In this article
- Many small and medium-sized business owners are still unaware of the positive ways IoT can impact their companies
- New industrial IoT sensors can collect and process data without the need for external data centers
Josh Udashkin was waiting at an airport baggage carousel, growing more and more annoyed. The term “frequent flyer” barely did him justice. First, as a private equity lawyer in Manhattan and then becoming director of international development for the shoe company Aldo, he’d spent more than enough hours of his life in nearly all of the world’s major airports waiting for his bag to tumble down the chute.
But on this day, he had a new thought: What if the airlines aren’t the problem? What if it’s the bags?
“I was at the carousel watching the luggage go around,” he says. “One bag was all duct taped and looked terrible. People seemed to be struggling to carry it. I thought, ‘Why am I not notified on Bluetooth when my bag is coming?’”
It was his lightbulb moment.
“Then I started thinking about consumer products, things that used to be inanimate—headphones, speakers, pedometers—and what was happening around that. Why were these companies so successful? What was the formula?”
The answer, in great part, was the Internet of Things. Most small business owners think of IoT as new technology available only to the biggest companies with the fattest budgets. That thinking, Udashkin soon learned, is wrong.
Yes, IoT is expected to be a $1.7 trillion market by 2020, and yes, huge brands are positioning themselves to capitalize on it, but costs have already come down more than a lot of small business owners believe. Right now, IoT represents an opportunity for small businesses to disrupt all kinds of industries, as well as to solve longstanding inefficiencies in-house.
“There is tremendous unawareness,” says Dr. Tom Bradicich, vice president and general manager of servers and IoT Systems for HPE. “But this is not surprising. Unawareness is common for new technology solutions at the beginning. Look to the dotcoms. People had trouble understanding what the Internet was, let alone how to use it.”
The trick for small business owners who want to capitalize on IoT today is not figuring out the technology. Instead, they must define existing problems or ideas and then ask an IoT expert to provide solutions.
In Udashkin’s case, asking those questions at the baggage carousel led him to create Raden, a company that uses IoT to build better luggage. His problems, remember, didn’t seem high-tech. He was simply frustrated having to wait for his bag and wanted a bag that was the right weight so he could carry it easily.
Today, Raden’s bags have IoT sensors paired to a smartphone app. When your bag gets within about 200 feet of your phone, you receive an alert.
Yet another IoT function of the Raden bag is in the handle, where sensors turn the bag into a scale. You input your flight information into the smartphone app and lift the bag’s handle. The bag will weigh itself, notify you if it’s over the weight limit and tell you the cost for the overage.
“We’re at day 23,” Udashkin said in mid-April. “We’ve sold thousands of bags and there are 5,000 downloads of the app. By week two, we had outsold our greatest projection on sales.”
The owners of Scheid Vineyards in California are another example of a business with long-term problems that ended up having IoT solutions. One of those problems was determining soil moisture. They’d been using a probe that still worked, but its technology dated back to the 1980s.
“The problem was that this ancient probe stores a minuscule amount of data,” says Pawel Sasik, director of business development and legal affairs at Valarm, which worked with Scheid. “They have to take this probe out, test the soil moisture, go to a second spot, go to a third spot and then the thing is full. Then they have to drive it all the way back to the shop and plug it into a Windows 92 or 94 super ancient operating system to pull this data off the probe. They also had to manipulate the data in an ancient spreadsheet. It was just a monster job that it didn’t have to be.”
Valarm placed IoT sensors on the probe and linked them to software that lets them communicate with smartphones. “What happens now is they have this phone hooked up to the probe,” Sasik says, “and they go out and do all of their measurements. All of that data comes back and is essentially emailed out to the people who need to know.”
Like Bradicich at HPE, Sasik says that when it comes to ways that small business owners can use IoT, the only limit is imagination. Talking about a problem or an idea with somebody who understands IoT can yield solutions that are ingenious, productivity-boosting and surprisingly cost-efficient.
Valarm, for instance, charges just $6 per month for use of its data-hub core. Cost for the sensors depends on the number and type needed.
