An essential guide to M2M technology for manufacturers
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Having a clear understanding of the business case and the potential for return on investment lies at the heart of a successful M2M services implementation, despite all the hoopla surrounding its promise as the latest game-changing technology, experts said.
The complexities associated with mapping out a large-scale machine-to-machine (M2M) vision, coupled with the requisite culture change that accompanies any such business transformation project, causes many companies to get stuck early on prior to seeing measurable results, according to industry experts. Training and education, along with a willingness to enlist expert help, is crucial to moving things forward. Experts also advise manufacturers to stay focused on the big picture opportunity around M2M services, as opposed to being trapped by the complexities of individual projects.
"Just like any new evolution, you need to start to think about this in a holistic way," explained Mobeen Khan, executive director of M2M product management at AT&T Business Solutions. "You need to think about not just the products, but about the processes, data collection and security. Innovation and experimentation has to be part of it."
Additional best practices to successful M2M services adoption include:
Eschewing the tactical for the strategic: The deployment of M2M technology will nearly always morph beyond a single, specific use case, experts said. Manufacturers need to keep the big picture in mind as they map out their M2M strategies and technology architectures. "If you have a limited vision, then your solution becomes limited," Khan said. "You may not choose the right device or battery life because you're not thinking about what other data you might collect in the future. Keep a broad vision in mind."
Enlisting executive support: Implementing M2M doesn't just tie into one process in an organization -- it cuts across the enterprise, which can pose significant challenges to getting everyone onboard and on the same page, noted Michele Pelino, principal analyst for Enterprise Mobility-Infrastructure & Operations at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "You need to have a proactive, outside-of-the-box look from someone at the highest levels of the organization," she explained. "They need to be the key visionary and stakeholder in the process in order to push this through."
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At the same time, Pelino emphasized that organizations need to foster conversations about the value of M2M services and what processes need to be improved before embarking on any individual deployment.
Partnering with vendors who are open: Given that an alphabet soup of standards is still a very real obstacle in the M2M world, it's critical to align with technology vendors and partners that support a culture of openness and information sharing, according to Nathan George, vice president of technology at Washington, D.C.-based MODUS, which is leveraging M2M technologies to deliver functionality around usage-based insurance. "Because the technology is so complex, you're not going to deploy an end-to-end solution in any industry using just one vendor," George said. "M2M touches so many points in a company, so openness is absolutely vital to leverage all the capabilities and make the [financials] work out."
Keeping an eye towards integration: There are many moving parts to M2M services -- from device hardware and connectivity options, to application and middleware -- and experts recommend utilizing consultants and adopting integration platforms to help take some of the complexity out of syncing up these myriad technologies. "Manufacturers should focus on what they do best -- that is building products," said Dan Murphy, vice president of marketing at Foxboro, Mass.-based Axeda Corp., which markets an integration suite for M2M technology. "You're not going to get an out-of-the-box solution, so you have to think about what kinds of systems integrators or vendors can help."
Fostering alignment between operations and IT: As machines essentially become endpoints on a corporate network, operations groups need to embrace some of the tried-and-true security practices employed by IT, said Hung LeHong, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "For decades, IT has known how to patch security leaks, upgrade to the latest operating system or make sure the network was secure, and operational folks can benefit from that, especially in terms of security practices," he explained. "Get IT and operations working together; they can learn from each other."
In the end, even the most proven best practices for M2M services won't guarantee success right out of the gate. "It's not going to happen overnight," said Steve Halliday, president of High Tech Aid, a Gibsonia, Penn.-based supply chain consulting company. "There are going to be issues you are going to have to overcome, but this is something companies need to be thinking about and planning for. Most manufacturers have a five-year plan and [M2M] should be part of it."
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