May/June 2012
Executive Corner

Enabling operational intelligence with M2M

By Fred Yentz

In today's hyper-competitive environment, everyone is looking for ways to increase the value and sustainable differentiation of their products and services. Competitors and customers share the goal of improved efficiency and effectiveness throughout business. Manufacturers and suppliers are constantly striving to enhance business metrics and profits. This need to improve creates the requirement to access information, make better decisions, and provide better insights into product development, service deployment, and operations management.

It seems easy for business executives to conclude that making better-informed "Right Time" decisions creates the need to collect and process better information. There is an endless list of information available in today's digital world as products become smarter and more digitally enabled. In addition, analytic solutions, ERP, and business process solutions are ever-increasing in their capability of consuming large amounts of information. The challenge is not in understanding the need for information or better analytics but rather understanding how to instrument assets and products, interconnect them into available networks, and move them into processes to make a positive impact on our business.

"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink" is a great metaphor for today's manager who knows there is useful data, and wants to make better decisions, but suffers because data is not accessible through traditional methods of collection. Consider an industrial machine builder who desires to provide remote performance-based services to build a new revenue stream, create new business models, and improve customer satisfaction. Implementation will be a challenge. Machine tool builders have substantial skills and resources to design and build equipment but are unlikely to be aware of-or have the skills in-areas such as broadband wireless connectivity, GPRS, GSM, CDMA, network- and edge-based security, and cloud computing. Even larger issues are network provisioning and working with multiple network providers for global coverage. They need to keep focused on building superior machines, and it is for this reason that many industrial vendors have stayed away from implementing machine-to-machine solutions. The problem is the lack of personnel and knowledge necessary to get to it done. "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink" sounds quite appropriate.

The desire to connect valuable data sources from multiple geographies across multiple networks and across multiple organizations is common to most industrial equipment and manufacturing suppliers. Unfortunately for most industrial and manufacturing companies, the complexity of communication has, until recently, been a barrier to providing such solutions.

Over the last several years, some very large companies, in cooperation with the mainstream media, have created primetime advertisements highlighting the concepts including the Smarter Planet (IBM), Intelligent Vending and Suzie's Lemonade Stand (Verizon), and Connected Snow Plows In Northern Minnesota (AT&T), that made everyone begin to examine the question, "If Suzie can do this with connectivity, why not my business?" The short answer is: you can.

Recently, the OPC Foundation entered into a Collaboration Agreement and Joint Standards development effort with the Telecommunications Industry Association to work on vertical agnostic, industrial-friendly, yet simple to implement, Machine 2 Machine (M2M) standards through the collective efforts of the TIA's Smart Connected Device Standards, known as TR-50.

An ecosystem is emerging with mainstream distributors such as Arrow and Avnet providing bundled M2M products and service offerings that allow companies to quickly retrofit existing remote assets. These M2M Application Platform Kits combine gateway technology with standards-based driver and communication technology and services in order to get to market quickly with proven solutions.

Finally, the M2M Application Platform solution provider community is capable of driving high value M2M services into the marketplace in cooperation with global carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and specific network providers such as KORE Telematics and Wyless Communications. The bottom line is: M2M has matured to a point where M2M solutions are within reach of all industrial participants leveraging the ecosystem of M2M solution providers and emerging M2M standards.

Go on, quench your thirst. Reach out to remote locations for the valuable information you have been thinking about. It is time to get connected.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fred Yentz is president and CEO at ILS Technology LLC, provider of deviceWISE M2M Application Platform. He has more than 25 years of experience in embedded hardware and software solutions and enterprise application integration. He currently serves on the executive committee and board of directors of the Telecommunication Industry Association.