“I think a small business person gets overwhelmed with it all,” Sasik says. “He might know enough that he needs to monitor soil moisture, but he doesn’t understand the rest. If you take that request to one company, they’ll quote you $50,000 for a soil moisture monitoring system, and the customer says, ‘What is that? What does that mean?’ Other IoT companies just provide you with the cloud service, so they’re saying, ‘Put your data here. We’ll store it for you.’ And the customer is saying, ‘How? I don’t know how to get the data to you.’ There are all these different knowledge gaps.”
HPE is working to eliminate those gaps with a new approach to IoT in the form of HPE Edgeline IoT Systems. The first Edgeline systems (EL10 and EL20) began rolling out this past spring, and several deep compute and control products will be added to the family this fall—each proving useful to even the smallest of small business owners.
Here’s how: To make IoT work, you need data-collecting sensors attached to… well, just about anything—a carry-on bag, a soil-moisture probe or any number of other “things.” Those sensors feed information to a place where it can be processed (previously, to a data center or in the cloud). An HPE Edgeline IoT System enables the data to be processed and analyzed on-site, and the “things” to be more efficiently controlled. There is no longer a need to send it somewhere else to be analyzed later—a revolutionary advance and a major cost saver that HPE calls “edge computing.”
“If you’re a small or medium business and you don’t have a big data center, and you don’t have the space for IT closets or IT rooms, being able to compute out at the edge—where the ‘things’ are—allows a lower cost for a data processing,” Bradicich says. “Cloud connectivity can increase cost, delays and time to insight from the data. If networking back to the data center or cloud can be minimized, bottlenecks and complexity are reduced as well.”
The new HPE Edgeline IoT Systems launched in June, Bradicich says, will be not just a better IoT system. HPE is creating a new product category called “converged IoT systems” which integrate capabilities to resolve the problem of managing devices throughout a company.
Consider the dozens of tablet computers in employees’ hands on a manufacturing floor, or thousands of devices used by staff throughout a hospital. “It’s hard to manage them,” he says. “It’s the same problem we had with PCs when everybody started to have them. Someone used to walk around with a disk to update all those PCs. The same thing now is happening with all of these devices at the edge, and Edgeline Systems are going to help us solve that.”
As an example, think about a small-business owner trying to track a product being manufactured in a factory. Something has gone wrong on the line. He’s filled with questions: What happened? When did it happen? Who was the supplier?
An HPE Edgeline IoT solution, Bradicich says, can answer all those questions in real time. For example, if Edgeline sensors are connected to a machine that is malfunctioning in a factory in China, then the small business owner can immediately get notifications of the machine’s issue on his smartphone, even if he lives in Texas.
“Let’s say you’re tightening a bolt on a bicycle with a wrench,” Bradicich says. “The wrench is a smart tool connected to the internet. The wrench is turning this bolt to tighten it and the bolt breaks. Immediately, it can tell that it broke, just like a smartphone can tell whether your picture should be portrait or landscape. Also immediately, the time, the date, the temperature, where that bolt came from—all of that is automated. The supervisor can look and the information is right there.
“What’s even more exciting,” he continues, “is that the maker of that defective bolt can also be notified immediately. Within seconds, ‘Did you know that one of your bolts broke at this bicycle store?’”
For small-business owners, the right place to start is talking with IoT experts who want to help solve whatever your problem is, versus just adding technology to it for technology’s sake.
The next step is understanding that an IoT solution can lead to tremendous savings and opportunities—even if the solution defies the way your family-owned business has operated since your great-grandfather created it.
“Some people, usually in the lower levels of an organization, will say, ‘Oh my God, this is incredible, we can do all these things,’” Sasik says. “But to bring it to the next level up is extremely difficult. They’re told, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ But then a small- to medium-size company will figure out IoT, and at that point the big boys will pay attention.”
Hewlett Packard Enterprise is pushing the Internet of Things forward by building a new class of systems that compute and analyze data where it lives—everywhere. For more information about HPE's IoT solutions, CLICK HERE.