The machines organisations use today have a lot to say. And if they were plugged into the enterprise in a way that businesses could understand, the possibilities would be endless.
Fortunately, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology is now making this a reality. M2M technology allows organisations to gather data from the edge of the enterprise and apply it in ways that impact the business.
A major benefit of M2M technology is operational visibility. Operational visibility allows organisations to integrate their demand and supply chains. For example, a customer service organisation can respond to auto-generated and auto–scheduled service tickets when a machine goes down or gets close to failure, rather than waiting for a human to recognise an issue and create an alert.
This allows an enterprise to improve on-time performance metrics and enhance customer service. Organisations typically manage their businesses using trusted analytical tools like ERP systems, CRM solutions, marketing software, etc.
Now companies can manage their equipment in the same way.
This white paper will provide an overview of how organisations can apply connectivity data across the enterprise to impact the business. It will define the term operational visibility and discuss its impact on an organisation.
It will also discuss the integration of the demand and supply chains and include application examples that demonstrate the value of integrating equipment data throughout the enterprise.
M2M technology enablers
Sensor, gateway, battery, cloud and cellular network technology are key enablers of M2M solutions. All have experienced dramatic advancements in recent years. For example, 10 years ago, sensors were the size of a hockey puck and cost as much as £200. Sensors were also connected via landline, if at all, and had limited battery life.
Today, sensors are generally the size of a nickel, wireless, offer greater functionality and cost a tenth of their previous price. Today's gateways also optimise battery life because they allow users to transmit data only when necessary – not continuously. Similarly, batteries have become smaller and offer longer life in more challenging environmental conditions such as colder, warmer and moisture-rich environments.
Cellular technology has also improved and become more economical. Because organisations are optimising business applications, cellular network cost is decreasing. Companies are transmitting only necessary equipment data, allowing companies to connect equipment cost effectively that was previously uneconomical to connect.
Finally, cloud computing platforms have enabled greater adoption of M2M technologies. Cloud solutions have become more robust, more scalable and less expensive. Cloud environments like the iDigi Device Cloud provide the infrastructure required to access, control, configure and upgrade unlimited devices securely over the Internet.
The solutions offer greater data storage and data analysis capabilities, allowing organisations to lessen the complexity and maximise the return on investment (ROI) of their M2M technology deployments.
Migrating from data production to "Data Production, Integration and Application"
Traditionally, organisations look at M2M as a way to produce data – using sensors and gateways attached to equipment to produce data for consumption. However, as described above, the evolution of technology (sensors, devices, clouds and networks in particular) has allowed data to be produced more economically over time. Therefore, the data available to the enterprise has increased dramatically. However, organisations are struggling to leverage the "big data" in a way that is valuable to the enterprise.
Organisations now have a surplus of data to impact more functions within the enterprise. As more data is produced, enterprises obtain greater value by "applying" the data across the organisation. For example, consider a coffee chain that wanted to track coffee quality at its retail locations.
To do so, the company attached sensors to its coffee pots to record brew cycles. This allowed the coffee chain to understand when the coffee was being brewed, but not how long it was being held. The coffee chain therefore integrated the point of sale data into the equation.
If a coffee shop brews coffee at 10am and is still selling coffee at 11am with no additional brew cycles, the coffee chain knows that the store is compromising coffee quality. This is a great example of how forward-thinking companies are producing equipment data and integrating it successfully to provide operations visibility.
Operational visibility provides visibility of equipment and assets at remote locations that would not normally be visible without a physical presence. For example, it is important for a manufacturer to understand how many widgets are coming off an assembly line, how much power is being consumed, etc.
In a traditional operation, a worker would need to be present to count the widgets coming off the assembly line and document energy consumption. With an M2M solution, this can be done remotely, and therefore more efficiently and profitably.
Driving operational visibility of valuable remote equipment can lead to greater machine uptime, improved warranty management, just-in-time service and parts management and more.
Integrating the demand and supply chains
A good M2M strategy will result in tightly integrated demand and supply chains. Demand will directly communicate with supply via M2M communications – dramatically enhancing operational efficiency. Consider a remote storage tank that requires chemical for a manufacturing process.
When the tank becomes depleted (or nearly depleted), a sensor will acknowledge this and send an order to the order management system. That order is then automatically routed to the appropriate vendors for fulfillment. This would occur in a matter of seconds.
Another good example is of an MRI machine that is continuously feeding data into the organisation. If helium levels run low, the machine sends a message directly to the Salesforce Service cloud.
The message is then analysed for severity and compared to handling rules before a case is created. A chatter post is written and an alert routed to all relevant parties. Chatter lets IT staff and the mobile field services team know about the alert.
With this knowledge, the team has all of the information necessary to address the concern and close the case quickly, which leads to improved up-time performance metrics and enhanced customer satisfaction.
Considering the value of an M2M project, forward-looking organisations are embracing M2M technology to create a competitive advantage. However, even the most modest M2M projects can be complex for most organisations.
By improving operational visibility and integrating the demand and supply chains, organisations are achieving unprecedented levels of efficiency. Innovations in sensor, gateway, cloud and cellular network technology are enabling a whole new class of connected device.
These connected devices are transforming business and driving profit and ROI by applying machine data throughout the enterprise. In today's highly competitive marketplace where every company is looking for an edge, are you prepared to compete in the new connected world?
Joel Young is CTO and Senior Vice President of R&D for Digi International. He has more than 24 years experience in developing and managing data and voice communications. Digi International makes wireless Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications easy.
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