M2M enabling efficient marketing

December 11, 2013

Evian DropCompanies are investing a lot of money year after year to communicate with their customers and influence their perception of their company and brands. The budgets are there basically to sow for future sales and they remain on the same level year after year measured as a percentage of sales. The ever-increasing challenge is the growing number of channels to be used, and the constantly changing relative importance of them. But the best channel by all means has always been the product itself. Customers who buy it has it and use it often for a long time. People around them might see them using it. Satisfied users as well as dissatisfied users are happy to tell others about their experience.

All of this is well-known facts. But what is less known is that it has become realistically possible to establish a continuous dialogue with the products and also the users of them depending of what product it is, by using modern M2M or Internet of Things technology. Examples of products that often are connected already are: trucks, electrical meters, cars, alarms, vending machines and coffee machines. They are typically connected for operational benefits like being able to tell the truck driver to go to a service facility and depending on where he is propose which one, for electricity companies to measure and report consumption almost in real-time, for vending machines to understand when it’s time to go there to fill it up and better schedule the service route, for coffee machine rental companies to change recipes over the air and for alarm companies to get the alarms automatically. This is all fine and the normal first phase of an M2M investment. Operational value is easy to realize and make ROI investments on thus easier to get project approval and budgets for.

As we all know by now: data is the gold of M2M. And with these things connected we can gather and interpret the data from the connected things and start use it to create strategic value. Examples could be that the owner of the truck could measure how drivers actually drive, provide training to them and become a more sustainable company, the electricity company could offer customers better price off-peak hours, vending machines would get decision support from real data to know what products to have on weekends and warm days in different parts of the country and to use dynamic pricing, coffee machine companies could tune the choice of coffee for different seasons and learn customer’s coffee drinking habits and the alarm companies could add new adjacent services to their alarm infrastructure to become more competitive. All these things are examples of how the collected data could be used to add brand value, competitiveness, customer loyalty, innovation and attractiveness for employees, etc.

We are in the teen-age of M2M aka Internet of Things and many companies have started to connect their things, mainly for operational reasons. But it is still very rare to see companies using the data to create strategic value. Most consumer goods is not connected and if it is, there is no organized use of the data collected. Most professional equipment isn’t connected either and if it is, the data is rarely used in an organized fashion to create strategic value.

But this is about to change and I think we will see a lot of new examples in 2014. A number of new relevant ways of connecting things are available including the power-efficient and very small Bluetooth 4.0 chips with innovative solutions like iBeacon, networks optimized for connecting millions of autonomous things like Sigfox and a host of different ways to associate real life things with an avatar on the Internet like QR-codes, smart cameras, RFID and innovative solutions from companies like Evrythng.

This isn’t about technology. It is only when clever strategists, progressive marketing directors, creative advertising agencies, determined product managers and innovative business developers really understand what is practically and financially possible today that true innovation beyond operational value creation starts to happen. Interesting examples of creative customer communication through products could be the Evian Smart Drop, Volvo’s On Call app enabling their B2B+B2C model and Apple’s recent launch of an iBeacon based service in all 254 Apple Stores in the US.

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Local M2M Gateways

April 12, 2012
The mighty mobile industry is a major force behind M2M today. They have what it takes to connect things, they need to find growth beyond the six billion active SIM cards today and they are promoting the concept of M2M aggressively. But at the same time it is quite obvious that a lot of things will be connected without SIM card. We already have a lot of connected devices in the PSTN network, many electricity meters are connected using PLC or other wireless network technologies than the mobile networks and wireless technologies like W-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and RFID are already used in many applications. Different technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, new ones are coming to market while old ones are fading away. But the concepts of wide area and local area networks remain. Generally speaking it takes technologies optimized for LAN or WAN to build cost and capacity efficient networks. Sometimes even a shorter range network structure is needed like a Personal Area Network.I believe the mobile networks will be used for some connected devices, especially moving things or if one want to avoid dealing with Firewalls. But more so as the preferred WAN solution for things connected to a local area network solution. I have come across estimates that one out of ten connected devices will have a SIM card and I think that could be a reasonable estimate. If Ericsson’s “50 Billion connected devices by 2020” would be reality, 5 Billion of them would have a SIM card. That is a lot more SIM cards than the 108 Million mobile M2M SIM cards that Berg Insight estimate are active today world-wide. But what about the other 45 Billion connected devices? How will they be connected and managed and how will relevant data generated by these devices become easily available for application developers and integrators?

