The business benefits of machine to machine

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.


Machine to machine (M2M), the automated communication of data between connected devices, has begun to increasingly capture the attention of CIOs across the globe.

The technology is moving beyond its decades of use in utilities, transport, and heavy industry into the mainstream, empowering CIOs to deliver real value, cost savings, and innovation to management and their wider organisations.

Now that networking equipment — a simple SIM card or RFID chip, in the case of M2M — and wireless carriage have dramatically decreased in cost, and wireless coverage, speed, and capacity have increased, we can now embed connectivity into the "things" we use in our day-to-day lives. That translates to new business intelligence (BI), operational efficiencies, and revenue-generating opportunities.

In the transport and logistics sector, this means that pallets and packages are able to communicate their location, allowing for real-time parcel tracking. The same application of M2M also allows the public to gain real-time updates on how far away their train, ferry, or bus is.

In the healthcare sector, M2M devices worn by patients enable real-time monitoring of vital statistics or the dispensing of medication. In retail, M2M provides better point-of-sale data, as well as better shopping experiences through personalised digital signage.

READ THIS: 71 percent say M2M is about developing new business opportunities

In the utilities sector, too, M2M powers innovation through smart meters in homes that provide near-real-time data to consumers on their usage. M2M devices are also deployed throughout power, gas, and water networks, which allow for better visibility on outages, spikes in demand, and supply routing.

With this communication, machines can be set to act against existing business rules or parameters, or to feed data through to humans, empowering them with greater awareness and insight into business and systems operations.

Because of the improved visibility, they only need to go where the attention is needed. That has a hard ROI for operations.

Just ask Michael Klausen, co-CEO at Brasserie Bread and an M2M convert. Until early 2011, the company — which bakes and supplies artisan bread and pastries to more than 500 restaurants daily — was reliant on labour-intensive and "100 percent unreliable" paper-based processes to meet its temperature-based food-safety compliance requirements.

Faced with the potential loss of health accreditation and the ability to supply specific shops, hospitals, schools, and airlines, Brasserie Bread turned to M2M. The project combines kit, carriage, management tools, software, and services from cold-chain specialist Cooltrax and Telstra. With it, the company has automated temperature readings and compliance reporting, and can now access real-time alerts in the advent of a cool-room unit failing — saving the potential loss of the next day's bake.

"I can now sleep at night," Klausen said of the benefits of the project. "I can sit at the airport and quickly run a check on where temperatures are at in the two bakeries. From a management point of view, that is a lot of time saved for me."

There's also the saving of a staff member whose sole role is to manage and monitor food temperatures.

M2M: The value

It's not just management that's beginning to realise the benefits of M2M; it's CIOs, too. Telsyte senior analyst, Rodney Gedda, said that this is because M2M can, in many instances, be tied back to a hard return on investment (ROI), as well as helping to deliver back to the business stronger BI, driving customer engagement, cost saving, business process efficiencies, innovation, and potential new revenue streams.

"If a machine or device can report back that it has broken down or that it needs refilling, then that saves, for example, a field-force employee driving around checking on these things," he said. "Because of the improved visibility, they only need to go where the attention is needed. That has a hard ROI for operations."

READ THIS: How M2M and Big Data will combine to produce everyday benefits

The combination of M2M and big data, as automotive company Ford pointed out, could produce excellent everyday benefits in the not-too-distant future. Collecting data — from a small-scale fleet of repair trucks through to a million-strong network of smart meters — then feeding that data through a processing system to deliver detailed business information is another major benefit of M2M.

"That could be used by an electricity provider to gain very detailed information on when spikes in electricity demand occur, and what usage patterns are, whether there are more optimal distribution paths, whether there is or has been an outage in a certain area, whether there is maintenance needed," Gedda said. "That kind of information is delivered through M2M, and has a powerful effect on how well your business operates."

It is really about a better user experience, and, for the service provider, it is a deeper service and relationship.

