Column: Keep your nerve in the M2M comms minefield

Opinion

Column: Keep your nerve in the M2M comms minefield

As the man at the shop will have told you when you ordered your automated butler, M2M communications are going to be massive in the coming months.

IDC says M2M apps are a $16bn (£10.3bn) market. Gartner says it'll be $25bn by 2015 (presumably they compile these figures through feedback from millions of intelligent nodes embedded in the SIM cards of CIOs around the world).

Their popularity is based on the fact that an M2M application will do any job quicker and cheaper. Not only are these machines intelligent, they're good communicators and they work brilliantly. They're like Eastern European builders for the enterprise sector.

But could they turn out to be like the Polish builders my friend used, who turned out to be Ukrainians and heavy drinkers. In other words, M2M apps might be great initially but they could create legal and governance issues, not to mention the diminishing performance levels as consumption increases. At one stage, it seemed that the more money that was thrown at them, the more incoherent they became. And moody too.

This is an issue because many corporations could use M2M to bring efficiencies to their supply chain, cut costs and improve sales. In some shopping centres now, a camera feeds your image back to a computer, which processes the data about your dimensions and cross references these with a data base. Then some kind of intelligent system uses logic to make assumptions about you, such as "a man of these measurements must like pies". It then takes a decision which it sends to an image server and selects an appropriate advert. The next thing I know, the plasma screen I'm walking past suddenly flashed up an advert for Greggs. And I'm thinking, "What a coincidence. I could actually murder a pasty right now."

And the M2M system makes yet another sale.

All the big communications service providers (CSPs) are developing M2M services because now there's plenty of mobile broadband you can put a SIM card on any device and remotely control it. Telefonica, Sprint and Everything Everywhere (what an ominous name that is, given the Orwellian nature of M2M) are all developing massive services.

But the carriers involved in creating M2M need to be watched, warns Gartner. "The cost of maintaining multiple wireless networks while transforming processes to support new services limits their financial performance and investment flexibility," it warns.

I think they're trying to say that the mobile operators may overstretch themselves. The network builders will take on too may jobs and will be nowhere to be seen when your site is down. And the thing about M2M contracts is that being low margin affairs, they need to be long to be profitable. So you'll be locked into a contract with a builder who's taking 10 years. I know that feeling. It's good for nobody, except the lawyers.

Another potential problem is that management of too many partners could creates more vendor governance and management issues when it comes to meeting SLA commitments. Blimey, it's outsourcing all over again.

Beware any supplier with a penchant for creating complicated, strategic relationships. The complexity of these contracts inevitably creates governance and management aggravation. Yep, I know how that feels.

Look at the track record of the mobile operators or CSPs on dealing with their own network management. Any CSP with a record of internal fractious disagreements, funding and long-term commitment issues, backhaul and performance issues, management turnover, and a multitude of other technology deployment issues might be best avoided.

When there are millions of connected devices and processing volumes are so much bigger (with the burden on onboarding, certification, authentication and support), then the CSP's mettle will be tested.

If you don't choose carefully, your M2M contracts could end up in a legal miasma. Which will be great for lawyers. They're already building their own application, an automated lawyer, that litigates, has no human qualities and moves at the speed of a glacier... except when it's invoicing you.

This was first published in January 2012

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