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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M2M doping

May 27, 2013

freeimage-3771421-webMany of us are convinced that M2M, Internet of Things or whatever we want to call it, will happen big ways and will bring massive change to most industries. The part of it easiest to measure is things connected using a mobile subscription and it grows with some 30% per annum. Good growth but from small numbers. Since standard mobile subscriptions sometimes are used to connect things it’s hard to say exactly how many mobile M2M connections we have but it should be close to 150M. And an absolute majority of these are 2G – probably still around 90%.

150M subscriptions is a lot and annual growth 30% normally sends sales directors on President Club trips to Hawaii. But there are a two issues I would like bring attention to.

A big part of the subscriptions comes from connected meters. Connected meters are great and enables smart metering, smart grids, new services, etc. But most of the meters are connected due to political decisions and not business decisions. I called the combination of regulation and public stimulation packages for “M2M doping” at a speech at M2M+ in Milan earlier in May which triggered an interesting discussion. Personally I  believe the political push for smart meters around the world is very good for the society and obviously for the M2M industry too. My point is that people in the M2M industry must remember that a big chunk of M2M business so far comes from artificial promotion and not genuine market demand. I believe meters would have become smart also without the doping but it would have taken much longer time. Let’s not fool ourselves!

The next wave of doping is eCall and similar public initiatives. The idea to save lives and minimize injuries due to car accidents by sending an SMS with position when the airbag explodes is over ten years old. Me and my colleagues at BrainHeart Capital invested in Wireless Car at the time together with Volvo, Telia and others, and OnStar was developed in parallel by GM and others in the US. It looked very promising until the owners of the connected cars with the airbag service had to start pay for the service themselves. Very few did and Wireless Car and OnStar, both still live and kicking, had to go after adjacent business opportunities. I’m not saying it’s wrong now when politicians are pushing this to the market, I just want to remind everyone in our industry that this is “doping” and not the result of genuine market forces. Interestingly enough the car industry is very active in Telematics again, with visions and plans often quite similar to the first wave of plans ten-fifteen years ago. But due to the technical approach chosen for eCall these plans might be separated from implementation of eCall. Transport is supposed to be the biggest segment for M2M 2013 and it will be interesting to see if the “built-in approach” will beat the “BYOD-approach” that won last time.

Mobile operators have taken the lead in promoting M2M. All operators want to exploit the expected growth of subscriptions but most if not all of them are uncertain of exactly which role to play. The fact that the M2M business still is a tiny fraction of the operator’s business together with the widespread uncertainty of which role to play could make operators become less aggressive and take on a more cautious “wait-and-see” approach. I definitely don’t vote in favor for such approach and suggest more concrete collaboration with selected partners to conquer industry by industry. Specialist service enablers are key to such efforts and in a perfect world operator device connectivity platforms should be delivered with an á la carte menu of specialist service enablers for different industries. But until that happens I have to continue introducing the members of Swedish M2M Service Enablers to mobile operators one by one.


Road traffic 2.0

August 17, 2012

A lot of people and animals are killed and injured in road traffic, road vehicles impact our environment significantly and road traffic is an important part of efficient transportation of people and goods. With the key promises of M2M being safety, sustainability and efficiency there is a perfect match between road traffic and M2M. A lot of research projects are on-going and part of the overall efforts towards the ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) vision.

The air traffic system has for many years been developed aiming towards zero accidents. This process has made air traffic very safe and I am told that most of the remaining accidents are caused by human beings. The use of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) is increasing mainly to avoid dull, dirty or dangerous flying missions. We have for example all heard about drone attacks (military planes without pilots) in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If we can fly helicopters and aircrafts without pilots we must be able to modernize the road traffic to make it safer, more friendly to nature and more efficient. And even if humans cause many or maybe most of the problems on the road we still don’t feel comfortable putting ourselves in the hands of technology on the roads or in the air. But this will change. The technical solutions are ahead of what we are willing to accept but carefully managed real life trials together with clear and big benefits will slowly make us humans agree to start using new solutions.

