The Internet of Things, or IoT, has rapidly become one of the biggest trends in the enterprise IT world over the last couple of years. No matter what industry or sector businesses operate in, the chances are there will be applications of this technology that have the potential to transform how everyday tasks get done.
But while IoT promises a transformation across many aspects of our everyday lives, there are a couple of particular applications for warehouse operators where the technology can offer particular benefits.
The benefits of IoT in the warehouse
Indeed, as more warehouses adopt digital solutions to improve their efficiency and streamline the delivery of goods, IoT tools that can monitor and control these activities will be in high demand. According to research from Zebra Technologies, more than half of warehouse executives (52 per cent) plan to increase their investment in technology, and IoT will have a big role to play in this.
One key area will be in helping manage inventory. IoT enables warehouse systems to have full awareness into the location of every item and individual within the warehouse, with tools such as shelf-fitted sensors able to detect stock levels and if something is where it isn't supposed to be, thereby helping speed up picking and avoiding the risk of stock-off situations.
Another benefit is allowing workers to access vital information and instructions without having to rely on a fixed workstation, or take out a mobile device. Wearable, hands-free solutions, such as smart glasses or watches, can be integrated with smartphones to ensure users are always connected and can get the details they need at a glance, without having to stop what they're doing.
This means better efficiency and fewer errors, and ensures mobile devices can stay safely in workers' pockets rather than being brought out repeatedly to check data. Wearables such as wristbands can also plot the best route around the location and keep an eye on employees' health to guard against fatigue and suggest rest periods.
Meeting the deployment challenges
However, managing IoT devices has some key differences from a more traditional mobile device management strategy. The variety and complexity of these gadgets is likely to be much wider than mobile devices, and as such, companies need to be able to adapt their approach when integrating them with existing mobile management tools.
For instance, when it come to maintenance, prevention is always better than cure when it comes to IoT tools. If a mobile device breaks, then as long as the right systems are in place, it is usually a simple task to issue a user with a replacement while it is repaired. But this is not usually possibly with IoT, and any failures could leave mission-critical processes unable to be performed. As such, proactive monitoring and maintenance that is able to spot potential issues and address them before they turn into a problem will be highly important.
Another factor to consider is how workers on the ground interact with and control their IoT devices, and that means paying close attention to mobile devices. While consumer-grade equipment can do the job when it comes to controlling sensors and working with the data, the challenging environments of many warehouses mean they may not be the best solution.
Instead, opting for more specialised, rugged devices should be a priority if businesses want to make IoT in the warehouse a success. These will be able to stand up much better to the physical rigours of a warehouse environment, which will reduce the need for maintenance and repairs on these devices.
Finally, security also needs to be a key concern when working with IoT tools. This should take into account both the hardware itself - which is often inherently less secure than other devices - and the software and mobile devices used to control them. For instance, one recent study of consumer IoT devices found half of related mobile apps have key security vulnerabilities that could leave them open to hackers. Therefore, any good mobile device management policy needs to have close control over what IoT-related apps are permitted.
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