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.


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: 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.

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  • 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.