There is now a powerful computer that lines the inside of our pockets or handbag at all times – a smartphone – and it’s the most important tool in a growing ecosystem of connected devices. From this communication hub, one has access to information from a myriad of IoT devices – from smart refrigerators, thermostats, and security cameras to wearable technologies like smartwatches and fitness trackers. It also offers a central repository for recording and tracking information individuals generate on the go, data which can be used to inform future decisions pertaining to our life, including our business operations.
For small business owners and entrepreneurs, society’s universal access to the Internet of Things has transformed every employee, customer, supplier, and partner into a contributor to their business processes. The digital interactions our business network takes part in through these devices can generate data that can be turned into actionable business intelligence, but being able to make sense of this data is easier said than done. Organizations must learn how to create an infrastructure which can both support that communication with key stakeholders and make sense of the digital footprints left behind in those connected devices. Luckily, numerous new technologies and software have provided the pieces to create such a system. Here are some of the ways organizations can build a dynamic foundation to leverage this ‘Internet of Individuals’ (IoI) and make use of the tangible information they generate.
Convert to the cloud
Cloud based software solutions are now table stakes when running a business of any size. But perhaps the greatest beneficiaries from the advent of the cloud are small businesses and entrepreneurs as these solutions can significantly cut costs, offer more flexibility, and improve workflows across organizations. Cloud software solutions can also help augment employee, customer, supplier, and partner relations as they offer a secure method to access, monitor, receive and input data these individuals are adding to your network from virtually anywhere via a mobile device.
For instance, a cloud CRM like Salesforce provides on-demand customer relationship management tools which help small to medium sized business keep track of all customer interaction across marketing, sales, and customer service. Cloud accounting tools like those offered by Sage, offer solutions for easy accounting, invoicing, and monitoring business operations in real time. Through Sage’s platform, you have direct access to quickly see how much each customer owes you, chase overdue balances at a moment’s notice, as well as help to manage all aspects of your balance sheet. Cloud based point-of-sale systems can also track sales, accept mobile payments, and monitor stock inventory, which can allow merchants to know when they need to contact their suppliers for more products.
Embrace automation and artificial intelligence
While there is much fear mongering that artificial intelligence will make our jobs obsolete, for the small business owner, AI technologies can actually help free up valuable time spent on tedious administrative tasks. Businesses should look to technologies that have tools that automate such admin, and which can also help manage and support your customer relationships.
Chatbots, tools built upon artificial intelligence, for instance have begun to take rise in many software-based solutions to help manage time consuming tasks. Customer service is one use case in which they are being deployed more frequently, enabling business owners to respond quicker to customers and help resolve issues, while also storing conversation logs to reference later. They facilitate key conversations with your customers, while also recording qualitative feedback that you can use to help inform future decisions about your business.
Chatbots can even help you store key data from business interactions. For instance, Sage’s Pegg chatbot is a smart virtual accounting assistant. Integrated with Sage Live, Sage’s accounting solution, Pegg makes submitting a business expense, finding out who’s late on paying an invoice, or simply pulling data around key transactions as simple as sending a text. It’s integrated with messaging apps like Facebook and Slack, so performing these tasks is extremely easy and efficient on the go. By digitising information at the point of capture, it takes away the pain of filing receipts and expenses, eradicates the need for paper and tedious data entry, and replaces it with a much easier process.
Integrate to better communicate
Businesses should also look to employ software that has the open architecture to easily integrate with other technologies that are critical for their day-to-day operations. By getting all of your systems to interact well with each other, you are also increasing the amount of actionable data that is flowing into your network from multiple stakeholders. Having software that enables multiple plug-ins to other key technologies can offer business owners a much more comprehensive view from the top enabling better communication with employees, customers, and vendors.
By implementing solutions that will allow you to better understand and communicate with those individuals critical to your business, businesses can realize the power of ‘IoI’. Those frequent and meaningful touch points with key stakeholders can make or break your business. Talking with your customers, figuring out new ways to partner with vendors or other business, getting to know your employees and helping them advance in their roles can all be augmented by having a network of tools which can generate and receive data from these supporting relationships. Ensuring that you have the right technological ecosystem for your organization in place that allows you to gain tangible insights from your business relationships is paramount to your organizational success.
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.