If you doubt we are living in exponential times, just take a look around right now and think back to 2005. As Thomas Friedman noted in his book “The World Is Flat,” “Facebook didn’t exist for most people, Twitter was still a sound, 4G was a parking space, and ‘Skype’ was a typo.”

Consider the widespread acceptance of the telephone, for example. It took 75 years to business change thanks to digital economyconnect 50 million people to this game-changing technology. However, the Internet only needed 4 years to reach the same number of users. For Facebook, it was 3.5 years. Even more incredible is the adoption of an app like Angry Birds – just 35 days! At first glance of these adoption rates, it’s easy to see how our world has changed tremendously in a short amount of time.

Acceptance of the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to be no different. We are in the very early stages of the growth trajectory toward a fully connected world. Over the next five years, we’ll see a ten-fold increase in the number of connected things. In three years, nearly half of all IoT innovations will focus on business devices and use cases, delivering new levels of productivity resulting in business leaders investing $250 billion in supporting technology.

The new normal in a digital world powered by the Internet of Things

By 2017, more than 50% of analytics implementations will be driven by use cases that include event data streams generated from instrumented machines, applications, and/or individuals. However, this trend is not just an opportunity for manufacturers, retailers, and logistics providers. It will fundamentally change how every business operates.

As Tom Bianculli, vice president of the enterprise technology office at Zebra Technologies, warned during the Americas’ SAP Users Group Webcast “Transforming Your Business with IoT – SAP Partner Perspectives,” “By 2020, there will be 6 billion mobile phones. However, 30 billion connected devices will be taking up 42% of our mobile bandwidth. By early 2020, machines – not people – will be the dominant users of the Internet. When machines are communicating more than people, what does that mean relative to your current business model? The way you run your operations? The way you interact with your customers? Companies that want to effectively compete more than five years from now need to plan for this new reality now.”

Here are four ways the IoT will change the operations of every business – no matter the industry, size, or region.

  1. Say goodbye to schedules. The notion of planning, scheduling, and proactive route optimization is going away. As this steady stream of real-time information becomes available, activities are dynamically created, and the information is pushed out to the right person at the right time so they can take action.
  1. Fuse data with the cloud. In a few short decades, the business world has moved from systems of record (ERP) to systems of engagement (enterprise mobility) to systems of intelligence (IoT). The IoT is bringing about a system of smart and aware systems. We are now evolving from an environment of ubiquitous connectivity to a data flood that is delivering the always informed experience. Before we know it, heads-up productivity paradigms supported by hands-free technology will become a mere fact of running a business.
  1. See what others cannot see. No longer do decision makers need to hope they bump into a problem before it becomes a disruption. Managers can now take a virtual tour of their area, organization, or the business at large to find problems and proactively resolve them.
    In other words, they can capture information about overall operational health, analyze it, and derive insight to take better action immediately.
  1. Revolutionize the shopping experience. As customers have become more comfortable with the fusion of the physical world with the digital world, shopping is happening everywhere. What does that mean for your business? Smarter infrastructures will usher in an age of “online analytics for the offline world,” delivering personalized experiences to shoppers. Fulfillment of orders at the store level will change the supply chain paradigm to one in which the store itself is another node on the supply chain. This new level of connectivity and visibility will impact the dynamics of customer relationships with those selling, manufacturing, distributing goods as lines blur across the fulfillment channel.