One of the most talked about areas for Internet of Things is Smart Cities. Cities themselves invest to become one. Most of the large players in IoT focus on Smart Cities. There are events, predictions, articles and show cases everywhere and each and everyone use their own definition of Smart Cities. A city is a very complex and dynamic location which from an ICT point of view could be described as a system of systems. It is obvious that sub-systems could be more efficient using IoT solutions and that the overall system of systems could be improved if the data collected was shared cleverly between the systems. No wonder Smart Cities is a perfect topic to focus on both for suppliers and municipalities.
This is why I am really impressed by Infracontrol, their pragmatic approach to Smart Cities and what they have been able to do. They started about 20 years ago to help cities connecting mainly traffic related things like tunnel alarms, ventilation systems and traffic lights. As they grew bigger in several cities and with new applications they developed Infracontrol Online™ 2003 to connect cities and citizens for better services. Today they have 56 Swedish municipalities using Infracontrol Online™ and their first ones in Portugal in place as well. Their customers report 60% better service quality, 30% savings in maintenance expenses, a lot of energy savings and higher citizen satisfaction. Sounds smart to me! Needless to say Infracontrol is a member of the Swedish SMSE-alliance!
Up until recently most operators had a similar approach to M2M: “it’s a very interesting opportunity, we’ll build a devoted team, we will make or buy a device connectivity platform, we will not be providing only connectivity but we are not ready to go down the verticals so we will build a partner program.” But things are changing. Telenor Connexion went their own way when they decided on a connectivity agnostic strategy to be able to follow their customers over time. Then they acquired the experienced M2M service enabler and developer Iowa in order to help customers from idea to ready to roll solution. And at MWC they announced adding Jasper’s platform to the Ericsson Device Connectivity platform already in use which as far as I know is a unique move. But perfectly in line with their customer centric strategy.
Last week, Tele2 finally announced their M2M strategy and plan at their M2M Talks event in Stockholm. Rami Avidan and his team declared loud and clear that they will provide connectivity and for the rest, work with and through partners. This was as clear and easy to understand as surprising. At the event they introduced a couple of partners including CSL and Wipro – two really well established and strong international players in the field of M2M.
It is promising and interesting that operators are starting to place their M2M bets differently now. With different approaches and offerings we will have more choices and constellations which will serve customers better and speed up the creation of the Internet of Everything.
Yet another humongous Mobile World Congress is over. Almost 90.000 people from around the globe have spent a couple of days together in Barcelona with decent weather, amazingly good organization and an interesting mix of cava, business cards, pickpockets, technology and rock’n roll. This year was very much about improvement and evolution and little news and revolution. That is both serious and good but unfortunately less exciting and makes a show like this a little sleepy. Beyond a couple of quite expected things like Mozilla’s 25$ smart phone and that Nokia goes Android you mainly heard words like security, virtualization, big data, robustness and improved BSS/OSS at the show. From a helicopter perspective I believe it is a slow process of marrying IT and Telecommunications that we are looking at.
And then, of course, M2M and Internet of Things. It’s on everybody’s lips now, and it’s mainly questions. Ranging from companies considering to enter the market and wonder where to start to people already there trying to figure out where to go next. And my previous conclusion that we have left the connectivity phase behind and focus on the data and use of it was more clear than ever. I heard reference to the 50B devices three times during the entire event to be compared with hundreds of times a year ago.
I was there with a common stand in the Swedish Pavilion with nine of the 21 members of the Swedish M2M Service Enablers alliance: Kombridge, Springworks, Maingate, Possio, WSI, Fym, Evothings, Info24 and WBIRD. And I was amazed to see the interest in talking to experienced specialized m2m service enabler companies with solid solutions in use by real customers. From across the world we had operators, potential customers, vendors, analysts, regulators, consultants, investors and governments visiting us. We counted collectively to over 300 meetings with reasonable business potential after day three of the event. We also got the opportunity to explain to our Swedish Minister of ICT and Energy, Anna-Karin Hatt, that we are working hard together in SMSE to make Sweden the obvious country to go to for leading edge skills and knowledge in M2M aka Internet of Things.
