The final part of this four-part article focuses on some of the challenges distributors may encounter regarding IoT.

Before jumping onto the IoT bandwagon, however, there are several technology-related considerations distributors must weigh.

For instance, distributors and their clients must iron out who exactly owns the data, who has access to it and how it is secured, says Lerner.  

“Data rights and data privacy are really big topics that the world is still coming to terms with,” says Lerner. “The customer can use their data — it’s their data. We would definitely not get in the way of them sharing their data in a way that they felt would be beneficial to them.”

To deal with this aspect of the IoT, distributors and their clients will likely be entering legal agreements in which the data would be owned by the end user. The end user would then decide whether to allow a distributor to view the data for specific purposes. The agreement would prevent the distributor from downloading the data for its own use.

One of the models that may develop fully throughout the janitorial distribution industry is the integration of IoT into just-in-time ordering. For example, IoT sensors could be set up so that they inform the distributor when a client’s supplies drop below a certain threshold, says Baynum.

“So they would be able to take, for example, data showing how many packs were put into a dispenser in a building. That then would relate to the number of cases. And then that would then generate a ‘number of case’ order that would be shipped out that next day to that customer, because we knew their inventory had been reduced,” he says.

Manufacturers foresee distributors becoming immersed in IoT solutions within a few years as end users become interested and begin to educate themselves on the potential operational and fiscal advantages of the technology.

“Then when it gets to that ‘early majority’ is when you’re going to see some distributors probably start to see the bigger value of it,” says Baynum. “Until then you’ll just have a few that will get it early enough and will be a part of the ‘early adopters’ [phase].”

Ultimately, distributors that are finding their footing in the IoT arena will need to stay patient but committed to the technology.

“Change is not easy, and some staff may want to continue to do things the old way,” says Keough. “Small rewards or recognition for incremental steps forward can keep your staff motivated.” 

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wisconsin.

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