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How the IoT and smart home trend can reduce your overhead costs

Shayne Harris
Shayne HarrisHead of Technical Sales ANZ
A highly successful sales and business professional with significant expertise in the in the Digital, Online and IT industries over more than 15 years. Extensive experience in Sales Management, Business Development and Account Management roles as well as managing people very focussed on setting and meeting targets, customer & organisational success and ongoing individual and team development. Strong track record in complex consultative, solution based sales, capable of establishing and maintaining strategic relationships at Executive and C level in industries such as Broadcast, Digital & online, Government and Enterprise. Shayne is responsible for the technology sales with the Lenovo Data Centre Group across Australia and New Zealand that comprises the internal technical sales team and also the pre-sales solution architects in the field across both countries. Shayne's primary role is set and manage the strategic intent of the technical sales resources for the enablement and market share growth of our alliance partners and end to end portfolio. Shayne has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry in technical and sales focussed roles and holds a bachelor of Business Management from the University of South Australia.

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As little as a year ago, the Internet of Things (IoT) trend seemed like little more than a gadget fad to most of the world and smart homes were barely on the market. Both tech trends made ample use of local high-speed wireless internet and both seemed to be mostly made as novelties for consumers with extra cash to spend. For a long time, the vast majority of IoT devices that slowly rolled out seemed silly and relatively useless or highly specialised and only selectively useful. However, as time passed, the trend picked up, and wireless technology improved, so too did the quality of IoT devices. Today, if you can name an electronic device, there’s probably an IoT version of it and with the meteoric commercial success of the Amazon Alexa smart home hub and AI, now everything is smart-home controllable as well.

But what exactly do all these consumer tech trends mean for business? While you may not need a smart egg tray or a self-watering potted plant, it turns out that some of the IoT manufacturers have been quietly been making some incredibly useful devices for practical consumers and industries that can see the wireless voice-controlled future on the horizon. The fact of the matter is that businesses have been transforming consumer-targeted technology to their own purposes for centuries and here at the edge of a new era in efficient wireless tech, there’s no reason to stop a strong tradition of innovation.

While there are a great deal of logistical benefits that can be gained from creative IoT use, the one thing that smart devices can do for almost every business on the planet is to reduce your power and water bills. If you’re wondering how a few voice-controlled LED lights and smart gadgets can impact your utilities, let us elaborate.

 

Getting a clear picture of your power usage

Most businesses are generally aware of the cost of their monthly utilities and the normal variations in those costs as the seasons change and your need for power or water varies, but do you know exactly why your business uses as much power as it does? Like most things in business, the first step to lowering your utility costs is to understand them. Which appliances and devices take up the most power, and which take up the least, which ones run all night soaking up power when they don’t need to and which ones efficiently switch themselves off when idle. This information is more useful to you than you may realise and the way to discover it is with smart outlet monitors.

One of the best and often overlooked additions to the IoT family is power monitoring smart outlets. All you have to do is put a small device between the outlet and the device plug. It will read how much power is being transmitted through the device and transmit that information back to the app associated with the device. You can use as many outlet monitors as you need and some apps will put all the information into a helpful dashboard so you can track the long and short term use from each outlet.

 

Replacing hungry appliances

Once you have a clear picture of the power use in your facility outlet by outlet, you will be able to identify which devices are your big power eaters and the results might surprise you. Older appliances and devices are more likely to be energy inefficient and some drink power unnecessarily while idle. This gives you the opportunity to reduce the number of unneeded devices plugged in and to replace your most inefficient appliances with newer, less power hungry models, thus notably lowering your overall power costs each month.

 

Turning off grouped lights and devices

The next power consumption issue that IoT and a smart home hub can help you with is lights and devices left on over nights and weekends. While it may seem like an insignificant amount of power drain, all those hours of burning lights and idle devices can add up to a significant percentage of your power bill. Of course, the reason so many lights and devices wind up left on after everyone goes home is because walking the entire building and flipping off every switch is not only tedious, it’s a huge time sink. The solution is to combine IoT lightbulbs and the outlets we mentioned with a smart home hub that can group multiple lights and devices (from multiple manufacturers and control apps) into easy to control categories.