So what’s the state of the nation? Most players have understood that data is the gold of M2M, that the value of M2M is realized when the information is properly distributed to decision-making systems, business process applications, etc. and that a proper M2M solution consist of three different components: connected devices and sensors, collection and blending of data most often in the cloud and distribution of the information to apps, ERP systems, etc. The challenge is that each of these three components is a competitive industry by itself and each M2M solution must include all three to deliver the value. This is obviously not possible to solve without well working partnerships. The transition from quite ok complete generic proprietary M2M solutions to excellent M2M solutions for an industry or more often a specific organization is similar to what the IT industry went though over some 20 years starting from IBM providing everything from Nobel prize research and silicon to post service and financing. Our transition will be brutally fast and enable the fully international and layered Internet of Things industry needed for the real take-off. Companies perceived as providers of generic products or services with no edge will fade away in this process and simply just not be seen. This is why operators and vendors talk partnership now. It is needed but very difficult. To set up a well designed and attractive partner program is not rocket science but a lot of work. But making people work well together goes far beyond that. It is little about technology and a lot about trust, way of working, culture, business models and not the least “similar children play best” as we say in Sweden. And entrepreneurs are stressed people who have little to no patience with things that don’t contribute to their business. Partnerships are also initiated by government bodies and research organizations and a new LinkedIn group on IoT or M2M is established at least weekly.
It will be really interesting to follow how this will develop. In my mind this is mostly a commercial issue why any working partnership will have to be driven by people closest to the customers, who understand the context of the data and application the customers are looking for. Progress and success will only come when people start doing thing also in this field. Nobody, not even McKinzey or Accenture, designed the value chains, the standards or the API:s when we connected people and organizations to the Internet. It was created by people trying things and finding ways that customers liked. This is how the Internet of Things will be established as well. And this is the thinking behind our Swedish M2M Service Enablers Alliance. Avanti!
An old friend wrote: “Hi Magnus, Great to hear from you. Sounds like you are in the sweet spot of the next digital revolution.” Internet of Things is on everyone’s lips now! If we wouldn’t have had the M2M hype phase over ten years ago I would definitely be nervous, but this is for real. Kudos to Gartner who provided us with the hype curve!
IoT is still in the teenage phase but growing very fast. The industry obviously remains excited on ever new levels. But what makes me believe that we will be grown up by 2015 is the rapidly growing requests from businesses across industries and nations. They want better decision-making, faster processes, competitive advantages, security, sustainability, profitability and bottom line, success. And more and more we end up talking about strategic issues like addressing adjacent markets, “re-defining our industry”, brands and new business models. Somehow a lot of decision makers got the point: it’s time to act! Leaving discussions and PowerPoint behind and jump into trials and action.
The value of M2M becomes visible when the information appears in decision-making systems and processes. The data collected and blended will have to end up in the IT systems why solutions require context, i.e. industry experience, and will be developed by specialized companies. As vehicle specialist Springworks put it: “it took as a while to learn the difference between a hard break and a crash”. Specialized M2M Service Enablement remains the most critical part of building the Internet of Things. Context is king!
The Swedish M2M Service Enablers alliance (SMSE) was established 2012 on this insight and we are already 21 members – Imagimob and Expektra joined earlier this week. And we are now sponsored by six organizations including four operators. We believe the M2M service enablement business will have to be international for M2M to grow up. And with all national players competing on an international market, only the specialized ones will win. It is simply not good enough to connect a couple of things to the Internet, collect some data and distribute it to an App or web page. One needs the context to develop and sell really useful Service Enablement solutions.
We are working hard to demonstrate our combined skills and experience in M2M, or Internet of Things if you like, and that Sweden is a great place to look for advanced M2M applications. Over the last 12 months we have been on several trade missions including Italy, France, Spain, Holland and Germany. And starting on Monday nine of our members – Springworks, Maingate, Kombridge, Possio, EvoThings, Fym, WSI, Info24 and Wbird – represent SMSE in the Swedish Pavilion (7F41) at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Please come by and visit us during the week! And as proud sponsors of the traditional Sweden@MWC Cocktail we invite you for a drink with us on Monday afternoon as well!
Data is the gold of M2M! This remains the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to understand where the industry is going. When collecting the data from sensors and sub-systems of all sorts, we need to understand the context in order to turn the data into useful information. Data analysis without understanding the context opens up for poor conclusions and decision-making down the road. No news here! The value of the information created appears when the information is properly integrated into business systems, decision-making systems, etc. No news here either!
The good news is that the need to understand the context for the data collected and the fact that value materialize when the information is integrated into ERP systems, processes and decision-making systems clearly points towards a fragmented market with successful players focused on industries or functions. Good news is that this is how the software industry has been structured for years. And efficiency is achieved by generic platforms, tools and API:s which specialized applications can utilize.
