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The Rise Of The Machine


Machine to Machine (M2M) technology is increasingly growing in popularity due to today’s changing technological landscape. Sensors, devices and components that enable M2M are becoming smaller, cheaper and more power efficient. These factors are increasing the perceived value that can be derived from applications that utilise this technology. With M2M technology, organisations are able to:

  • Create new recurring revenues from ongoing services

  • Develop whole new product lines that rely on real-time two way connectivity

  • Perform diagnostics and repairs remotely

  • Monitor machine status and usage in real time

  • Increase profitability by lowering service costs and improving product performance

This article looks at the increasing popularity of M2M, how organisations have already capitalised on this movement, and what organisations need to consider when it comes to M2M. What is M2M? Commonly referred to as M2M, telemetry, telematics and industrial automation, the term Machine to Machine is used to explain the technology that allows the communication of data between remotely located devices (both wireless and wired) and backend IT infrastructure.

A simple example of M2M communications would be the booking information that is sent to a taxi from a call centre via 3G. A taxi is fitted with a wireless device that receives information transmitted from the call centre which then advises the driver of the location and time of pickup. The driver can also transmit data to ‘accept’ a booking, pushing data back into the call centre system.

A more comprehensive example would be the use of smart meters by electricity companies. Smart meters record the usage of electricity at different times of the day, store this information in the meter and then send it to the electricity company via low power radio transmitters. This allows consumers to effectively regulate energy use. Electricity companies also benefit as it eliminates the need to have an individual physically read the meter usage. This also enables a log of time-of-day usage records to be produced, allowing customers to pay cheaper ‘off-peak’ and ‘shoulder’ rates for their energy usage.

Essentially, M2M solutions are made possible by a device (e.g. a sensor) that is attached to a machine to capture an event (and its associated data) that is then relayed to other applications over a network.

Although M2M is not a new concept and forms of it have been around for quite some time, modern M2M solutions have expanded beyond the simple one-to-one connection that has been the norm up until now. Today, M2M applications allow users to deploy small, low powered, remote monitoring and control systems into the field, plant, fleet and facilities, where previous technology would have proven too bulky, expensive and inefficient. The exponential growth associated with these technologies opens up an array of new business opportunities that have the potential to alter business processes and tactics.

Why is M2M increasing in popularity? Over time, telematics have increased in popularity due to the business benefits associated with this approach. M2M enables businesses to streamline communication processes, increase the accuracy of data they receive and opens up new avenues through which organisations can provide products or communicate with their market and/or assets more effectively. M2M creates the opportunity to elevate the business to the next level, define the next generation of the company, and create a long-term competitive advantage.

According to external research by M2M enthusiasts, “an opportunity is opening up for software solution providers to create almost anything from traditional M2M solutions; ranging from GPS mapping and complex dashboards to more novel solutions such as a flower pot that tweets when it needs water or an oven that sends you an SMS when the roast is done” (LinkedIn survey, 2013). The opportunities are virtually endless.

Previously, the high cost of developing M2M software made it the exclusive domain of large organisations that could afford to build and maintain their own dedicated data networks. Increasingly, the technological landscape has dramatically changed as the sensors, devices and components that enable M2M are becoming smaller, cheaper and more power efficient. This allows small-medium organisations a chance to take advantage of this technology.

The increasing growth in adoption rates can be linked to the perceived value being received from the development of such applications. With telemetry, organisations are able to:

  • Create new recurring revenues from ongoing services

  • Develop whole new product lines that rely on real-time two-way connectivity

  • Perform diagnostics and repairs remotely

  • Monitor machine status and usage in real time

  • Increase profitability by lowering service costs and improving product performance

Due to the ubiquity of supporting technologies, decreasing costs of hardware, software and data services and some creative-thinking customers, M2M is poised to have its biggest years ahead.

Real world applications In reality, M2M solutions can be used to gain immediate feedback on how a particular remote asset is being used, which features are most popular and what problems typically arise. The information collected can then be used to proactively shorten the lead time to offering an improved or updated version of the service, thus creating a competitive edge. Examples of M2M currently being used by organisations JJ RICHARDS & SONS As with most M2M solutions, JJ Richards & Sons utilise in-vehicle computers and telemetry equipments to view live data for their waste management services. Each truck is fitted with an on-board touch-screen computer that communicates with GPS, vehicle sensors and cameras to collect information, such as speed, location, operational activity and anomalies, and other variable data within the vehicle and its surrounds.

