The Internet of Things and M2M - Some Predictions for a Bubbly Next Few Years

Tony Rizzo Internet of ThingsIn my last blog post I focused on enterprise security. In particular I considered the issue of knowing (or more accurately, “not knowing”) where mobile security holes lurk within any given business. This led to a discussion I subsequently had with some folks about the “vastness” and real magnitude of these security holes.

This in turn caused a member of our little cohort to ask if the vast number of already mobile- and wirelessly-connected devices in both our business and personal worlds has already compromised our security beyond any true ability for us to ever plug all the possible security holes. Hmm…what do YOU think? Before answering this, consider that a new Gartner survey claims that “most” U.S. consumers have very little security concerns with BYOD – to which I had to tweet, “Oh what fools these mobile mortals be” (track me down on Twitter at @fastjazz).

As is now inevitable – from there our discussion turned to wearable technology and the likelihood that all of us will soon be entirely and always connected. And more likely than not, we will find ourselves connected in unknown ways to many unknown things around us. We won’t be connected merely to be connected however. We will be connected specifically to exchange and share data, which ultimately translates to big data and analytics.

It is a unique emerging world where we will all be intimately known both individually yet also collectively and universally as part of massive data sets. These data sets in turn will be mined for priceless business intelligence about us and how we are most likely to function as individuals within the larger worlds we inhabit. How much data? Well, Cisco estimates that by 2020 wearable technology alone will be generating 1.2 zettabytes (yes, zettabytes) of data. And that, as far as I am concerned, is too low an estimate!

Wearable tech, which today is all about individuals toying with insular personal gadgets, is already quickly evolving into the means by which businesses will more or less know – again through business intelligence and analytics – everything there is to know about our behaviors as we interact with the businesses around us. What we will wear, however, pales in size compared to the total collection of sensors and devices that will exist all around us.

Let’s turn again to Cisco. The company’s most recent Visual Networking Index (VNI) states that more than half a billion connected devices were added to the mix in 2013 alone. It further notes that by the end of 2014 the total number of connected devices will exceed the number of people on the planet. With these numbers in hand is there anything we can conclude for the immediate future, say out to the end of 2015 and maybe just a little beyond that?

So, A Few Humble Predictions

Yes, it is true that most of us tech analysts and writers post predictions later in the year, typically in those weeks after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. But some things just cannot wait – there is so much going on in the M2M – machine to machine – and Internet of Things (IoT) space that I’ve decided it’s time for the early bird special on predictions.

M2M is at a critical point in its existence, one that has clearly moved beyond quiet evolution – in fact I consider it a true transcendent moment in time for M2M. But it’s also more than this – let’s turn to part of a quote by John Milton (it’s always useful to apply 17th century quotes to 21st century technology): “…those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

Yes, that gets very close to what it means for M2M to be transcendent as far as I am concerned. It’s what makes M2M especially worthy of its other means of identification: The Internet of Things (IoT). That sounds quite Godlike and all-encompassing in its way…or transcendent. Redg Snodgrass, the CEO of Wearable World meanwhile has already extended it to the Internet of Wearable Things. There is truth in this. Then there are those who claim the Internet of Everything is already here, but I won’t go that far.

What’s the purpose of M2M? Its essential purpose today, as we quickly arrive at the midpoint of 2014, is to create simple but vast channels of immediate communications and real time data gathering that we all hope will enhance our everyday lives and work. This will be done with enormous collections of wireless sensors and embedded mobile devices that will see, listen, feel, measure, aggregate and report all manner of information 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Right…more or less non-stop.

Much of this will happen automagically and behind the scenes and won’t involve any human interactions what so ever. But in some cases these devices will overtly engage and interact with us as well – something that will grow over the next several years to become far more substantial than is the case today as the industry moves to gather data that was formerly difficult to collect and aggregate. This is the essence of M2M today as we move full speed ahead to the end of 2015.

To date the key challenge has been to establish reliable and inexpensive communications and connectivity between mostly wireless devices, and to get wireless data transported from widely dispersed edges, where M2M data is typically collected, back to central locations where that data can be monitored and acted upon.

M2M today already helps to automate numerous decisions and tasks: re-stock a soft drink machine or instantly diagnose a fault in or handle an alert from a machine for example. With the right software and the right collections of sensors we can also find the best routes for transportation based on cargo and type of travel vehicle, or more human related things such as being able to anticipate a heart attack or a possible stroke.

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Wearable (and eventually human-embedded) technology will, in great part, have a significant M2M component to it. Look for wearable tech to be a key driver of IoT from a personal – rather than a remote sensor – perspective.