Since M2M will have to become an international business to benefit from scale this brings us a “glocal” value chain like this: customized or specific software provided to customers by local integrators, resellers or consultants working with specialized international M2M Service Enablers. Software used is based on generic platforms, tools and API:s – this is where Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, SAP and others come in. And the M2M Service Enablers are agnostic to devices and connectivity. And sensors are provided by a variety of specialized companies.
So which conclusions could we draw? The three most important conclusions to me are that:
- M2M Service Enablers need to be agnostic to connectivity and device
- there are many M2M Service Enablers in each country today and only the ones who are really specialized, context aware, will survive when it becomes an international market
- generic software companies as well as connectivity providers need to figure out how to work with the best M2M Service Enablers
Data is the gold of M2M! Today even “monkeys” can connect a couple of things, collect the data in the cloud and present it in an app. And now, in its teenage, the M2M aka Internet of Everything industry is splitting up in three distinct parts: collecting data (sensors and devices), managing data (analyzing, manipulating, combining data) and distributing data (apps, web, integration in business systems, decision-making systems). Each of these three parts have to be perfectly resolved to make a great M2M solution: efficient and sensitive sensors connected using relevant networks, secure and efficient data management where understanding the context is absolutely required, and great, sticky UX in apps and web interfaces are examples from recipes of culinary M2M dishes.
It is when the collected data cautiously has been transformed into information and delivered into business applications that the value of M2M appears. The cold chain for the lobsters from Canada just delivered to the store is uninterrupted. The car that just alarmed the response center of an accident has three passengers. The route suggested by the navigator has risk for ice on a bridge 2 km from here.
With data transformed to information and delivered in relevant applications being the key for M2M solutions it is obvious that the access networks are secondary. Each solution in the hands of customers should ensure proper information delivery using the best available network option given the situation. Requirements on bandwidth, QoS, cost, latency, SLA, power, size, investment horizon, etc should determine which access network to use for each device and sensor. I see only two ways to deliver on this: either the service providers provide a portfolio of access options to serve the clients or the M2M Service Enablers will have to get access from a mix of service providers. At M2M Summit Scandinavia last week I was glad to hear that both Vodafone and Deutche Telekom share this view and aim to provide a solid portfolio of connectivity options for M2M customers.
The M2M aka Internet of Everything market is developing quickly. It is interesting to see how analysts, vendors and journalists over the last few months collectively shifted from one big number to another – from number of connected devices to Big Data business potential for Internet of Everything. It is a sign of growing up that we leave the connection focus and huge abstract estimates on number of connected devices for a focus on data and information. Data is the gold of M2M and I’m pleased that the industry focus is shifting towards the information. The industry loves buzzwords and in the M2M case we ended up in the Big Data bucket. ABI just estimated that Big Data and Analytics in M2M will generate revenues of $14 Billion in 2018. We are in the beginning of M2M aka Internet of Everything and organizations are starting to gather useful information from sensors and things. We see more open API:s and people have started blending the collected M2M data with other data to enrich the value of the information. But few if any are even close to a situation which Big Data is addressing. Most data collected in M2M applications are a couple of bytes from time to time. When mobile networks are used its predominantly tiny data in 2G networks, a lot of narrow band wireless sensors are used and when POTS is used it is typically a couple of seconds transmission. And it is not likely to change! Most of the data we are collecting from things are meter reading data, positions, status information, health data, times and so on. Nothing of that comes close to Big Data. But with big volumes of sensors and transactions we will rather need sophisticated decision support systems.
I see a risk that the Big Data twist on M2M will make organization miss the ball in their own M2M efforts. Volumes, velocity and variety is not among the key issues in M2M projects today. It is too much too soon. In my experience the best approach is to get going, connecting a couple of things together with a relevant specialist M2M Service Enabler who has most of what is needed already. That way we will learn rapidly from real-time data in our own business and the trials are rapid and affordable. Then its quite easy to see what data to collect from which sources and step by step develop the collecting, management and distribution of data for maximum value to the organization. It is only when the information appears in business systems, business processes, decision-making systems or user applications that the value is realized. We simply don’t need any Big Data methods or solutions for this. It is obvious though, that sooner or later, especially if streaming data is involved, organizations will have a lot of data to process. And M2M applications will of course increasingly add to these systems down the road.