike is moved from its rack, it automatically updates the system,” Gaur says. Likewise, in hospitals where equipment, such as an ultrasound, is moved around, healthcare providers can now pinpoint the location of each device on specializing tech platforms. 

“In all these examples, there is a real business case for implementing these technologies,” adds Gaur. “My advice for companies of any size is to identify the business need and desired outcome, and not get caught up in the ‘cool’ element of IoT.”

Turning Big Data into Smart Data 

At the same time that IoT helps companies to improve productivity, manage equipment and oversee supply chains, it simultaneously enables SMBs to receive better predictive analytics. For small businesses in particular, says Gaur, the efficiencies gained through more automation and better data offer an opportunity to boost day-to-day productivity and pursue new opportunities, both internal and customer-facing. 

Some analysts believe the impact from these data will outweigh the transformational impact of the Internet itself. Billions of sensors in factory equipment, at utility plants, in the soil of farms and in appliances in our homes will send an incredible amount of data to the cloud, where it can be analyzed for countless measurements: The optimal time to replace machinery, the best time to pick a crop, the most energy-efficient lighting designs. This facet of connected things alone is expected to reach a value of $140 billion by 2020, according to Business Insider Intelligence.

Ultimately, it’s the improvement of products and processes through IoT solutions that will become the overriding standard. “For companies seeking leadership in the product system, there is a need to invest in capturing and analyzing more-extensive data across multiple products and the external environment, even for products the company does not produce,” Harvard economist Michael E. Porter and industrial software CEO James E. Heppelmann wrote in a Harvard Business Review article, “How Smart, Connected Products are Transforming Competition.”

“A lot of attention has been focused on IoT devices, but one of the biggest benefits for companies is the real-time data that is available because of IoT,” says Albert Chiang, Oracle director of product marketing for IoT. “With the right analytics tools, companies can mine the data to spot patterns, improve processes and make predictions; that alone may be worth the ticket to entry.”

How Oracle Helps SMBs with IoT

  • Oracle offers several IoT Apps to companies looking to monitor assets/fleets/workers/factories and turn real-time data into predictive analytics. All of these applications feed real-time visibility into the Oracle Supply Chain Management Cloud.
  • Oracle IoT Asset Monitoring Cloud provides real-time insights from connected assets to drive predictive maintenance, optimized SCM, and improved customer experiences. You have an ultrasound machine that is constantly being moved around? Use IoT Asset Monitoring to track its location. 
  • Oracle IoT Production Monitoring Cloud enables manufactures to adopt Industry 4.0 principles easily with best-in-class production monitoring for factory, product, and machine. Is production yield lower than expected?  You can track real time yield by site, by machine, and by product line.
  • Oracle IoT Fleet Monitoring Cloud gives the predictive power of IoT to know when any connected vehicle needs service, adjust logistics operations, and avoid downtime.
  • Oracle IoT Connected Worker Cloud ensures worker health and safety through real-time visibility into worker health, location, and work environment.

For more information on how your company can benefit from IoT, read our blog article "6 Reasons Why Companies Need IoT."

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