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M2M In The Enterprise: Still 'The First Inning'

Enterprises are interested in machine-to-machine data with CRM/ERP systems, but not yet ready to implement, survey says.

A new study from Axeda Corporation suggests that while corporations have a keen interest in integrating machine-to-machine (M2M) data with their enterprise business systems, most haven't done so thus far.

Axeda, a provider of cloud-based M2M software and services, surveyed 75 M2M industry leaders at its Axeda Connection 2012 conference in June. The respondents work into a variety of industries, including life sciences, healthcare, and technology. Two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents say they're either interested in, or planning to integrate, M2M data with their back-end systems. However, only 11% have done so thus far.

"We're not surprised it's that low. It's not that easy. A lot of the data coming off machines is very arcane. It's proprietary. There are no standards," said Bill Zujewski, Axeda executive vice president of product strategy and marketing, in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

[ For more on M2M, see Where M2M And Big Data Are Headed. ]

Zujewski believes we're "in the first inning" of a long-term transition where M2M data becomes integrated with enterprise business operations. "[It's the start of a] 20-year macro trend where everything's going to be connected," he said.

Three major enablers are contributing to the enterprise adoption of M2M technology, he added. These include lower prices for M2M devices, including sensors for the automotive, education, healthcare, and public utility industries, as well as increased availability of Wi-Fi. In addition, prices of cellular data plans are falling, and cloud computing is lowering the cost of IT infrastructure. "All of a sudden, it's becoming practical to build these machine-to-machine solutions," Zujewski said.

A number of recent studies point to a growth surge in the M2M market. Research firm Analysys Mason predicts M2M connections will grow to 2.1 billion by 2021, up from 100 million in 2011. Global mobile operator trade group GSMA says the number of mobile connected devices -- including cellphones and other consumer hardware, as well as industrial sensors -- will nearly double to 12 billion by 2020. And Axeda points to IDC Research and Ericsson estimates that show 3.5 billion M2M connections by 2014, 15 billion by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Axeda survey respondents say they share connected product (M2M) data with their research and development (e.g., engineering) teams. After that, the most common use for machine-generated information is operations (59%), followed by product marketing (43%) and sales (35%).

"We were a little surprised that operations wasn't almost tied with engineering," said Zujewski. A lot of companies use M2M data for remote service operations, such as preventative maintenance, he said. Sensors typically provide feedback when a connected device in the field is about to fail. An anomalous temperature reading, for instance, is often an early indicator that something is wrong. "Service usually does some kind of proactive maintenance before (the device) fails. Or they monitor it and let the customer know when it fails, and then they send new parts or fix it."

On the research and development side of things, M2M data can help detect design flaws and problems with the manufacturing process.

If products aren't connected, "the only way to get that data is via the call center," said Zujewski. "Customers are calling in with issues, and you're trying to collect data to see where you have design flaw quality problems."

Nearly 7 of 10 survey respondents plan to use M2M data to automate or enhance field service operations, and half plan to use the information to improve customer service. According to Zujewski, M2M connectivity can enhance customer relationships by enabling proactive service, or by making it easier to replenish products or consumables before they run out.

InformationWeek is conducting our annual Outlook Survey to explore how IT leaders are planning their priorities and budgets for 2013. The results of the survey will appear in an upcoming issue as well as in an in-depth report. Take our InformationWeek 2013 Outlook Survey now and enter to win one Samsung Series 5 Chromebook. Survey ends Nov. 19.

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