When clients ask about the Internet of Things or machine-to-machine computing, you should be ready to discuss the possible benefits and risks of such projects. Here are points to consider about M2M.
Your client's CEO calls you up unexpectedly. She's been following the buzz around the advent of the Internet of Things, and she wants to know what that will mean for their future plans. How do you respond?
"Um, yeah. It's going to be, um, a pretty big deal."
Let's see if we can think of some more useful things to say, shall we? We'll begin with a more specific question: how will machine-to-machine (M2M) computing provide a business benefit? The answers to that question will depend on what business your client is in, but it will probably fall into one or more of the following broad categories:
- More efficient data gathering. Instead of having a human examine some component and report on its state, the component can monitor itself and report over a network. This saves money on employees — including hiring and training them. It saves time, because the data collection can occur much faster when only machines are doing the collecting. It can also thereby eliminate human error.
- Gathering new kinds or quantities of data. Automated sensors can collect data at all times and in volumes that are impractical for any process carried out by a human. This can populate the kinds of data sets affectionately known as Big Data, which in turn feeds analysis that can lead to a far greater knowledge of everything from customer trends to the probability of system failures.
- Eliminating location dependencies. Because sensors communicate over a network, the monitored components can reside virtually anywhere. Decisions about their location do not have to take physical access for monitoring into account. Thus, for example, a medical patient could be resting at home, benefiting from the same watchfulness that they'd receive in a hospital.
"That all sounds great!" says the CEO. "When can you deliver it?"
Hang on just a second — I think we should also take a look at some of the risks involved.
M2M is technologically immature. There aren't any packaged solutions for "doing M2M," so implementations are highly customized and employ a wide variety of networking protocols and data formats. Standardization has barely begun on those fronts. If you jump into M2M now, there's a good chance that you'll need to modify it in the future to conform to those standards. As with any "bleeding edge" technology, you'll spend a lot of time solving problems that are sure to be common across most implementations. Worse yet, you could miss addressing some of those problems correctly. In the case of security concerns, that could be devastating to your business. If you can wait for the technology to mature, then you won't have to pay the full price of developing it.
Of course, if your competitors are already taking advantage of M2M or are actively pursuing it, then you may have a compelling business reason to start an M2M project right away. Another candidate would be a small-scale application of M2M that provides a large payoff. Otherwise, I'd advise you to wait, watch, and think about where you could use this technology in the future.
"OK, fine," says the CEO. "But can you just give me a ballpark?"