Whither Wither M2M

September 20, 2011

There has been some evidence of late that humans and Neanderthals may have interbred during the waning days of the Neanderthal’s existence. The research shows that late Neanderthals had some decidedly human gene sequences in their DNA. This got me thinking about the current state and the future of M2M. To understand this seemingly bizarre correlation it is useful to understand how I view the evolution of the M2M ‘species’. As shown in the accompanying diagram, M2M applications have been remarkably steady, albeit with a 4-5 year lag time, in their tracking of common communications technologies.

While many would not recognize dial up or “phone home” systems and VPNs as M2M, that is exactly what they are – early stages in the evolutionary cycle of what we call M2M today. The interesting part of this history is the Web 1.0 period that started right around 2000 – I know, I was there. During that era the M2M world was focused on using the current web technologies to build applications that focused on device/asset management. Because of the technology available at the time, they were limited in their capabilities – e.g. they used HTTP polling as a way to tunnel through firewalls, provided a one person to many devices view of the world, and because they were built as applications they were incredibly difficult to extend or integrate with the rest of the business. In essence, they mimicked the state of the web at that time – the very early days of e-commerce and non-static web pages. Fast forward 11 years and we see a different web today. Social, Interactive, platform based, real-time, user generated content, mobile, mashable – it is a very different world.

This brings us back to the Neanderthals. Until now, no one has stepped up in the M2M world with a thoroughly modern solution. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been companies positioning themselves as modern solutions. But in reality, these “M2M platforms” are nothing more than the old applications from the early 2000’s combined with a small amount of DNA (e.g. REST APIs, “cloud” deployment) from the modern world. Don’t be fooled by these evolutionary dead-ends. While they may have sufficed in 2002 they simply don’t cut it in today’s data driven business environment. A thoroughly modern, complete solution requires the ability to capture, store, and relate all applicable data and provide a collaborative environment that can use the collective intelligence of your organization to turn this data into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. This means not only data from remote devices, but data in your business systems, data in your documents, data in the heads of your people, and data from your partners. Traditional M2M systems simply don’t possess this capability.

So how can you tell if you are looking at a modern solution?  How can you tell if the solution is complete?  Whether you are making an initial commitment to M2M, or making a change in your current M2M strategy, you are looking at the same business reality: this is a major investment that will play out over 5 – 10 years.  You need to ask yourself several questions when evaluating solutions.

  • When was the solution first released? Adding a RESTful interface and deploying it in the cloud doesn’t change the underpinnings.
  • What is the history of its releases?  Was it an application suite that somehow morphed into a platform?
  • Does it look/feel modern?
  • Does it support real-time interaction?
  • Do you need separate tools to develop and deploy?
  • Is it social, searchable, mashable, and mobile?

Perhaps the most important question you need to ask is “Is it positioned as an M2M platform?” This may be the most telling question of all. If it is, then the vendor just doesn’t get it and they are offering an incomplete solution. They don’t understand that device/product connectivity is just a small piece of a much larger puzzle, that the device is NOT the focal point of the business. This Ptolemaic mentality flys in the face of business reality today. We live in a 3 dimensional world, a connected world, a world that requires a 3 dimensional approach to networking that includes people, systems, and the physical world, not just devices. But that’s the subject of a future post.