Deploying an M2M Solution

Submitted by Larry Bellehumeur on 

Through this blog, and my day to day work, I do get a lot of calls and emails from people at various organizations who have been tasked to sell different M2M solutions.  This ranges from Cellular network salespeople, to salespeople from dealers of cell carriers to hardware manufacturers and to software/integration companies.  While many people understand the basics components of a solution, there is a lot of worry about how to put it all together, how to position it to a customer and how to know about a customer's business enough to even know if they are a good candidate for it.

This is the first portion of a tutorial series on how to sell M2M solutions....

Phase 1 - "I don't even know where to look for a good candidate"

Phase 2 - "Ok, they seem interested...how do I position this solution to them?  What should I know about their business to properly position the solution?"

Phase 3 - "Ok, they are interested and agree that it will help their business.  How do I go about selecting the perfect hardware/software/solution management package?"

Phase 4 - "They agree with the solution and want to do a field trial to prove that it works"

Phase 5 - "The trial went well, and we received a purchase order.....how do we deploy this effectively and quickly?"

Phase 6 - "The deployment went well....how do I manage this customer, post-deployment?"

First off....congratulations, you got the order!  But, the work is very far from done.  A successful deployment will lead to many things, including:  possible expansion of the solution (as the company grows, or to other parts of the business), increased credibility in that vertical market, the ability to duplicate the sale to other entities, and the ability to improve your sales by using this sale as a great case study.  So, what are some of the things to look for in the deployment?

General deployment thoughts:

1) Get all of the players on the same page  Who needs to be involved in the deployment?  Well, while each company is different, I would think that a good starting list is:  IT (to integrate into any key systems and to be able to support this solution), Finance (not only to pay the bills, but also to ensure that all transactions are secure and money flows properly), Operations, Customer Service, Field Service, Executive and Sales (yes, Sales needs to be involved, as any back-end disruption may affect their ability to service their customers). Since not all companies have all of these departments, it may actually be simpler...

2) Minimize the impact  Any significant new solution (from a new CRM tool to billing system to M2M solutions) can temporarily disrupt the company.  Orders may have to be entered on two platforms for a while, training will have to be done, people will make errors on new systems.....and many more problems can happen.  You want to focus on first getting buy in from all of the key parties (new solution implementation can be tough, doing it while "fighting" people only makes it tougher).  Next, focus on what ways things can be done to minimize the impact to their customers (pre-warnings about possible late shipments/temporary closures, with the cavaet of we are doing this "to improve our ability to serve you" is one way to do it).  You also want to ensure that you do as much pre-testing that can be done (testing of modems to ensure cellular connectivity in the lab, ensuring that systems can interact before deployment, site surveys to ensure cellular coverage....stuff like that).

3) Plan for the worst, now and in the future  One of the most common Do it yourself errors in home improvement is not planning well.....don't plan enough time, don't have any spare parts for vital items, don't plan on how things may be used, and much more.  The exact same rule can apply to M2M.  Have you planned to ensure that the system is reliable enough (and has enough redundancy) to meet today's needs, and in the future?  Have you thought about the technical level of who may use the product, does the product have enough battery life to meet their needs and can the system support the company's growth plans?  If you have done these things ahead of time, you should be able to streamline deployments.

4) Setting expectations properly  There is always a balance between doing this quickly/cheaply and doing things right.  In today's economy, cutting costs can make the difference between staying in business and closing the doors.  You do need to ensure that you set standards that allow for a safe deployment and for a reliable solution in the future.  Examples include having a high threshold for minimal signal strength at a site (to allow for fluctuations in cellular coverage, you often have to use "more" antenna than you thought), allows for enough time to perform the installations properly (the cost of downtime/visiting a site just once can often be several times more expensive than a professional installation) and setting a proper expectation for ROI on a solution.

5) Avoid scope creep  While some things inevitably need to be changed after deployment (you underestimated how long a cable needed to be, you didn't realize that you had to put a cover on a modem due to exposure to the elements, stuff like that), you really want to avoid expanding the project beyond your agreed to plan.  Scope creep means that you are changing the plan, and this costs valuable time and money.  If you made an error and it needs to have a big change made to the plan, you are better off taking time to make the proper changes correctly (and finding out how it may change the costing of the project).

Specifically for M2M:

Signal strength Since cellular networks are "living things that change all the time", signal strength can vary based on the time of the day and based on patterns in usage (i.e. they are many more users on the network on Halloween at dinner than on a standard school night, so you would see less signal strength at some locations).  Ensure that your site has sufficient coverage to handle spikes in network traffic.  I recommend to error on the side of caution and ensure that your signal strength exceeds -90dB during what you perceive to be a relatively heavy traffic time.  This allows you 15-20dB of signal loss, to balance out network traffic.  

- Network choice ...Do you have enough "network" at each site to allow you to operate your application.  If you are sending "bits and bytes", then a 2G location at some sites won't affect performance.  If you are deploying a video solution and all that you can get at a site is 2G coverage, have you accounted for that (bigger buffers, no real-time video, use of only still shots, etc?) You also want to watch for latency, as some applications (such as some security ones) can be inflexible to the higher latency offered by 2G networks.

Certifications  Does the solution that you deploy require any certifications?  This may be Industry related (such as Oil and Gas's requirement for C1D2), it may be government related (FCC/Industry Canada) or it may be company required (to pass their security audits, as an example).  You need to get these done well in advance.

There are many more things that can come up during the deployment of a solution.  Experience does count.....let Novotech know how we can help!