- M2M is starting to provide many benefits to enterprises across diverse industries
- Challenges remain that require solid operational, financial, and resource planning
What is so exciting about M2M technology is that the use cases are expanding so rapidly. Enterprises start out with one application – using low-speed, sporadic data connections – and then think of a half-dozen other aspects of their business that can benefit. The most tangible benefits are the productivity gains from automating processes that have been done manually. By collecting data on the performance and status of remote assets, such as industrial equipment, vehicles, people, inventory, containers, and cargo, businesses can prevent problems and save substantially on onsite service calls. By optimizing routes, companies can save on gas, mechanical wear and tear, and the time it takes for a technician to get to and complete a call. By remotely checking on the status of equipment and setting alerts if a device is out of compliance, companies see reductions in problems, service calls, and the need for routine maintenance, as well as less customer frustration due to out-of-order equipment or low inventory. Benefits relating to productivity gains, resource optimization, and problem and cost avoidance are often the starting point for M2M deployments, as they represent almost guaranteed and rapid ROI.
Even more interesting are the entirely new services and products that companies are starting to develop using M2M. Examples include usage-based insurance centered on driving behavior, in-car infotainment services from automobile OEMs, and security and energy management offered as a service by utilities and security companies. Remote asset and equipment monitoring can also be offered as premium services by manufacturers, sold to customers as a high-end support tier.
However, there are still a number of challenges. Ecosystem complexity (i.e., the number of intermediary elements, solutions, and vendors) remains an issue, as does the lack of standards that allow machines to talk the same language, let alone work across multiple technologies and carrier networks. Deploying an M2M solution may require an enterprise to source disparate components, including modules, connectivity, equipment, and application software, from a variety of vendors. Luckily, some of these elements are now being brought together by carriers and systems integrators. For example, service delivery platforms can streamline customer service, provisioning, SIM management, and troubleshooting. These are having a positive effect on complexity and time to market.
Choosing the right technology is also an issue, as cellular may not make sense for fixed and/or in-building devices and may be used in conjunction with wireline services or technologies such as Zigbee or Bluetooth that can aggregate data from nearby devices before sending it over a WAN. The management of internal stakeholders is also tricky; it is often the operations staff that is deploying an M2M application, the IT staff that has to support it, and the CFO organization that has to pay for it. Large MNCs must deal with multiple carrier relationships and decentralized decision making, but global deployments are becoming increasingly common and some of the more exciting future applications will be expensive if they are dependent on international data roaming. Another challenge is analytics; the data being collected needs to be turned into actionable information. Operators, SIs, and business intelligence specialists can offer M2M data analytics solutions. The nature of some of the data, especially in healthcare and financial services, also requires security and privacy guarantees at the device, application, or network level. The following is a checklist for enterprises embarking on M2M deployments.
- Manage Internal Stakeholders: Include, at the outset, all of the groups and individuals whose jobs will be affected positively or negatively.
- Proof of Concept/Business Case Validation: Note that some M2M applications will have tangible and quantifiable ROIs… and some will not.
- Reduce Complexity and Time to Market: Service delivery and application enablement platforms can provide streamlined deployment, app development, and lifecycle management. Consider a third party (operator or SI) to coordinate ecosystem resources.
- Weigh Choices for Application Development and Management: Applications may have custom needs as well as analytics requirements, for which it may make more sense to go to an outside party, rather than relying on internal development.