King Yew Foong, research vice president, communications service provider (CSP) strategy at Gartner, said that M2M is also being used to drive closer customer relations. Through enabling new cars with M2M, automotive manufacturers and dealers are able to actively inform customers of when tire wear is occurring, or when engines or other components are failing or due to be changed.

Similarly, office equipment that's outfitted with M2M — such as a multi-function printer (MFP) — can keep track of component wear and ink-cartridge use. When the time is right, it can automatically order a new cartridge, or request that a technician be dispatched to give it a service.

The result is that M2M can help deliver a painless service, or create the sensation that the service supplier is actively engaged in the customer relationship. "It is really about a better user experience, and, for the service provider, it is a deeper service and relationship," Foong said.

Read more on M2M:

Topics: Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things, Big Data, Enterprise Software

Tim Lohman

About Tim Lohman

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • We already have M2M, and it's very widespread.

    We already have extensive M2M, in the form of TCP/IP and related internet protocols. There's a huge number of machines communicating with each other over it. "The internet" is the most visible use of it, however there are a lot of non-internet-related uses as well.

    TCP/IP is not concerned with the exact type of data being transported through it, and can be used for any type of data - including "M2M" data. There is really no need to re-invent the wheel.

    "In the transport and logistics sector, this means that pallets and packages are able to communicate their location, allowing for real-time parcel tracking. "

    You would of course need some sort of wireless radio (perhaps even satellite radio) and a GPS receiver as well. All the protocols in the world won't help if you don't have the proper physical devices.

    "If a machine or device can report back that it has broken down or that it needs refilling"

    Something our printers have been doing for ages. You know, I'm not actually seeing anything NEW in this article. It's actually a collection of technologies that have been in existence a really long time. But apparently when you say "M2M," it's all new for some reason.

    "There are ... very few standards"

    There are some very good standards already in existence. TCP/IP to carry packets across the network, and XML to communicate the data in a format that almost any device can understand. TCP/IP stacks are available for virtually every OS in existence (including virtually every embedded OS), and XML parsers are available for virtually every language in existence.

    There are no excuses for not using existing widely available standards. The idea that there are "very few standards" is actually hocus pocus.

    "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."

    Why would anything need to connect to a network for 10-15 years? It will be well obsoleted by then. In addition, we're already using 3G and 4G, why would anybody actively make something for 2.5G?

    And if global coverage is truly needed, why not something like satellite?

    Although to be honest, one has to wonder how many devices other than cell phones really need this sort of thing.

    Even a package really doesn't need this - there are already excellent tracking built into most postal systems like USPS, UPS and FedEx. It does sound an awful lot like reinventing the wheel.

    All I see in this "M2M" nonsense is reinventing the already made wheel left and right.

    And it's not "nonsense" because the idea is bad. It's nonsense to think that it's a new idea that nobody's using yet, when the exact opposite is actually true: It's actually very widely used, it's just that nobody is really using the "M2M" label explicitly.
  • The author has apparently just learned that he speaks prose

    referring to Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (Molier)

    In this play, the main character's philosophy lesson becomes a basic lesson on language in which he is surprised and delighted to learn that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing it
  • Standards

    As pointed out there are some very mature, existing communications protocols that may very well become part of an M2M standard in the future.

    That's what the oneM2M organisation was created to address. There's a who's who of tech companies signed up and working on a specification, primarily focused on a service layer, but will likely incorporate existing protocols, standards and specifications where applicable.
  • M2M? Welcome to the 1940's...

    Machines have been talking to each other for as long as we've had machines.
  • skeptical of the source

    Don't take this personally, and don't assume it's just American xenophobia, but I frankly mistrust the whole series when it appears to have been written outside the USA.
  • Good article

    Good article.Read an interesting whitepaper on this very topic" Y2K 12 Integrating next generation technology to transform your business " it offers good information on technology and its benefits to business @
    Jayashree Sundaramurthy
  • Machine to machine app development

    Machine to machine development is necessary from business aspects.Good article you have shared and it really helps in driving customer engagement, cost saving, business process efficiencies and innovation.It also allows the public to gain real-time updates such as how far away their train and many others.