The SMB Guide to Smart Devices and IoT

  • As a small businesses owner, you might recognize terms like smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) as buzzwords tech aficionados throw around to the point of abstraction.  You have probably read reports by IDC and Gartner predicting that a gazillion of these said devices will be deployed in businesses by 2020. You know that IoT is probably important, but maybe the conversation about it is too vague to apply it to what you do.

Given the esoteric nature of the topic, it is easy to misunderstand IoT as something only affecting enterprises with vast IT resources and access to cutting edge technology. While you likely understand that IoT means things like smart sensors and automated devices capable of remote control over the Internet, the term might be problematic when it comes to which devices apply to your small business.

The truth is there are many smart devices available right now for small businesses. These items are affordable and do not require massive IT infrastructure and knowhow to deploy.

All you need to get started is a Wi-Fi network in your place of business, and a tablet or a smartphone that you will use to control these smart devices. You will do this by downloading and installing device-specific apps onto your phone or tablet.

If you do not already have a Wi-Fi router for your place of business, first look to the router buying guide for getting one installed.

Once your Wi-Fi network is up and running, you are ready to get started with IoT. It’s that simple. Here are some things smart devices can do for you.

Monitor your entrance from anywhere with a Wi-Fi door bell

A few years ago, a complex and pricey security camera system was needed to monitor the entrance of a business. Now for a couple hundred bucks, you can see and speak with visitors using a smartphone and tablet—from your office or outside the building.

Wi-Fi doorbells are powered with existing doorbell wiring and connect to your business Wi-Fi network so you can see what’s going on outside your door on a smartphone or tablet. When the doorbell is engaged, it pushes a notification your device so you know to check. Some models automatically record a short motion detection video clip even when the bell is not rung. Others give visitors the option to leave a message.

Respond to smoke and carbon monoxide alarms with your phone

A Wi-Fi smoke and carbon monoxide alarm acts just like a normal sensor, but sends alerts to an app on a smartphone or tablet whenever it is triggered. This is great for home use, and is even more useful for a place of business. Owners and managers are able to respond to alerts during off-hours when nobody is in the place of business to hear the alarm.

Some models, like the Nest Protect shown here,  can distinguish between slow and fast burning fires, and the alarm can be turned off remotely via the mobile app.

Control the temperature from anywhere with a Wi-Fi thermostat

Set and manage the temperature and energy use of your place of business with a mobile device from anywhere you can connect to a network. A smart thermostat connects to a home or business Wi-Fi connection, and can be controlled remotely with an application on your smartphone or tablet. Some smart thermostats “learn” behavioral patterns of when people come in and out of your business and can manage energy expenditures accordingly.

Installation is easy. Modern smart thermostats are designed for compatibility with existing heating and cooling systems.Many come with instructions and video how-tos for DIY installation and setup with a router. Each can be controlled on-site via a touchscreen interface.

Stop leaks before they cause damage with a Wi-Fi water sensor

Water from leaks can be problematic and costly. A Wi-Fi sensor can protect against water going where it should not by alerting business owners of leaks before they become a problem. Simply place a sensor near any devices that might leak. The sensor fits into any standard wall plug and connects to your business Wi-Fi. A sensor dangles onto the floor or wherever water might leak; when it detects moisture, it pushes a notification to an app on your device.

Cloud-based surveillance from a mobile device

Business owners that want to install security cameras usually do so by setting up an entire surveillance system. A full system usually consists of several cameras, a storage server, hard drives, networking hubs and cables, and can cost several hundred dollars. These types of surveillance systems give the user robust features for protecting against theft and intrusion.

While not a replacement for a full-fledged surveillance system, a Wi-Fi connected camera gives a business owner a lightweight option for keeping an eye on their place of business remotely. Set up a Wi-Fi camera and you can watch the video feed on a mobile device. Instead of onsite storage hardware, Wi-Fi cameras utilize cloud storage on a subscription basis. Subscription fees depend on how much video footage you want access to at a given point in time.

Cameras themselves usually retail for around $200. Many offer a 130-degree field of view and capture 1080p video, and may be effective in the darkness of night. Some models even have face recognition features, like the Netotmo Welcome home security camera. Other popular options for Wi-Fi video cameras include the Nest Wi-Fi video camera, Netgear Arlo Q, and EsiCam HN11/HN03

Are IoT smart devices for your business?

Smart devices give small business owners a simple way to monitor and secure their place of business. They are generally inexpensive and require relatively little technical know-how to set up and deploy. Given the ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, and Wi-Fi connections in places of business, smart devices make perfect sense in many small business settings.