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Smart Things

Machine-to-machine technology is creating an ‘Internet of Things’, or smart devices that share information with each other—and you. It’s the next big thing and, like mobilization, is largely consumer-driven.

Machine-to-machine technology is the natural evolution of the ‘consumerization of IT’. That’s what IT decision makers in India, China, Germany, the US and UK overwhelmingly think, according to recent survey findings released by SAP (my employer) and Harris Interactive Research.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, sometimes called the ‘Internet of Things’, refers to the connections between devices. Smartphones and tablets yes, but also things like Google Glass, televisions, gas pumps, health monitoring equipment, home appliances, security cameras, parking meters, shipping containers, industrial equipment, cars, and the list goes on and on.

M2M is the next step of consumerization because once again, consumers are driving it. The number of ‘things’ connected to the Internet is expected to reach 50 billion by 2020 (according to The Global Wireless M2M Market report, from Berg Insight, Tobias Ryberg, April 2012).

For example, there a smart vending machine that lets you use your mobile to buy a soda and get loyalty offers. Because of its M2M capability, the machine can also send the wholesaler/distributor real-time inventory data, so it should never run out of stock, and can phone home if it needs any repairs. Behind the scenes, the whole supply chain is going mobile and is connected too. From the factory floor to the delivery trucks M2M is making the process of getting a frosty beverage in you hands more efficient than ever before. We had this machine at Mobile World Congress earlier this year (here’s a video). If you get thirsty at CTIA 2013, you can stop by the SAP booth and get a drink for yourself.

M2M is also starting to appear in consumer products as well. I travel a lot, and I try to take photos of every place I go. A lot of photos. In a typical week, I’ll take at least 100. I’ve returned from some trips with a few thousand! So managing these photos, tagging where I took them, and making sure I don’t lose the camera or have the card wiped by airport x-ray machines is a constant worry for me. But not any more, as I’ve enabled my camera for M2M, There is a company—Eye-Fi—that makes a memory card for your camera that allows it to talk to the Wi-Fi network. The card can add time, date and geo-location info the photos you take, and—the best part—can automatically send pictures and videos to your home computer or other connected devices. Instantly, you (or someone else) can see your photos in Picassa or iPhoto or wherever you keep them. No more running out of space on your memory card. No more having to plug in to upload everything when you get home.

The ‘Internet of Things’ brings together data from machines, ERP, CRM systems, GPS, social media and more in real time, allowing people to interact with devices, and devices to interact with each other in a better, smarter way.