Partnership is on everyone’s lips

February 28, 2014

bildYet 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!

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Context is king!

February 20, 2014

MWC14_Logo-whiteBGAn 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!

Adelante!


Inspiring example: Mobile Scan to Email – A generic M2M application

May 13, 2013

greta_20090121_1319002211Digital documents are cheaper, faster and environmentally better to deal with than paper documents and they can be automatically dealt with in applications of all sorts. The Internet enabled swift distribution of digital documents and PC’s with scanners became a normal way to digitalize paper documents in offices and homes. Scanning companies introduced large scale scanning services and the smartphones enabled mobile scanning by use of the embedded camera and distribution over the mobile network or Wi-Fi. But one important need has not yet been fulfilled: secure mobile digitalization.

Many business documents are critical for completion of processes – a signed delivery note is needed for invoicing, a signed bank note for completion of a transaction, a signed agreement for completion of a deal and a signed prescription to acquire serious medicine in a drug store. Such documents need to be taken care of with relevant security.

Possio’s new Mobile Scan to Email Service addresses the need to digitalize a paper document on the go and send it securely to pre-defined receivers. These documents are typically sent via traditional mail, courier or fax today but in many cases collected and brought manually to the office. Regardless of method it often adds many days or even weeks to processes. In some cases the documents can’t be read or never even arrives. If and when the paper document arrives it often has to be scanned into a digital document for further processing. Imagine scanning the document when it is signed, sending it safely over the mobile network to a pre-defined receiver with acknowledgement that delivery went fine and in a minute have it delivered to the right person anywhere in the world. The receiver doesn’t have to digitalize the document before next action and due to rich metadata attached to each document they become traceable. One can even use the keyboard for authentication of the person sending the document.

Possio Mobile Scan to Email Service is an easy to use cloud based service with scanners attached via mobile networks. A customer is defined in the cloud based server and can add or remove scanners as desired. Each customer decide the functionality of their own private service, i.e. which email addresses should receive documents, if keypads should be used to send documents to different receivers and if authentication should be used. Customers buy the terminals and pay a fixed monthly fee for the service. Possio currently offers two terminals: Possio GRETA Mobile Scanner and Printer which is a mobile all-in-one A4-scanner terminal and Possio SVEA GSM Connector which deliver the Mobile Scan to Email Service using any standard G3 fax.

Secure Mobile Digitalization can speed up and increase quality of business processes across most industries. Typical applications are “internal mail substitution” and management of delivery documentation. It is generically true that the earlier in the business process a paper document can be digitalized and securely transferred the better.

I am personally involved in Possio and believe this is a good example of a generic M2M application meeting real operational needs of businesses around the world. The patent pending technology also enables mobile operators to transition from mobile fax problems to secure mobile digitalization opportunities. It will be interesting to see how the new service is received at M2M+ and M2M Forum in Milan today and tomorrow. I’m here with a delegation from Swedish M2M Service Enablers: Springworks, Maingate, Possio and B3IT.


The 2G/3G dilemma

January 29, 2012

Today some 95% of the mobile M2M connections are 2G. It is absolutely natural since the functionality and capacity needed for most of today’s applications is fulfilled in 2G and the modules are substantially cheaper. An off the shelf 2G SIM card would cost around $3-4 per month plus $0,5-2/MB data transmitted (in Sweden) and CSD, GPRS and SMS is enough for most M2M applications today. But there are dark clouds in the horizon! We don’t know how far away or how fast they come forward, but they are definitely there. Let’s try look at what these clouds contain.

A typical M2M deployment would count on terminals to be in service more than five years, often 10 or even 15 years. That’s long time! It is about 20 years since the GSM services came to market, and betting on the same networks to still be there with great coverage and good service might be something to consider carefully. A customer service person at my previous mobile operator in Stockholm told me: “sorry but we don’t invest in the 2G network anymore”. One of my companies, Possio, help mobile operators to move analog devices from the fixed network, PSTN, to mobile networks using primarily circuit switched connections in 2G (CSD). They experience operators, one by one, deciding not to introduce any new CSD based services in their network. They keep the existing ones, but obviously not for ever. I believe CSD will not disappear over night but this is worth looking into when making the bets

The connect part of M2M is the least interesting and rewarding. It is the compute part that makes the difference. IP is today, by all means, the dominating communication platform across all industries. The IP development environment is solid and rich, application support endless and skill is really everywhere, from developers to support people. An M2M bet today should in most cases be built on IP and one should really try understand if performance in 2G GPRS/EDGE will be enough for making all wanted computing during the life cycle. It is easy to foul yourself when it comes to performance and capacity. My first business trip with IBM went to Copenhagen 1983 where serious old men unanimously stated that with this capacity nothing is stopping us any longer. This was an ISDN conference.

The end-of-life problem is always something to take into account. Module manufacturers normally bring to market new pin compatible modules for their most popular models. But one day they will issue an end-of-life notice and then it is last order date and finally the spot market to rely on before it is over. In other words, when a market decrease it’s a chicken race between the module vendors. They not only want to understand how fast the market disappears (remember they have good numbers to watch) but they also want to ensure the best moment to bring their customers forward on a new platform and not lose them to a competitor.

The cost of modules for 2G or 3G differs a lot. As of today a 3G module would be roughly double the price of a 2G module and the difference could be $25-30. That is a lot especially if you need many. But it is important to look at the entire cost envelope, both capex and opex, over time. The cost of the actual deployment is normally high since it takes human beings to prepare the installation, to ensure other people involved are available, to get and verify permission for entrance and finally to go on site. Each installation is obviously different depending on industry, security levels, distances, type of application, etc but it can easily take a couple of hours per terminal which would translate into hundreds of dollars. One of my companies is active in retail environments where they often experience a lot of problems especially with access permission and coordination with other people needed (electricians, operator staff, alarm staff, etc). This is why we need to get it right first time – we can’t afford to go back – and why the installations will have to be operational for many years. When planning an M2M solution this might well be the most important aspect of the business case and the biggest risk for failure.

I believe this question – should I stay or should I go – is very important for all of us in the M2M business. There are no generic answers to the question about going 2G or 3G but it seems inevitable that sooner or later 3G will be the primary network why focus and investments thus quality and coverage in 2G networks will erode. How fast this happens is of course also depending on geography. In order to put more light on this important question I will ask a couple of knowledgeable individuals from within the industry about their views and post them here.


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