Smart Devices Come to the Home Office
Offices that can upgrade your software, re-order supplies, and reduce the amount of devices you depend on is not so far off in the future. Some are even available today.
Connected devices have historically been out of reach of those bootstrapping a start-up from home. When you run a company from your living room, you may covet the latest tool, but your budget is unlikely to accommodate, until now.
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other networking technologies have increased the connectivity of devices used by the home offices and small businesses. Plus, as the range of products grow, prices have settled down as well, making it more affordable for small business owners to buy and install Internet of Things (IoT) tools and options.
How Your Office Will Connect Today—And Tomorrow
Connected printers and their services, like Google Cloud Print or Epson Connect, already allow smart home offices to ditch many of their cords and print off devices from smartphones to tablets — all within a fairly wide physical range.
Even the need for devices has shrunk, with tools that allow business owners to file and store documents in the cloud. NeatConnect is a wireless scanner, for example, that loads documents to cloud services like OneNote, Dropbox and Google Drive and email, and doesn't need a connection to a printer.
Wireless tools are also making it easier to work anywhere you want. Just ask today's mobile workforce which is expected to comprise nearly three-quarters of all U.S. workers by 2020, according to IDC. For those small business owners who operate while on the road, virtual tools and services like Citrix and VMware can run the firm. Remote client apps grant access to your home server — and files — from anywhere you're connected.
How about technology that allows you to literally point to a lamp to turn it on, flip pages on a projector or send a document to the printer with a simple gesture of your hand? BIRD, a tiny wearable for your finger, promises to eliminate the keyboard, mouse and pointer bringing Minority Report-like tools to consumers by Spring 2016.
Office Tools That Run Themselves
Amazon's Dash buttons are devices that allow consumers to re-order anything from Gatorade to Clorox with just the press of a bright red button. Soon those buttons will enable orders of ink cartridges for Brother Printers, and batteries for August Smart Locks, according to Amazon. Already consumers can sign up for HP Instant Ink to re-order ink for Hewlett Packard's wireless printers connected to the Internet.
Auto-replacement tools are likely to grow exponentially, particularly in the small business space. Having to keep track of inventory and stay on top of re-orders for pens, staples and printer paper is still an investment of time. While there are services today that allow customers to set up subscription orders every month, (or whatever time they want), having those supplies arrive when you actually need them — as opposed to when you think you might require them — is a savings of money and space
Is Your IoT Office Secure?
However, the rise of IoT means an increase in privacy and cybersecurity concerns, say analysts. As more data moves between devices, and networks, there are more access points for rogue operators. Hackers have more doors to enter.
For home offices, that means security is of primary concern. Small business owners can make a big step towards securing their devices and data by just simply changing their passwords. (And not to your dog, child or street name. Please.) Just one-quarter of people change their work passwords every month, with one in ten not bothering more than once a year, according to a 2015 study from non-profit trade group CompTIA.
Avoiding public hotspots is another strong move — particularly for those with mobile offices. When trying to pull up files hosted on your home server, consider creating your own personal hot spot, easily generated from a connected phone, which is a far, more secure avenue than the public networks littered with eavesdropping hackers.
Costs Go Down, Profits Go Up
As prices decrease for connected devices, the investment needed to start — and then run — a small company or home office will shrink. And savings are expected to be much higher for businesses that adopt IoT devices and technology, than for consumers.
“Business-to-business (B2B) applications can create more value than pure consumer applications," according to a recent McKinsey report, The Internet of Things. “While consumer applications such as fitness monitors and self-driving cars attract the most attention and can create significant value, we estimate that B2B uses can generate nearly 70 percent of potential value enabled by IoT."
Saving money in your home also equals lower costs for your business, such as connected bulbs and thermostats that automate heating, air conditioning and lights. The Belkin WeMo Insight Switch can even track how much energy you're using on your utilities and devices.
IoT is set to transform the small business space, saving start-ups and entrepreneurs both money and time. Sure, having your watch or smartphone control your printer, thermostat and office doors is fun. But using them to streamline the way you run your company will be fundamental to staying competitive in this next-gen business world.