There are many advanced research projects in road traffic continuously pushing the frontier forward. Earlier this summer Volvo successfully led a road train consisting of a Volvo XC60, a Volvo V60 and a Volvo S60 behind a truck on a 200 km journey through Spain as part of SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for Environment). The cars outfitted with cameras, radars and laser sensors were six meters apart and drove safely 85 km/h without any driver interference. The vehicles in the test have covered some 10.000 km on test circuits before the trial. Beyond improved safety and sustainability road trains would allow us drivers to put a professional driver in command for a while, take a bite, check our mail and take a nap before taking control of the car again. Sounds great!Another interesting project is Google Driverless Cars. In May 2012 the first license for a self-driven car was issued in Nevada: a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driver-less technology. The team just announced that they have completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles accident-free, typically have about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and are starting to test them with single drivers instead of in pairs.

ITS World Congress 2012 in Vienna October 22-26 is an interesting event for anyone interested in where road traffic is going. I’ll be there!


eCall – life saver or business enabler?

July 3, 2012

The European Parliament just adopted a resolution where they call on the European Commission and Member States to make sure eCall is installed in every new vehicle by 2015. The Parliament consider this resolution a major step towards the roll-out of eCall in Europe that will have a significant impact on citizens’ safety.

This is certainly a good intention and with 35-40.000 Europeans killed and over a million injured in road accidents per year something needs to be done. But it is not obvious that eCall will make a big difference in that regard. Some countries don’t have national response centers which will make implementation more difficult and similar services from car manufacturers haven’t really become commercially popular. I guess the road towards less road traffic accidents starts with better drivers, better cars and better roads but I obviously hope eCall will save a lot of lives.

But connecting all new cars in a similar fashion could potentially make a difference in other ways. If some data would be made more openly available we could see a lot of new innovative services made available to drivers, owners, insurance companies and government agencies. Imagine apps like the Volvo App managing the parking heater etc becoming available for all cars, maintenance data becoming available to third party service companies, real time position data available to ITS systems, etc. And if some of these services really would take off the vehicle M2M retrofit market would be huge. We all know it by now: data is the gold of M2M.


M2M in cars

January 23, 2012

The car industry was early adopter of M2M solutions. Wireless systems where the car called for assistance in case of an accident was introduced early on. Two major early initiatives where OnStar formed by GM together with EDS and Hughes already 1995 and Wireless Car started 1999 by Volvo, Telia and Ericsson. GM started to use an analog OnStar solution in Cadillac DeVille, Seville and Eldorado models from fall 1996 which created a lot of discussions and interest in both the car and telecom industries. The idea of connected cars was and still is a great idea and the connections would be used for a lot of great things. Initial reports talked about the rapidly increasing number of cars equipped with the service and entrepreneurs, car manufacturers and investors (including me) invested in this promising idea. But after a while, when car owners were supposed to pay for the service which typically was delivered for free at purchase, usage dropped significantly. Exciting visions surfaced and most was based on a 3G broadband connection to the car to download music and movies to the in-car entertainment systems, maps to the in-car navigation systems, etc. We do actually enjoy music, video and navigation in cars today but most often with our own devices brought to the car and the car manufacturers more focused on connectivity for these devices than in-car systems. It’s actually quite similar to the BYOD (bring your own device) development we see in enterprises today.

It has taken the industry 10-15 years to come up with cost efficient and attractive solutions for connected cars and today OnStar is a subsidiary of GM and Wireless Car is owned by the Volvo Group reporting into Volvo IT. OnStar claims more than 6M subscribers now and their primary network partners are Verizon (US), Bell Mobility (Canada) and China Telecom. They offer a range of services including emergency, vehicle diagnostics, directions and stolen vehicle tracking. Their plans are typically between 20 and 30 US$/m. Wireless Car of today describes themselves as an automotive telematics service provider (TSP) providing manufacturers of cars and commercial vehicles with customized telematics services to end customers world-wide. Among their reference customers are Volvo Cars, Volvo Trucks, Volvo Construction Equipment and BMW.

