The business benefits of machine to machine

Summary:CIOs, other IT leaders, and management are beginning to wake up to the potential of machine-to-machine communications to deliver real business benefits.

M2M: Key considerations

While the potential of M2M is pretty clear, the technology — or, rather, the ecosystem around it — does come with its share of challenges.

Intel, for example, points to a lack of awareness of M2M as its primary challenge, mostly due to the terminology and lack of understanding about how M2M works.

Most mobile operators don't know themselves how long they will run it. If 2.5G is decommissioned, what will happen to all those M2M devices that were running on that network?

Gartner's Foong pointed to the issue of fragmentation, advising CIOs to be cautious of the M2M market's lack of providers that can act as end-to-end M2M partners.

"Historically, application development is done either in-house by the enterprise or through an SI [systems integrator]," he said. "Enterprises then build or source their own M2M platform, then they buy connectivity through the mobile operators. It is pretty much the same situation today: a fragmented marketplace. There is no single, one-stop shop."

This is something that Telstra's director of M2M, Mike Cihra, readily acknowledges. "The market is fragmented. Absolutely," he said. "There are ... very few standards, [and] you don't have any 800-pound gorillas being a catalyst or using their size to drive the market.

"You literally have hundreds of small developers, you have the [network] operators, you have the hardware manufacturers, and you have customers in the marketplace who are just beginning to understand what M2M is. So, our view is that the criticality of partnerships is really important."

READ THIS:  5 cool things you didn't know M2M could do

Choosing the right partners and providers is also critical, Gartner's Foong said, when one considers the time scale at which M2M projects operate — typically 10 to 15 years. This means that asking questions about whether the provider — particularly on the solutions end of the equation — will still be around several years down the road. Similarly, CIOs should consider the cost and likelihood of their needing to break decades-long supplier contracts.

Probing questions should also be asked, and, where possible, guarantees can be sought from carriage providers. "If I deploy an M2M project for my enterprise and I decide that it will run over 2.5G technology, what guarantee will I have that the mobile operator will still support 2.5 in 10 to 15 years' time?" Foong said.

"Mobile operators are often very reluctant to give a guarantee that they will operate their 2.5G mobile network infrastructure for 10 or 15 years. Most mobile operators don't know themselves how long they will run it. If 2.5G is decommissioned, what will happen to all those M2M devices that were running on that network?"

If things happen automatically, then you can grab any problems straightaway.

For global companies, another consideration is whether telcos will be able to ensure global network coverage and lower roaming costs in order for the potential to be realised.

Despite this, Telstra's Cihra said that the telco's M2M business has been growing about 20 percent per year off the back of declines in the price of the M2M modules and data plans. "That is tipping more business cases into a place where wireless and software with wireless into a device is potentially now a profitable opportunity for a company," he said.

Add to that on-demand cloud-based software and systems, like those rolled out by Three Wholesale , for storing M2M data and processing it into meaningful business information, and you have the ingredients for explosive growth.

Where to start

Clearly, M2M has its benefits and downsides, but determining whether the technology is right for your organisation, and where best to start with it, takes a conversation, according to Telstra's Cihra.

"It starts with the simple question of 'do they have assets in the field?' If the answer is 'yes,' then I would suggest there is a conversation to be had as to whether they have full visibility and awareness of what those assets are doing."

It's a sentiment backed up by Brasserie Bread's Klausen, who said that doing your research on the technology and what it can do for your business is the best place to start.

In his case, he has turned to partners, and also industry journals and leading European industry examples of M2M deployments — such as mixing machines communicating and coordinating workflows with ovens — to better understand the process. Nonetheless, he said that he's sold on the benefits of M2M.

"My advice is to just do it," he said. "As an owner, you just don't have the headaches and the staff doesn't have to follow processes which are just annoying. If things happen automatically, then you can grab any problems straightaway."

Topics: Big Data, Enterprise Software


Tim has written about the technology sector since the mid 2000s. He covers innovation across the business, education and government sectors.

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