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Sensor networks or machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies represent a tremendous opportunity for manufacturing firms. The technology may be integral to launching innovative "smart services" such as remote maintenance, optimized machine performance, or managed inventory and replenishment. Companies are building business cases based on creating differentiation for their products and the associated increased revenue that comes from smart services. However, a number of obstacles exist that have tempered adoption:
1. A lack of consistent product sets. No two M2M projects are the same, which limits the amount of shared learning necessary for widespread adoption.
2. Incomplete standards. Device, data, and network standards are immature or non-existent. This slows implementation times, raises costs, and puts the ability to sustain benefits at risk.
3. Poor support. Largely due the fragmented nature of projects and standards discussed above, the ability of the M2M vendor community to support implementations, both pre and post go live, will not scale.
These challenges are non trivial, but certainly not insurmountable. The M2M vendor community, lighthouse customers, and industry associations must come together to address the issues. Manufacturing Insights sees this as almost the mirror image of another emerging technology, RFID. RFID had substantial market mandates (Wal-Mart, DoD, others), an effective standards body, and unprecedented media coverage. Despite this, a lack of a well understood business case for those compelled to invest to support the mandates muted overall adoption although that market has apparently found its cadence as it shed its hype.
M2M, on the other hand, has a well understood business case based on incremental revenue not cost. There will be no mandate, other than underlying market forces, that dictates adoption and the hype has not been nearly as loud. A smattering of device and network standards exists, but there is not enough to coalesce the market. Manufacturing Insights calls on the M2M vendor community to bring together the necessary technical standards with implementation patterns, data models, and processes that help guide the early adopters in getting to success faster. An independent third party organization, perhaps the SAE or similar product engineering group, should sponsor the activity and provide governance. If this is in place, projects will become more repeatable, operation more consistent, and support more scalable. As M2M emerges from a technology realm into a strategic business imperative, M2M adopters will have to be as creative in evolving the corresponding business models, infrastructures, and management platforms as they have been with their highly engineered products and services. Within the M2M space there are firms who have identified these voids, and are vectoring development strategies accordingly.
Manufacturing Insights believes this trend portent positively for the greater good and future direction of the overall space. The evolution of M2M support models and infrastructure must be aggressively pursued for the promises of M2M technology to be fully realized. M2M vendors must demonstrate scalability beyond controlled pilot; furthermore, M2M adopters (manufacturers) must insist on this, as their production levels, support structures and clients will demand nothing less.
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