M2M & The Internet of Things: sharpening your competitive edge

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Machine to Machine (M2M) technology, additionally referred to as the Internet of Things, is gaining credibility as the most innovative competitive edge for a business to adopt. The technology, which is expected to wirelessly connect over 18 billion devices by 2022, will use cloud computing to automate and also orchestrate an unlimited number of products, appliances, and electronic devices around a user’s lifestyle. By doing so, M2M is expected to transform several industries and lifestyles through actions such as placing temperature sensors in trucks or installing moisture sensors in fields. Onboard Informatics' CIO & CKO Peter Goldey participated in ZDNet and TechRepublic's roundtable discussion, along with the leaders of companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Unicef, and XL Capital. Because M2M is rapidly becoming a necessity for various businesses, we recently held an additional interview with Peter Goldey in order to shed light onto the possibilities of M2M, as well as what our clients can potentially do to utilize the new technology.

OB: How does M2M differ from technology on the market today? PG: There is a lot of M2M technology in use already - from FedEx and UPS point-of-delivery tracking devices to the Google Traffic application which pulls location information from Smartphone subscribers into consumer-facing applications, M2M is already here. But a key difference going forward will be breaking down the walls of these closed systems. FedEx, UPS, and building safety systems are "closed" - meaning they are a closed network of smart / dumb devices that are purpose built, speak only to other assets in the purpose build network, and likely don't follow any standards for re-use. Some of the greatest opportunity for M2M will be open network standards where systems are no longer closed and proprietary. This is also, I believe, the area of biggest challenge - how to open the systems while keeping them secure.

OB: Do you see M2M being part of our everyday lives? How so? PG: It already is. Here in NYC for example, the subway system arrivals boards in most stations represent this. Trains send location signals to a centralized hub which then analyzes this datastream, translates it into estimated travel duration, and broadcasts times to "information kiosks" in the stations. Meanwhile, the central hub utilizes the information to organize maintenance, identify slowdowns, and deploy resources. Another example is the new cab hailing applications which allow mobile phone --> dispatch hub --> in cab handset communication to book and lock and fare. On the home front, home automation systems are another example of M2M systems though they are generally proprietary and closed. But imagine the day when you can purchase just about any appliance, smoke detector, audio / visual equipment, alarm system, electronic lock, garage door, or HVAC system and simply "sync" it with your home automation software and control it from a single centralized application. Then add GPS enabled devices then learn your routine and know when you are "5 minutes from home" so they can turn on the AC, and you'll see a huge impact in people's daily lives in terms of convenience. These same conveniences point toward huge "green savings" on energy bills through HVAC and lighting efficiency as these systems are on coordinated demand. Some studies estimate that "smart" thermostats like the Nest - just one part of a home M2M system - would save the average consumer 20%+ annual on heating and cooling costs. Here's a great resource from ZDnet illustrating just some of the opportunities, risks, and challenges in today's M2M marketplace.

OB: What can M2M potentially do for Onboard Informatics’ clients? PG: Anthony DiPrizio, CTO of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage was recently a co-panelist of mine at a ZDnet round-table in June. They are already testing smart signage that usage visual recognition cues to estimate sex and age of open-house attendees and suggest appropriate follow-up marketing. Another use you could imagine is providing customers with an app or device where they can anonymously provide instant positive / negative feedback based on their location (GPS) within a home. The aggregate of that information would pinpoint selling and detracting points for the seller's agent which could then influence different staging or touch-ups and a retest. In general, potential here is really limited only by imagination and of course ROI to develop the solution.

OB: How could M2M alter today’s competitive landscape? PG: M2M is all about convenience and efficiency. To the extent you can find levers in either area through automated data capture, you'll find opportunity for competitive advantage. In the agricultural sector, this could be based on sensor readings for moisture and PH from multiple field deployed sensors to automate irrigation and soil treatment, limiting usage to what is truly needed and minimizing resource consumption and pollution. Livestock movement is another key target area, since proper movement can largely eliminate green house gas. Adopting M2M technology to help manage livestock and agriculture is estimated by some to potentially reduce green house gas emissions by Gigatons per year - that's a tremendous opportunity! And just one of many ways M2M can have a very positive impact on our environment.

OB: What steps would businesses need to undergo in order to adapt to the future of M2M? PG: Deriving real value from M2M requires a number of things: a robust network / cellular infrastructure; numerous data collection points; data storage capabilities; data analytics; and UI's / applications to allow presentation of and interaction with the information. I think the M2M industry is looking for a core set of infrastructure and communication standards to emerge - perhaps led by large communications players such as Verizon, Google, Cisco and others. Once that's in place, companies will be able to leverage this much as they can the Internet backbone: by paying for commodity services and then layering their own creativity, expertise and usage on top. To do this, companies will need to understand what information to collect, how and when to collect it, how to evaluate it to present actionable information, and how to deliver it through a useful UI. Much of this (UI, application development) are skills companies may already have in place. But the key item for those looking to build this intelligence, rather than simply buy it, will be Big Data analytics. The sheer volume of information collected will be well beyond anything we've seen and we're already seeing buzz around terms like "Data Scientist" where skilled, creative individuals will help us understand and then ask the right questions of the data. This in and of itself is a huge opportunity representing both art and science. Understanding that this type of thinking is going to be a prerequisite for deriving real ROI from M2M initiatives is probably the most important thing that companies can do today to get ready.

Image Credit: Casaleggio Associati on Flickr.com