Looking at these two M2M-in-cars pioneers is interesting: they are both in business, they are integrated in GM and Volvo Group presumably for strategic reasons and they have both tried different technical solutions, business models and focus areas. But even though they started at more or less the same place, they ended up as quite different businesses. While Wireless Car is more of a generic telematics provider world-wide, OnStar remain focused on the cars with a quite rich and innovative portfolio (I love the stolen vehicle slow down feature) in targeted geographies.

Connecting vehicles to the Internet is required to address a whole range of issues including community wide ones like sustainability, safety and security as well as issues for owners and drivers of vehicles like cost of ownership, efficiency and convenience. The commercial vehicles are in most cases ahead of cars when it comes to being connected because of a combination of legislation and business benefits. The consumer fleet is not really connected yet due to a combination of difficulties to see good affordable deals and availability of good alternatives for some of the needs like music and navigation. But I think this is changing now since the solutions are becoming affordable, innovative use of the connectivity together with apps on smartphones and pads gives users very concrete advantages (i.e. turn on my heater) and last but not least government policymakers push for connected cars. The eCall project in EU for example aims at having a fully functional road assistance service in place across all EU countries by 2015 and connecting the cars is of course a requirement. The emergency data is automatically sent from the vehicle to a local emergency center and the aim is faster response to minimize death and injuries of people involved. And this is serious: according to CARE (EU road accidents database) some 35.000 people die and 1,5 million are injured in road accidents per annum in Europe (the leading cause of death in EU for people under 50 years old) to be compared with some 1.500 deaths in rail accidents and some 50 on an average in air accidents.

The transport industry is my personal favorite M2M market since it is huge and complex, the three M2M promises (efficiency, sustainability, safety/security) are all very relevant, the challenges are humongous and we have a common vision and framework in place with ITS.


The user is king in M2M too

December 7, 2011
Users are typically more interested in what things and services do or deliver than how they work. They want to get the work done. Still most products and services are too cumbersome to install and use and even if they help solve important problems people are reluctant to buy and use them. Coming from IBM to Apple at the time for the Mac made me see the difference between function centric and user centric development approaches.When there is a reasonable choice, users always chose the products they like. Some 3,5 billion people had a mobile phone when the iPhone was launched June 29 2007. It brought a completely new user experience to the market and despite many technical limitations and a high price it rapidly and fundamentally changed the mobile industry. Operators were chocked and Nokia lost. There has always been application developments for mobile phones but by enabling any and all developers to develop easy to install and use apps for millions of iPhone users and efficiently distribute and maintain them, enormous forces were released. All of a sudden a completely new way of solving small to big problems was at hand and a massive amount of apps were made available. Like when Internet took off many said “there is mainly useless garbage around”. Development started from the users. The users downloaded some 30B apps 2011 and the revenues are expected to be some 15B$ (Gartner). The users are kings.

The relevance of this for M2M is that whenever users will be involved, they must be able to use the device or devices of their choice to interact with the service. And the usability of the service needs to be in pair with what they are used to already. There will continue to be several terminal platforms and we have to support them all even if it is hard. Up until now most employers had standardized terminals but also that is changing rapidly. BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – is spreading like wildfire promoted by Cisco and others. In essence we can chose between developing apps for the different platforms, using HTML5 or using cross platform tools like MoSync, PhoneGap and Appcelerator. These choices are critical since the success of an M2M service depends on how they interact with their users.

Volvo cars released an iPhone and Android app in June 2011 which use their On Call cellular service to allow users to lock the car, find their car, look at the dashboard, start the parking heater and other useful things. I’m told the app is a roaring success and if so I believe the reason is that Volvo car owners immediately understand which problems it solves for them, how it works, they can use their device of choice and it works like anything else on that device. The entire On Call technology, system and networks are invisible to them. It just works. That is a good example of how I believe M2M solutions should interact with their users.


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