Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications has the power to reinvent business. Transformative technologies, such as PCs, assembly lines and mobile devices, have dramatically altered the way we do business, and M2M will be one of those technologies.
Political, technological and economic factors are coming together to make M2M more attractive than ever before. As new infrastructure replaces old, companies and governments have the opportunity to drastically alter their businesses by implementing a technology strategy that is not only more efficient, but enables new levels of service, efficiency and economy.
Two significant factors are leading the way to M2M adoption: First, the sensors, devices and components that enable M2M are getting smaller, cheaper and more power efficient; second, the networks required to collect and deliver the data generated by billions of devices are becoming ubiquitous.
What Is M2M?
M2M isn’t new. The concept was first used during World War II for identifying “friend or foe” to prevent pilots from hitting friendly targets. Satellites use M2M to fire engines based on guidance and navigation sensors. Garage door openers respond to the clicker in your car. The difference now is that you can network the sensors in devices and objects, and use the data for extended purposes such as knowing that the garage door was left open and notifying the owner or security company.
There are examples of M2M communications in every industry. T-Mobile is delivering the BeClose home healthcare monitoring solution which, unlike existing home monitors, is entirely wireless and uses a dedicated cellular channel. M2M can connect virtually anything, like a vending machine that notifies the route driver when it’s out of soda. Thanks to innovations in miniaturization of antenna and battery technology, devices can now communicate wirelessly from anywhere in the world. The result is an explosion in the number of proposed business and consumer M2M applications.
Five Things to Consider When Considering M2M
By taking a business view before getting to the “how” of M2M, organizations in every industry can realize much more than the benefits of automation:
1. What? What business are we in? What do we want to deliver to our customers? These are fundamental questions to consider before implementing the technology. Involving representatives from every part of the business reveals amazing insights and results in better alignment of technology goals with business strategies.
2. Why? M2M can make existing processes more efficient, as in the vending machine example. However, approaching M2M as a new growth area offers a clean slate on which you can define the next generation of the business. Not only can the vending route driver be informed, but inventory can be updated both on the truck and in the warehouse while suppliers are notified to restock. M2M does not have to be an evolution of existing processes and systems, although it may ultimately include those, but many organizations have tried unsuccessfully to extend existing infrastructure.
3. When? Not all M2M is ready today. It’s important to consider the maturity of the technology, stability of the provider, interoperability, coverage and IT requirements. Costs will continue to decline for components and devices, so if the return isn’t there now, it may be in the future. However, where the business case is obvious, there’s no reason to wait. Eliminating truck dispatches, reducing time spent by technicians or support personnel, or providing better data for customer self-service are all quantifiable savings that businesses can realize now.
4. Where? Most communication service providers will agree that wireless coverage is nearly ubiquitous nationally and even globally. CTIA reports that 74% of Americans have a choice of five or more providers. However, even in the most densely covered areas, service gaps exist. Although M2M devices will typically use the mobile network, the devices themselves may not move. A sensor on a levee pump in New Orleans can’t go around the corner to get a better signal during a storm. It is important to recognize where you’ll be deploying the M2M network, field-test the devices, and negotiate a service level agreement that ensures connectivity for critical devices.
5. Who? The beneficiary of M2M will ultimately be the business, but everyone is affected. You must carefully consider your customers. What changes are you asking them to make and how will it affect their lifestyles or business operations? Users across the business require process simplification and better access to correlated, accurate data. What are the training requirements? Whose job is it to keep all this working?
Opportunities to increase revenue, reduce costs and better serve customers using M2M are real, provided that the business undertakes strategy development, planning and deployment thoughtfully with an eye toward business outcomes.
In addition to delivering industry-tailored M2M networks and support, AT&T Advanced Enterprise Mobility Solutions has built and is expanding an ecosystem of industry-focused consultants and partners to support businesses as they define M2M strategy and develop new devices and applications. When considering a technology transformation like M2M, it’s important to remember it is just a tool to implement business strategy and process.
What’s the Catch?
A number of factors threaten to stall M2M. Among those, security is the most critical. Business systems and data as well as personal privacy are all at risk. In the interest of reducing cost or time to market, security often gets overlooked. However, the business, not the M2M supplier, will feel the market damage from a security breach. Relying on external partners to deliver mission-critical services like M2M or cloud offerings makes secure procedures, components, software and networks absolutely essential.
Reliability, availability, scalability, interoperability and cost could derail an M2M initiative just as easily as security. These aren’t isolated requirements, but rather interdependent needs that businesses in every industry vertical will struggle with and M2M suppliers will have to solve.
This Will Be Big
As component costs continue to decline and businesses recognize the power of interconnected sensors, telemetry, control points, cameras and numerous other objects, executives must realize that reducing cost is not the only opportunity.
M2M is a transforming technology that enables businesses to reinvent, simplify and innovate in entirely new ways. M2M technology allows for the animation of nearly any object by enabling it to monitor, collect and send data from anywhere in the world. The possibilities are endless.
July 2, 2012