The Internet of things (IoT) is here. The embedded sensors, the mountains of data and various opportunities have been validated time and time again. But how this low cost, high impact technological framework fits in restaurants, healthcare or retail hasn’t quite been fleshed out out. 

In an industrial space, the path is clear. If someone has to go make sure something is working at the far end of an industrial space or at another facility, it’s easier to just slap on a sensor and send that data to a readout or keep it in a database. 

There are a lot of novel applications across retail from dongles that watch for a loyal customer’s cell phone or sensors to help direct an HVAC system or sensors that watch the weather and tweak the customer experience to match. It’s enough to get everyone from data nerds to marketers salivating about the possibilities. But the real return on investment or business case isn’t well understood.  

For Patrick Delaney, the founder of the IoT Fuse Conference coming up in Minneapolis later this month, there are four “trade winds” or cardinal directions business can take when it comes to the Internet of things. He uses the analogy to describe the technology and possibilities to businesses he consults. 

“Anything that’s north wind is a very easy way to save money or easy to justify,” said Delaney. “For example, you have oil leaking, that costs you money or as a total franchise constituent members are losing money. So it makes easy sense to slap a sensor on that pipe to show that hey, your pressure is not what it should be and it’s costing you $100,000 a year and the sensor is only $10 and maybe a fee of $1 a month.”

The company 75F is one example, using embedded sensors weather sensors and dampers, it efficiently directs HVAC and dynamically turn on parking lot lights when necessary. It also helped cool off a kitchen that got way too hot for workers. The solution drove down turnover, made the entire restaurant a little more comfortable and generally enhanced the experience, but there was no direct impact to sales, per se. 

Conversely, the south wind in his analogy is how to make additional money. That’s what has marketers salivating, the ability to add to the bottom line. 

“South winds cover creative ways to use software apps and devices to improve consumer experience, almost the architect or designers mind frame—what money is lying on the table,” said Delaney. “There s a world of creativity for someone with a marketing mind. There’s lots of money to be had.” 

And that’s where minds start spinning. 

“That might be something like in every ‘special fun time meal,’ you give something like a Bluetooth beacon in there that has an ID. And every time your local customer pulls up, you have their order ready or you reduce the number of choices dynamically,” said Delaney. “You’re making the customer experience easier and faster and more delightful.”

Eastern and western winds are basically risk mitigation. Delaney said that could be sensors to watch for flooding in a Florida-based location from the headquarters in Minnesota for one example. 

He said the technology is really in it’s infancy, so the thousand or so people that are attending the IOT Fuse Conference are at the cutting edge, including Chic-fil-A’s Brian Chamber, the lead enterprise architect and chief technologist behind the brand’s IoT projects. But it’s just a matter of time for this kind of technology to penetrate beyond the original use cases in industrial—it just takes plucking some of the novels ideas blowing around.  

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