The most immediate challenge for the M2M industry is to establish a rich assortment of M2M services enablers in order to make development and maintenance of M2M application more resource and time efficient. M2M Service Enablers will have different features and specialities and they can be deployed in three different ways: on top of operator connectivity services, as in-house solutions or in independent service providers.

But another very interesting area to be addressed is how to connect devices in a local infrastructure in order to enable resource efficient development, maintenance and monitoring as well as a structured way to deal with relevant data. I use to refer to “Local M2M Gateways” and I have started to look for clever ideas and solutions in the market. I am convinced there is room for a whole range of different products optimized for different situations, still providing a quite standardized interface to M2M Services Enablers. In some cases we need to connect locally using only one technology and in other situations we need to support a mix of several technologies. Connecting sensors or things with sophisticated embedded systems put different requirements on the Local M2M Gateways. The choice of WAN-connection, with or without backup, is yet another area where we will need different solutions. And whichever solution we end up using, it has to be cost efficient, easy to deploy and maintain and robust. These will be important tools when helping organizations to design relevant M2M solutions to meet their challenges and opportunities.


We need a rock solid M2M service layer

February 18, 2012

The 10 Million dollar M2M question is how to support thousands of business processes in tens of thousands of businesses in an efficient and scalable way. Beecham Research’s M2M Sector Map (see Interesting reading) makes the point of the fragmented and complex market very well. Mobile operators typically have few services with very many users while most potential users of M2M will have industry specific or even company specific needs in relatively small numbers. This is why most connected devices in cellular networks today are terminals in large volumes (typically electricity meters or eReaders) with small ARPU but also little work required by the operator per terminal deployed. The issue with this is that the electricity meters are rolled out primarily due to political decisions and one can argue that eReaders, iPads, etc are just big mobile phones and not really M2M solutions.

The other type of deployments today are primarily those where the value gained is big enough to pay for integration, software development, customization, etc. And these are “real” M2M solutions leveraging the value of connecting things and putting computing on top.

I come to think of the “bankruptcy gap” in between the only two viable business models over time: low price/low cost/high volumes and high price/great perceived value/customization. In the bankruptcy gap you will find average products with average prices. There is an obvious risk today to address the bulk of the very fragmented M2M market: quite an effort to provide what the customer want and price sensitiveness due to not big or clear enough benefits is a scary combination.

This looks similar to the bankruptcy gap but with one big difference: the driver putting businesses across industries into the bankruptcy gap is commoditization of products and services. But in the case of M2M we are in the early days! How can this be?

I think the situation is dangerous since it threatens to once again leave us with a great idea, a lot of energy and efforts, poor results and many investments and opportunities wasted. To me the key reasons why we face an artificial bankruptcy gap in M2M now are:

– Parts of the solutions, like plain vanilla 2G data subscriptions, are more or less commodities today. Other connectivity for M2M like PLC, Satellite, Wi-Fi, Rfid, NFC and PSTN are not commoditized and combinations of them are complex to deal with.

– Today it is too much effort to develop, integrate and support the M2M applications. Robust, efficient, large scale service delivery platforms are needed supporting standardized complete development stacks, different networks and numerous APIs.

Good news is that there is progress in these areas. Most mobile operators have or will deploy Service Enablement Services (SES) taking care of horizontal requirements on top of the connectivity. Module and equipment vendors, independent start-ups and others are working on similar often cloud based offerings and some of them support combinations of different connectivity technologies. Many standards development organizations have recognized the need for a common cost-efficient M2M service layer that can be embedded in different hardware and software to provide robust connectivity between terminals and the application servers. The ITU Focus Group on Machine-to-Machine Service Layer, initially focused on e-health, announced January 16 is a good example.

The best way to avoid another M2M flop is to ensure strong collaboration in establishing a rock solid common M2M service layer with standardized protocols and APIs and to always start working on real customer problems to avoid brilliant answers to questions we don’t know.


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