The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the billions of ‘smart’ devices – anything from cars, to home appliances – that can connect to a network to collect and share data. In a time when Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), is thriving, it’s no wonder we are finding ourselves more and more immersed in the possibilities of IoT.
In fact, according to Intel, by the year 2020 the IoT is expected to grow to a staggering two hundred billion connected objects around the world. In a world where smart technologies are evolving faster than ever, IoT will continue to provide unprecedented opportunities that businesses, large and small, should be harnessing if they are to survive and thrive in their sector, says Alison Mitchell, executive director at Sensor City.
Despite this, statistics show that SMEs are not adapting new technologies and as a result, they are limiting their chances of success. Business management consultant Analysys Mason recently revealed that 51% of UK SMEs were either unsure or unaware of IoT, while 23% were not interested in it at all.
However, unbeknown to many SMEs, there are resources out there created specifically to help breakdown the barrier between new technologies and budding entrepreneurs. An example of this is LCR 4.0, a business support programme that enables companies in the Liverpool City Region to explore Industry 4.0 technologies and the business impact that they can have.
Driving business growth
Incorporating IoT into processes is essential for SME business growth, and data is a big part of that. Retrieving and analysing big data analytics allows SMEs to better interact with their customers and therefore improve efficiency, reduce operational costs, validate decisions and identify trends.
In addition, incorporating IoT will provide SMEs with the tools to ensure they are keeping up to date with the latest technologies, allowing them to develop their innovative ideas into a reality. But with so many benefits, why is it that only 12% of UK SMEs are embracing IoT?
Addressing the barriers
Whether it’s their lack of resources, funding, awareness, or simply that they are slightly apprehensive about investing in something they haven’t seen any tangible benefits from, there are countless reasons why some SMEs are falling behind in the uptake of IoT and Industry 4.0 technologies.
A common misconception amongst SMEs is that investment must come from within their company. There are plenty of resources out there to help SMEs, entrepreneurs, and start-ups – you just need to know where to look.
At Sensor City, a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, for example, we offer businesses – from start-ups, SMEs to established companies – specialist sensor and IoT related equipment, software and lab spaces, as well as business support. Support like this is crucial to exploring the potential of IoT technologies and developing concepts into market-ready solutions.
Aqua Running for example, is an innovative company housed inside the Sensor City building. Founded by former Liverpool FC player, Terry Nelson, Aqua Running manufactures body suits designed to provide highly effective, no impact training in water. Working with Sensor City and partner LCR 4.0, Terry has been able to incorporate IoT technologies into these suits, which has led to substantial business growth. He now plans to add sensors and charging points into the suits to monitor users in the pool.
The future of IoT
It’s inevitable that Industry 4.0 technologies are going to become more advanced and in time, will change the lives of many, if not all of us. Whether we’re talking about integrating IoT into internal processes or across the supply chain, or making existing products smarter to drive bottom line improvements, it’s clear that SMEs need to get on board.
While it won’t happen overnight, there are steps that can be taken to ensure they are embracing IoT and are right there at the forefront of the latest technology. If SMEs are going to make the most of this opportunity and harness the potential for their business, there needs to be more education about the resources, like Sensor City and LCR 4.0, on hand to help.