Where We’re Headed

Tomorrow, and certainly by 2015, I anticipate an inevitable shift to what end users – from both the pure consumer and the enterprise side – want to do with IoT. During a conversation I had with Oliver Bussmann, formerly SAP’s Global CIO  and these days Group CIO at UBS, we got around to talking about the SAP in-memory database HANA and some of the driving forces behind its development. Bussmann noted a number of these forces, and chief among them were various SAP IoT-focused issues that include the need to:

1) Support business decisions with real time M2M data intelligence;

2) Secure and manage significant streams of M2M data;

3) Identify and create new applications for M2M;

4) Mine enormous amounts of data – big data, that’s right – to learn things we never knew before.

These forces strongly suggest where M2M revenue will come from for the players in the M2M space. The chart below demonstrates how M2M will move from being primarily about communications channels (where most current revenue comes from – at least for the communications service providers) to being far more encompassing, and clearly headed in the direction of business intelligence. Think of “business intelligence” is an umbrella term that encompasses intelligence across all avenues of human activity – from business to politics to healthcare to finance to retail and every “thing” in between.

In addition to the above, Bussmann sees at least three key verticals as the most immediately promising for delivering significant M2M/IoT applications that have large revenue streams attached to them:

1) Transport and logistics: Fleet management, driver monitoring, vehicle diagnostics, insurance reporting for multinational corporations, but also smaller enterprises;

2) Utilities: Smart metering and smart grid initiatives in electricity, but also gas and water;

3) Automotive: Infotainment, vehicle diagnostics, insurance reporting for private individuals.

Vehicle diagnostics and telematics are particularly interesting. Automobiles already have numerous sensors in place – this number will grow significantly and most sensors will become fully wireless.  In many cases these embedded sensors will not simply report information but will function to control numerous activities. What does this mean? It means that they are devices that rely on software embedded in firmware.

Vendors are already working in this space – Red Bend Software, the leading vendor in FOTA (firmware over the air) updating already works closely with numerous auto companies on this front. Imagine easily updating the firmware on these sensors wirelessly without ever having to access them – productivity and repair costs are key current examples of the benefits of IoT.

Healthcare is of particularly high interest to SAP (and many, many others), but Bussmann notes that healthcare ecosystem complexity remains a challenge to overcome. It will happen within healthcare but it will likely take longer to do so in an encompassing manner. Below is a chart that identifies the key M2M/IOT industries and how they stack up relative to each other in terms of which has the greatest potential for M2M delivery over the next several years.

M2M becomes transcendent – and truly morphs into IoT only as we transition from the current ability to collect data and respond to simple alerts to being able to analyze and factor out deep meaning from big data analytics, which has its own challenges to deal with but which is intimately related to the entire future of IoT.

SAP has also uncovered what it believes to be the most significant roadblocks to IoT success. These are shown in the chart below. Though the information in the chart focuses specifically on the communications service providers it reflects easily enough what all IoT players will encounter. My two cents is that security issues will grow exponentially from what the chart suggests as the IoT transition takes place and I can only hope that companies and consumers learn to care a great deal more about it than Gartner’s survey we noted earlier claims.

I am not convinced however that “roadblock or barrier” quite gets at it. In truth the issues shown above aren’t so much barriers as they are basic business issues that need to be resolved over the next several years in order to keep IoT moving at a transcendent pace. These are all issues – think of them as a collection of markers of IoT predictions for the next several years – that will be overcome. There isn’t anything listed in the chart that is in fact particularly insurmountable.

Finally, as the issues of data transport and analysis fall into place, the last thing that needs to be solved is the need to quickly build out IoT applications. Companies such as ThingWorx (which was recently acquired by PTC) are already delivering crucial M2M/IoT app development platforms, and these will play a vital role in speeding up IoT adoption.

I am indeed in a most transcendent state of mind on IoT as we head into 2015. There are numerous technology challenges ahead but these challenges are nothing compared to the vast IoT-driven business opportunities ahead of us. Eventually we will arrive at the Internet of Everything (IoE).

With any kind of luck mobile security will have kept pace as well – but on this I am far less transcendent-feeling.

About Tony Rizzo

Tony Rizzo joins Blue Hill Research following a 20 month stint heading up TMC's enterprise mobility and wearable technology coverage. Prior to TMC Tony spent several years within the mobile vendor community. Before his journey into the vendor community Tony spent five years as the Director of Mobile Research for research analyst firm The 451 Group, covering all aspects of enterprise mobility. There he lived through both the early and later stages of both consumer and enterprise mobility and the first stages of the BYOD enterprise mobility consumerization phenomenon following the release of the original iPhone. Tony has served as the Editor in Chief of Mobile Enterprise, Internet World, as the Editorial Director of an Ernst & Young Financial Services Web Advisory project, as the Editor in Chief of NetGuide (the first Internet magazine), as a founding editor and Editor of Network Computing Magazine, and as the founding Technical Editor of Microsoft Systems Journal. Prior to moving into tech journalism, research and analysis, Tony served as the Assistant Director for Information Technology at New York University's School of Continuing and Business Education, delivering extensive computer technology training programs.
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