This week, I was sitting in a coffeeshop/bakery right after it opened, observing the staff set out the pastries and stack merchandise around the store. I also watched the manager, as part of the morning make-ready, wave a thermometer around the cooler to make sure it was the correct temperature for all the wine, yogurt, and other delicacies in there. Presumably it was, because after 5 seconds he finished waving the thermometer and placed a check mark on a sheet tacked up behind the cooler.
The whole process took maybe 30 seconds.
It stuck with me because temperature monitoring is one of the most common use cases companies tackle when building some form of enterprise IoT business — especially if that company wants to sell to small- or medium-sized businesses. In many ways, the opportunity is obvious. Replace the hourly check done by that manager with an automated system that can not only ensure your temps never go out of bounds, but can also track them for the business in an audit-ready format.
But while watching that manager, it occurred to me that few of the companies marketing these solutions are thinking about how simple it is for a guy to spend 5-10 seconds waving a thermometer in front of a cooler and then check a box on a sheet of paper. And they are likely even less focused on how the biggest problem for a guy running or managing a bakery (or cafe or restaurant) isn’t actually his cooler, but the labor required to staff his location and ensure those people are there when they need to be.
So I tried one. MyDevices sent me a commercial fridge monitoring kit so I could see what setting up such a system as a small business owner might entail.
Unpacking the box, installing the app, and then setting up the sensor and gateway took me 10 minutes. I even downloaded the wrong app at first. In an enterprise environment, I would add to that a bit of time for locating the company Ethernet/modem if the employee doing the installation doesn’t already know where it is, but that would be the hardest part of the process.
I unpacked from the package a gateway and a sensor and downloaded the “IoT in a Box” app. The app asked for an email, business name, and address, and had me create a password. I could set up an account without any two-factor checks via text or email, which may be something that concerns the more security-minded among us. Once the app was on my phone (there’s an app for iOS and Android), it asked if I wanted to add a device. When I said yes, it asked for a QR code scan on the gateway and then another for the sensor I had installed. The app also came with a preset alert for the fridge temperature that would alert me if it went above 40 degrees or below 32 degrees, which I could edit or leave as-is. An alert would go to the email I entered to set up my account.
And just like that, I was done. In 10 minutes, I had set up and installed a temperature monitoring kit. The gateway uses LoRa or cellular, so I didn’t need Wi-Fi.
All of which would be something a restaurant manager could easily do. As to the kit itself, it’s something the central office could ship out and pay for if the restaurant was part of a chain. The hardware cost is baked into a monthly service fee. The gateway costs $20 a month and the temperature and humidity sensor costs $9 a month; there’s also a $15 shipping charge. And for those who are super intimidated, there’s a $95 installation fee if you want someone else to do it for you.
But while I found installation to be a breeze, I will say there are a number of things every company should think about before installing a fridge monitoring kit. The first is cost. There are fridge sensors that will pump information to a gateway or to a phone that cost between $30 and $150. They don’t have a recurring fee, but they’re not commercial-grade, either. If the Wi-Fi goes down, so does the monitoring.
The second is access. Any restaurant that wants to install something like this has to decide how to set up alerts. If there isn’t a dedicated tablet running the app, the restaurant’s managers need to have it on their devices. And that means any newly departed managers need to have those alerts removed from their devices, which means the business would have to create a process to track and manage who has access and who doesn’t.
Companies would also need to consider any other devices they might need and whether or not they fit within a particular ecosystem. For example, a restaurant might want to link a temperature monitoring system with a security system or even a pest control kit. Before signing on with a particular vendor, it’s always advisable to ask what other gear they offer first.
Another question to ask is how many devices a single gateway can support and the range of those gateways. In a restaurant it might not matter, but in a larger space such as a warehouse those answers will help determine what type of product a business buys.
You’ll also want to see what rules and alerts are already pre-configured for you and determine how easy it is to add new ones. While a business may only want to get temperature alerts at first, it’s entirely possible that after getting used to the system someone will decide to create even more elaborate rules and alerts.
After playing with this kit, I honestly question why I’m still trying to cobble all of my DIY gear into a single coherent system. Yes, it costs less over the long term. But darn it, this turnkey kit made it look like far too much trouble.