With smart lights screwed easily into your normal sockets and devices plugged in through the smart outlet adapters, both types of device can cut the power on command. This means that turning off an entire floor, department, and building worth of lights and unnecessary devices has just become as easy as saying “Alexa, Turn the programming department off, please” and the smart home will take care of the rest.

 

Preventing phantom load

Once again, the outlets are the star of this show with yet another use. You may notice in your power monitoring that some devices pull power even when they’re not in use and, in fact, some devices pull power even when they’re officially switched off. This is a phenomenon known as phantom load and is another previously unidentified addition to your power bill. The problem with phantom load is that even if your staff is completely responsible about turning off nearby devices before they head home, you’re still losing power unnecessarily.

Fortunately, the monitoring smart outlets can turn your devices off completely because what they do is control the flow of electricity, not the onboard ‘on/off’ feature. Since the way to identify phantom load is with these smart outlets, all you have to do is switch them off with your department lights and coffee pots. In fact, with the right configuration through the ITTT (If This Then That) app, you can even schedule switching off the groups and phantom load devices.

 

Dynamically regulate office temperature

Finally moving away from how incredibly useful the ability to monitor and control your outlets, the other major contributor to almost any business power bill is the HVAC system. The amount of energy you use to heat and cool your building is so great that lowering your thermostat by a single degree can make a significant difference. As much use as companies have gotten from programmable thermostats, the smart home and IoT partnership goes wildly above and beyond turning down the air at night.

 

Start with a smart thermostat

The smart thermostat is the centre of your dynamic temperature regulation, though on the surface it’s not much more complex than a programmable thermostat. The key to the smart thermostat, which wires in to where your old one is right now, is that it can be controlled wirelessly. It can be programmed with a schedule but it will also respond to controls through an app, voice commands to a smart home hub, and can be programmed to respond to sensors.

 

Smart vents for room-to-room control

The next piece of the puzzle is smart vents which integrate smoothly with the thermostat. Traditional vents are static pieces of metal or plastic with a single moving component, the ability to open and close them. While this theoretically allows you to close off unused rooms and save the energy it would take to heat or cool them, like the light switches the task is too tedious to keep up and achieve any energy savings. With smart vents, on the other hand, you can use an app, voice commands, or scheduling to open and close any vent in the building, and thus also control which rooms you’re spending energy to keep comfortable.

 

Integrating sensors

Finally, there are the possibilities opened by sensors. If you’re looking to completely automate your HVAC controls, consider motion and infrared sensors in each room with a smart vent. These will be able to detect whether or not there is someone in the room and dynamically open or close vents based on room to room occupation. With sensors, you can not only close off unused rooms to save energy, you can also prevent that age-old problem with scheduled thermostats where one employee working late is left without moving air.

 

Detect water leaks with smart moisture sensors

The vast majority of the savings you can gain from IoT and smart home integration is power based, but there are a few innovations that can lower your water bill as well. The pipes in commercial office buildings and other business facilities often go unnoticed and unmentioned until a toilet breaks and often a building will go for years without an inspection of the pipes. This means that older and badly fitted pipes can form small undetected leaks that contribute to the water bill every month. With smart moisture sensors attached to key pipes throughout your building, you will have a much higher chance of detecting and stopping leaks before they eat into your water bill.

 

Sprinklers that adapt to the weather

And for our final way that the smart device trend can lower your business overhead, ask yourself: how much water is spent keeping the grounds green? If you control your entire building and the surrounding grounds, the water used to keep the landscaping nice is also a part of your water bill. The problem, of course, is that even scheduled sprinkler systems can waste water if it’s been raining and the grass doesn’t need it. Smart sprinklers, on the other hand, use their internet connection to check the weather, humidity, and evaporation rate and only turn on if the report is clear, sunny, and dry enough that watering is needed.

As you can see, the IoT and smart home trends are much more than just a gadget fad or the latest toys for consumers. In fact, in many ways businesses have much more to gain from this new technology than people at home.

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