The Rise of the Machines
It behooves the modern IT professional to speak with peers, research options, identify processes for automation, and develop a plan for M2M.
Irwin Lazar of Nemertes Research contributed to this post
Machine to Machine (M2M), aided by the distributed sensing capabilities and constant notification capabilities of today's powerful mobile devices, highlights a nascent, but rapidly evolving automation trend. The potential value proposition is huge: A single notification can automatically catalyze processes across an enterprise and its partners without impacting human time or resources. However--as with any new technology--kinks exist, including integration with existing systems, cost of investment and ROI, and most importantly, message delivery confirmation.
M2M's value proposition is strong in verticals where use cases like event-based reporting, location tracking and inventory notifications are especially useful, such as transportation, manufacturing, utilities and healthcare. Correspondingly mature, off-the-shelf solutions are readily available for these verticals. However any vertical requiring M2M data transport can choose from, and customize, myriad off-the-shelf solutions.
Regardless of which solution companies select for their M2M requirements, integration with existing systems and data stores is vital. As companies' M2M initiatives increase in scope, the value of information generated from M2M-triggered transactions increases drastically.
For instance, if a transportation enterprise would like to alert employees when a trailer passes a specific point for maintenance, the impact on the company's bottom line is not likely to be earth-shattering. However, as this information is shared horizontally (intra-company) and vertically (inter-company), a torrent of business processes can be started from a sensor on a vehicle sending a few bits of data. Recipients can receive notification of delivery status without the need for manual scanning. Maintenance crews can receive notice that vehicles are about to arrive. M2M sensors can even transmit environmental data, such as whether a shipment has been exposed to light, extreme cold, heat, or excessive moisture.
These network effects are where M2M's value starts to reveal itself and why companies mandate that solutions integrate and/or federate with customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), billing systems, and the like. Integrating M2M into UC applications could trigger alerts via IM when thresholds are exceeded, or when other events warrant notification of individuals or teams. Contact center agents could receive proactive notification of events. Outbound dial systems can automatically call, text, or IM customers or partners as needed.
For outbound notification, most companies use SMS because it can reach any mobile device with a phone number. Additional channels include email and message-oriented middleware (MOM) solutions, such as the open-source advanced message queuing protocol (AMQP).
The utility of M2M is entirely reliant on the successful delivery of its underlying messaging protocol. While this concept of "it's gotta work" may seem blatantly obvious, reliability isn't always guaranteed.
For example, SMS is a.) costly relative to rival technologies and b.) delivery receipts are not guarantees of delivery to the desired endpoint. On this latter point, delivery receipts from smaller, rural and/or developing-country mobile operators are often sent whether or not the message ever gets to its recipient. Conversely, issues with local caching, different or non-standard SMS protocol definitions or unreliable in-country services mean that messages don't always reach their intended recipient.
In contrast, email is inexpensive and well-standardized globally. However, many system administrators disallow read or delivery receipts due to spam exploits and also as a measure to streamline mail workflow for end users. As such, senders can't rely on mail-read notifications as confirmation of delivery when they traverse domains external to their control.
MOM-based solutions such as AMPQ provide an excellent opportunity for highly-customizable, scalable solutions that work regardless of underlying messaging protocols, i.e. IM, SMS, email, etc. However, internal expertise requirements or professional services costs for coding, architecting and maintenance can be prohibitive. As such, developing a MOM-based solution in-house can be a very rewarding long-term investment for custom M2M projects large and small.
Today M2M is widely used in industries like transportation, manufacturing and utilities; these verticals are dominated by large companies with both the wherewithal and readily identifiable use cases to justify deployment. However, in every vertical and company, M2M and event-based messaging can automate processes that would otherwise consume time and resources. It behooves the modern IT professional to speak with peers, research options, identify processes for automation, and develop a plan for M2M.