Enterprises are always looking to gain efficiencies in their business models and increase competitiveness. In every sector, businesses are searching for new revenue streams and increased agility while also trying reducing their overheads. Addressing compliance is also high on the corporate agenda due to the variety of financial, health and environmental regulations introduced in recent years (smart metering, E-call in the automotive industry, health equipment usage monitoring for reimbursement purposes, etc.).
Given these drivers, most M2M initiatives are actually being initiated by the business departments or by R&D, but not so frequently by IT. The IT department is usually pulled in to develop and integrate the application. Also, introducing new M2M applications brings about changes in the organization’s business processes that ripple through not only IT systems but also the established ways of operating the business.
Consequently, designing and implementing such projects require specific and broad program management competencies that go beyond the traditional in-house competencies of most organizations. Let me expand on this.
building blocks of an end-to-end, managed m2m application
When it comes to the technical expertise for developing the solution, M2M requires very diverse competencies: a typical M2M application encompasses several core elements, starting with a ‘’communication module’’ for capturing key events from remote devices, for example:
- status of a medical device e.g., a pacemaker, blood pressure monitor or heart rate monitor
- performance of an industrial machine
- geo-location of a truck or car
Second, a network – Wi-Fi, 4G, satellite or other – is needed to reliably transport the data generated by the remote devices.
Next, some type of business application is needed to manage, consolidate and present the captured data in a logical manner for user consumption and action. In most cases an off-the-shelf application isn’t sufficient for custom M2M deployments.
Lastly, service management is required to both monitor and ensure a coherent end-to-end service. Clearly, to manage such complex projects and systems, IT needs a comprehensive set of technical, integration annd managed services skills to ensure the appropriate and successful M2M service design, delivery and operation.
key considerations and best practices throughout the lifecycle of the project
From our experience of developing and operating M2M solutions for our customers, we have deducted a number of best practices which we recommend to systematically apply across M2M initiatives:
During the design phase of your project, it is very important to assess the business process impacts and estimate all related costs. We often see that service management elements, namely the end-user help desk, are either forgotten or underestimated. However the success of a new service highly depends upon the quality of the service desk, hence a critically important element for the business case.
Next, estimate the business benefits in terms of new revenues or avoided costs, then create the business case and ROI. Depending upon your project, you may already have a machine or device that you would like to enable with M2M. Or. you are possibly thinking of introducing a new product or service requiring a new device that needs to be designed. In either case, you would like to enable your device to communicate with your central application, and therefore you need to select and test the communication module that goes into the device. Last but not least, the device and module should be certified to make sure that it will communicate across all networks and operate in all countries where you plan to deploy your application.
In the next phase, during the development of the end-to-end application, the engineering and software development teams will have to work closely with a number of vendors or partners, such as hardware manufacturers, SIM makers, mobile operators, web application development companies and possibly cloud solutions providers to develop your business application and integrate it within your existing IT. According to Frank Gitt, Product Manager at Weinmann AG, his experience has shown that managing such a myriad of external providers quickly becomes a headache. Even worse, when problems arise later, it is very challenging to find the root cause and people in charge.
The solution is that you either built up the internal expertise -- which can be quite challenging given the skills shortage, as recently referenced by Gartner (registration may be required) -- or you may decide to outsource the design and development of your project to an integrator or managed services provider with the experience, tools and skills to manage the complexity on your behalf, allowing you to focus on your business instead of dealing with IT challenges.
In terms of service management, M2M projects tend to be simple to manage in the beginning because the projects generally start small, for example with a pilot, but gradually grow and can end up with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of devices spread all over the world. Therefore it is very important to have a very structured approach towards service management, implementing best practices such as ITIL and service management platforms.
What is your experience? Have you also found that implementing M2M applications is different from traditional IT projects?
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I'm the solutions marketing director for M2M, security & Green IT at Orange Business. I have more than 15 years of international experience in marketing and product development in the telecommunications and internet industries.