How IoT is Remaking the Workplace

Mark Baratti, Operations Manager, San Diego Convention Center

The first internet connected appliance was a Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University that was able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not. It was invented out of necessity by a few college students in 1982, when the internet as we know it, was still in its infancy, then known as ARPANET. A graduate student in the computer science department didn’t want to leave his office to travel across campus for a Coke, only to find the machine was empty, or the Cokes were not cold. He gathered with a few of his fellow students and with a little engineering and application writing, they created the first network connected appliance. Any of the 300 or so computers connected to the ARPANET worldwide, and anyone else plugged into the Carnegie Mellon’s local Ethernet, could check to see if there were cold Cokes available to purchase from the machine on a far side of the campus. The Coke machine monitoring application became ‘pretty popular pretty fast’ in the computer science department. Not long after, the same technology was applied to an M&M machine on campus.

Today, we recognize everyday electronic devices that are connected, monitored, and controlled over the internet as being part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Integrating phones, tablets, smart devices, and easy to use applications has opened new environments with new possibilities.

In the workplace, IoT devices are used every day. Some are apparent; some are not so obvious. On the obvious list are items like the first connected appliance and vending machines, which allow users to pay for purchases wirelessly. They keep track of inventory and report back sales to the machine operators. They provide real-time data to respond to customer demands and ensure perishable food items are safe to consume. Modern vending machines can link to security systems to reduce tampering and product loss. And, because they connect wirelessly, they can be set up in remote locations relatively quick for short-term operations. Perfect for tradeshows or special events.

An area in the tradeshow industry that is growing in demand is accurately measuring attendee traffic flow, bottlenecks, and wait times at large events. IoT methods are quickly adapting to fill the need by relying on RFID or Bluetooth technology embedded in badges, wrist bands, or lanyards to collect valuable people tracking data. These devices are generally used in conjunction with beacons throughout a facility that delivers useful real-time info to event managers. Some centers are exploring the use of collecting traffic pattern data using their Wi-Fi infrastructure. Regardless of the data gathering method, the evolution of IoT in the tradeshow industry can lead to highly customized experiences for attendees. For instance, with real-time location data, dynamic digital signage content can be distributed throughout a center with pinpoint accuracy, capable of presenting highly customized information. Analyzing where attendees have been, suggestions can be made as to where they can go next to get the most from their show experience. The blending of data can even build progressive tours transmitted back to mobile phones or posted on social media. The evolution of using IoT to gather real-time data in the tradeshow industry is in its infancy and is bound to grow.

The expanding list of IoT in the workplace goes on and on, from conferencing devices to voice-driven digital assistants that are programmed to perform thousands of business skills by integrating contacts & calendars, running scheduled routines, and drawing information from the internet then outputting the results. At this pace, the possibilities are endless and there is no telling what new ‘necessity’ some college graduate student will fulfill.