Simply put, the internet of things (IoT) refers to all the physical objects in the world that can now connect to the internet. This connectivity expands beyond traditional devices like desktop computers, Smartphones, and laptops, extending to machines like cars, thermostats, appliances and other common household and office items.
It is currently estimated that there are over 12 billion connected devices around the world, and this number is expected to quintuple by 2020. That means that for every person on the planet, there is projected to be ten connected devices. How might this affect your association?
Here are some things to keep in mind as we proceed into the IoT age:
Most associations use some automation such as automatic billing or networked telephones. Think of printers that recognize when they are low on ink and auto-replenish, contacting your local ink supplier on your behalf while sending a text and email confirmation to your phone, as well as notifying another printer on the network to take over the printing duties. This has already been accomplished with the Amazon Dash Replenishment system.
The more automated an association becomes, the costs to run the organization tend to decline. This could also imply fewer available jobs in certain cases. And, of course, you must be prepared for when trusted automation does not work. Deciding which automated devices to incorporate into your daily management will be particularly important as this technology becomes more common.
Theoretically, as suppliers around the world begin to integrate more and more internet-connected devices and take advantage of automation, the costs of many items should decrease. Whether this means purchase prices for common items you use within your organization will plummet remains to be seen.
With software headed to the cloud, and with Smartphones, tablets, and laptops so readily available, communication is bound to be faster and more direct. More and more staff and administrators will be able to work from remote locations. From their portable devices, they will be able to manage multiple pieces of equipment like other computers, printers, and even manufacturing devices.
These types of positions will likely change the way we communicate with each other as we traverse more online interactions and less face-to-face.
Safety and Security
With more items connected to the internet comes more opportunity for someone to connect and cause mischief, possibly resulting in thousands if not millions of dollars of damage. Cyber attacks in the form of "ransomware" that block you out of your data and devices are ever more prevalent. Often the viruses responsible for these attacks have existed on your systems for long stretches of time, gathering information.
Denying access for you or clients to necessary information often causes panic when no plan to counter it is in place. As new devices go online, they can now take the form of locking out devices like Smartphones or computer systems on your vehicles or even taking over a thermostat and locking a building furnace on high causing increased costs, and damages to computer systems.
With the amount of critical and private information most associations gather on their members and employees, such organizations are likely to be more heavily targeted for these types of attacks. Your information is valuable, so it's best to look at ways to best protect this vital information. It will be critical as we enter the IoT space to ensure backups and cyber security plans are in place and maintained, and that association members know what to do, and who to contact when something goes wrong. Though some associations are large enough to employ skilled IT staff to manage this, these IT staff themselves need to be continually learning and adapting to changing cyber security risks. Are their certifications and knowledge being updated and tested as often as the software and hardware they work with? It's not a bad idea for most associations to look at a consulting firm, like Paladion, to help best assess all of this.
On the flip side of this will come new, integrated sensors in homes and offices for helping to prevent accidents and incidents like fire and flooding. For associations with members in health and manufacturing, you may see systems like this Enguage system, which helps monitor the condition, use, and accessibility of safety items like fire extinguishers.
Data and Engagement
You are probably already collecting a lot of data; data on your business, data on your staff, data on your members. You are probably not using a good percentage of it. Your current IoT devices may even be collecting data you are completely unaware of. This data is integral to how your organization may take advantage of IoT.
This is particularly true of how you approach marketing in the IoT age. Good marketing has been, and will always be, important to your association's growth. The "connected consumer," or "connected member" in this case, are a great source of data for marketing. In this hyper-connected state, you can create marketing experiences that are unique and different beyond personalized messages and emails. You can use this real-time data to create the right message, at the right time, and in the right place. It becomes about optimizing experiences as they occur.
Health and Wellbeing
Wearable tech will become a big driver of health and well-being, from Fitbit to smart watches monitoring your daily activity to smart pacemakers that automatically report unusual symptoms to your physician. For health associations, these are all realities that may already be in use. For association management, these may be technologies that will soon be informing you of health-related information on your organization's members. Insurance companies like Progressive and Manulife are already investing in this type of tech to monitor and access insurance plan members. BodyGuardian, for instance, helps remotely monitor its patients' biometrics, heart rate and respiration rate throughout the day, to help mitigate unnecessary trips to the hospital.
Sometimes overlooked things like building lighting and temperature may also shape health and well-being. Even now, modern security systems incorporate sensors that gauge local temperatures and light levels and communicate back to a central control. This information could be used to regulate both light and temperature in the space based on ambient temperature and light to specific workstation preferences.
So how will your association enter into the Internet of Things? Will you be diving right in, cautiously proceeding, or avoiding it all as best you can? There are as many potential benefits as there are risks to new techs as they emerge, so we advise research and preparation as you proceed. Do you have interesting stories or comments related to IoT?
Beyond Michael's points about the Internet of Things, just how innovative is your association otherwise? Are you on top of other technological trends? In their webinar, Perpetual Innovation: the Strategic Tradition of Successful Associations, Glenn Tecker and Donna French Dunn, CAE will discuss how associations need to develop strategic planning methods to better understand how they need to embrace and implement innovation in all areas.