Here’s what he learned:
It was an excellent event, hosted by Harvey Nash and chaired by David Wood of Delta Wisdom.
We discussed many aspects around M2M, from the potential size of the market and compelling use cases, to obstacles to adoption and risks, what the next two years might look like and so on . . .
One key thing that I hadn’t previously thought about in detail, although it’s obvious when you do think about it is that M2M is not just about cellular applications. In-building solutions are probably connected by wire and, in that context, it must be remembered that the Utilities have been doing machine to machine for decades already with their SCADA systems. We tend to think of Smart-Metering as the obvious emerging M2M application for Utilities, but we’ve already been doing it for a very long time!
In terms of size of market, it really depends what you mean – total number of connected devices, number of monitored things (e.g. cars, houses, etc) because these could each contain dozens, even hundreds of devices all monitoring aspects of overall status. Think about a car, for instance, the brakes, tyre pressures, throttle, fluid levels, lights, etc., etc. all have monitoring devices that are talking back to a central brain within the vehicle which, in turn could be sending data in real-time to some central manufacturer’s database with real-time diagnostics. It could be linked to the GPS so that if you’re running low on fuel the GPS suggests the best options for filling up – preferred brand, cheapest, closest, etc.
One really critical aspect to come out of the meeting was the fact that there are no dominant players in the M2M space in terms of technologies, operating systems, software, standards, applications, hardware, communications, etc – this means small companies are on a relatively level playing field with the big boys. This represents both a threat and a huge opportunity because the market is immature enough and so incredibly diverse, in terms of the plethora of opportunities and applications, that everyone could make an impact in their chosen niche(s). But there is a need for these various organisations to collaborate closely if they want to make progress and to keep the value chain as short and simple as possible.
Another key consideration, which has not been addressed to date, is international roaming, if you have a car with one of these systems, how will it work when you go abroad and are using another cellular network? Who pays the bills? On the subject of costs and value, what will deliver a compelling enough case to make us want to use these systems and who will pick up the tab for it all? In eHealth, it could be a question of saving significant money through early intervention, meaning the business case works for the health provider and they pay. For cars, it will probably be the manufacturer who pays, but there is an interesting pay-as-you-use model for insurance, road-tax, etc. too.
Another point of note was getting to the stage where the complexity was hidden and you could buy the complete service without having to think about how it works. This speaks to some of the issues raised above, but if you want to offer a service, then the service must JUST WORK with no additional subscriptions, software downloads, or any other user intervention and again, this means an ecosystem of companies coming together to create a seamless and transparent value proposition that people or companies will buy because it delivers value.
In the case of smart-metering, this means it must work well for both the consumer and supplier because having real-time measurement must be something that has value for both parties – it helps me, as a homeowner to manage my consumption and bills, as well as helping my energy provider to give me a better service.
Lastly, many of these services create security and intrusion concerns – I don’t want my daily activities spied on and I don’t want to be hacked or defrauded either as an individual or as an organisation. The solutions are there to many of these issues, but can cottage companies confidently deliver robust solutions to market at a price point that represents value whilst taking care of our personal data? At what point does the potential loss of privacy get outweighed by the benefits?
In summary, I think we ended up with many unanswered and unanswerable questions, it was a bit like a Donald Rumsfeld speech –
There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.
My main conclusion is that the opportunity is vast and is basically only limited by imagination and the ability to create a compelling business case for that makes individuals or companies want it enough to pay for it. Some will be mass market and some will be highly specialised niche markets, but the opportunity for small companies to make a big dent and vast fortunes is probably as big today as it was when a small group of guys decided to build a search engine that is now a verb in daily use.