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 connected smart devices would address the goals of 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 know-how to deploy. All you need to get started to setup your small office network, and have a tablet or mobile device ready to control these smart devices. After buying the hardware, simply download and install device-specific apps to get up in running in minutes.
A note about PoE+ networking
Note that the latest IP-based devices like surveillance cameras, access points, and digital kiosks may have a greater power draw than devices from a few years ago. If you have PoE networking equipment running power to devices on your network, it would be a good idea check the benefits of PoE+ Ethernet equipment.
After that, 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 monitor or mobile screen. 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.
Browse smart door locks & access hardware
So now, if you are inside meeting with a client and the front doorbell rings, you can see whether it needs immediate attention.
Feature sets useful for businesses
- Extra security features in the August Video Doorbell Cam Pro allow you to control the lock of the office from a smartphone if you install it with the August Smart Lock. The doorbell includes Intelligent Motion Sensors that activate the camera when someone comes near the door.
- If you want to talk to whomever is ringing your doorbell from your computer or mobile device, check out Wi-Fi doorbell intercom systems. Communicate over a live video feed. You can find solutions with night vision support that work with wired and wireless security cameras.
Recommended settings for using a smart doorbell in a place of business:
- To keep an eye on your business around the clock, disable the home/away switching on the doorbell camera system. This way it remains engaged after personnel leaves the office.
- You can share the video stream with your management team if you want several people looking after your business after hours. You are able to configure a video stream to show at a password-protected URL. You may also opt to stream to a public URL.
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 above, can distinguish between slow and fast burning fires by way of a split-spectrum photoelectric sensor. Alarms can be turned off remotely via the mobile app. A comparable solution is the First Alert OneLink Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm, or Kidde i4618 Smoke Alarm.
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.
Recommended settings and configuration for smart HVAC for business
One of the challenges of automated heating and cooling in a place of business is that personnel traffic in and out of an office location is less predictable than a home. When the workplace is unexpectedly empty, a setting like Eco Temperatures in the Nest Thermostat product line applies predetermined temperature settings for when people aren’t in the office, saving on heating and cooling.
A true commercial-grade thermostat gives a building manager more control over office building and multi-site retail locations. Contractor-installed solutions like a Honeywell VisionPro 8000 Wi-Fi Thermostat can be shipped with custom-designed program templates to fit various location parameters. Connecting to an IP network, these thermostats can be adjusted from anywhere with an Internet connection.
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.
Wi-Fi water sensors, like Samsung SmartThings Water Leak Sensor shown here, detect moisture using two metal leads on the top and bottom of the sensor. It alerts you to unexpected changes in temperature as well.
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. Popular options for Wi-Fi video cameras include the Nest Wi-Fi video camera, Netgear Arlo Q, and Piper NV Wireless HD.
Are IoT smart devices right 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.
The SMB Guide to Smart Devices and IoT was first published Feb. 2016 and updated in subsequent years as new technology becomes available.