This data is then aggregated back to the office via 3G to enable operations supervisors to view and interact with live and historic data (e.g. play the time-and-position-based data back on a map) and report on the data in a variety of ways. For some customers, information is also provided in live portals where users can not only enquire on activity within minutes of it occurring, but also can see images captured by the in-vehicle cameras.

In some cases, the vehicle includes RFID equipment's to read tags on bins, which provides an ability to monitor asset movements and usage as well as provide very accurate activity reporting.

BRASSERIE BREAD Brasserie Bread utilise M2M communications in their bread-making process. The dough used to make the bread is usually left in a room with strict conditions to allow it to rise. Each loaf of bread is fitted with a thermometer that links to a central aggregator which then communicates to an alerting system. If the conditions are not within a certain range, an SMS is sent to the manager to check on the bread (CIO, 2012).

TASMANIAN SHELLFISH QUALITY ASSURANCE As part of the Sense-T Project, oyster farmers are able to access a web-based dashboard that consolidates weather and river water-quality data drawn from sensors to gauge whether the harvest time chosen is safe from microbial contamination. Over 10 salinity logging devices are deployed to give visibility over Tasmania’s 30 shellfish-producing areas to produce the data required for these reports. (SMH, 2013).

LEADING PIZZA RESTAURANT A leading pizza restaurant has an online ordering system that allows their customers to track the progress of their pizza order. Once a customer enters their order, the data is sent to a central system which relays the order to the restaurant. At each stage of the process (e.g. preparing ingredients, baking, sent for delivery), the central system communicates a live data feed to the customer’s device to update them on the stage of their order. What organisations need to consider when it comes to M2M As the cost of hardware decreases and becomes easier to access, a wave of innovation emerges. M2M has become a part of every consumer’s life as organisations continue to search for new ways to engage with their customers, suppliers and staff in deeper and more meaningful ways.

Although, M2M technology can be used to realise a tighter and more consistent ‘customer experience’, organisations must ask 5 fundamental questions before setting out to capitalise on this trend:

1.WHAT? Before engaging in M2M technology, an organisation should consider two fundamental questions: What business are you in? What do you want to deliver to your customers? By identifying the answers to these questions, the organisation is in a better position to align their technology goals with their business strategies when it comes to implementing M2M solutions.

2.WHY? An organisation must then identify the reasons for implementing M2M software. Many organisations perceive M2M as an evolution of existing processes and systems or an extension to the existing IT infrastructure. They often forget that they are also able to approach M2M as a new growth area which can provide a clean slate on which they can define the next generation of their business.

3.WHEN? Due to the innovative nature of M2M, organisations must realise that the technology involved is consistently emerging and may not be completely established as yet. Consequently, it is important to consider the maturity of the technology, the stability of the provider, interoperability, coverage and IT requirements before embarking on the implementation of M2M.

Many benefits are already being realised by M2M applications, yet organisations will need to consider the return for the investment associated with establishing M2M software for their organisation and may need to delay their move into M2M.

4.WHERE? Most M2M devices typically use the mobile network and many will agree that wireless coverage is nearly ubiquitous, both nationally and globally. However, certain service gaps are still prevalent, as is the case with mobile coverage. For example, the M2M device cannot move itself to get better coverage or to get a better signal. Therefore, it is important to recognise where you will be deploying the M2M network, field-test the devices and negotiate a service-level agreement that ensures connectivity for critical devices.

5.WHO? Before deciding whether M2M is right for your business, you must carefully consider the real requirements for both your customers and your internal operational base. Implementing M2M communications across your organisation may solve your customer’s needs, such as providing better access to accurate data, yet it is still important to consider all aspects (such as training and responsibility around maintaining the communications) before making the final decision.

Additionally, operational benefits should be adequately planned for and measured to ensure that you are not implementing M2M just for the sake of it.

Is your organisation ready to move to M2M? There has been much talk about how M2M promises to open the door to business opportunities that have traditionally been out of reach for many businesses. However, organisations will need to consider a range of aspects before deciding to take the leap into M2M.

Organisations will need to weigh up the benefits that can be realised with the issues that threaten the successful implementation of M2M solutions, such as reliability, availability and security.

Businesses should also note that although some benefits cannot be realised at the moment, M2M suppliers are consistently working to solve the challenges that may arise. So if the return on investment isn’t there now, it may well be in the very near future.


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