Dear Politicians….need to cut spending fast? M2M can help.

Submitted by Larry Bellehumeur on 

Is it just me or does it seem that every headline in the news talks about austerity and how governments around the world need to cut costs?  It puts governments in a difficult spot....how do you continue to offer critical services (many of which the need is growing with an aging population) while reducing the overall cost of delivery? One way that can help is through the use of M2M technology, as it makes workers more productive, allows end users to find out more information themselves and provides more information to reduce unwanted downtime.

Here are some examples:

Traffic congestion  For anyone that lives in a large urban center, traffic is often one of the major complaints.  It costs everyone, as we spend more in fuel and we have less time to work.  Cities are getting more "intelligent" when it comes to traffic, but could still do more.  The use of sensors (whether mobile or fixed) is starting to pick up in many parts of the world, to allow for more real-time data to be sent to drivers.  This allows to make better informed decisions as to the choice of route that they are taking.  This is especially vital for many key services that municipalities offer (transit, emergency response, road repair) where the service can be disrupted by traffic flow.  For these vehicles specifically, special sensors/triggers are being used to allow for a change in traffic light patterns to allow the better flow of these vehicles.

Health care  For some jurisdictions, this may not be fully a governmental responsibility, but we will list it here anyways.  The first thing that M2M can do is to improve the experience in the hospital.  M2M technology is becoming rapidly deployed in much of the key machinery used in the hospitals (such as MRI machines, key surgical equipment and x-ray tools).  Live, real-time data is sent from the devices to a hosted facility where real-time decisions can be made (such as required maintenance, possible issues with the machine and resets of the device can be done).  This greatly improves the uptime of these machines, as well as to lengthen the deployment life, saving money and imrpoving service.  

For the mobile/home health care market, M2M is being used to provide better service in the field, while reducing the need for visits to the ER.  One example is the use of bar-code scanners (equipped with cellular data capability) by remote home health care workers to enter in performed tasks in patient's homes (such as bathing, changing of bandages).  By using quick bar code scans (as opposed to handwriting which has to be manually re-entered), workers are able to greatly reduce the amount of clerical work required.  As well, the information is posted directly onto a secure web page, where concerned family members can confirm what care has been offered to their loved one.  Another emerging technology is Mobile video / mobile examinations, where doctors are able to perform routine check-ups for remote patients, reducing long-trips to the hospital and allowing people to stay in their homes longer.  Finally, M2M solutions are being rapidly deployed by concerned children to better monitor the activity/health of their older loved one by being able to view items such as prescription medication usage, blood pressure readings and panic alarms.  By keeping people in their homes (safer) for a longer period, governments are able to greatly reduce overall health care costs.

Remote monitoring of key equipment  Governments own billions of assets in the field, ranging from hydro poles to parking meters to pH sensors monitoring rivers.  Most of these devices are not currently communicating with any governmental system on a real-time basis, so it is often only when a visit by a worker happens that issues are noticed (or a complaint from a taxpayer).  M2M solutions allow for a real-time, 2-way communication with all devices, allowing for better decisions to be made, reduction in unwanted downtime and a better use of workers (as they may not have to go out to a site to "hit the reset button" when it can be done over the air).  While most people think of M2M as being related to the cellular industry, these devices can be commnunicated to using a variety of technologies (ranging from cellular to WiFi to ZigBee to landline to satellite)

Using wireless to improve/back-up key Internet connection  How many of us have spent hours in line at a government office, only to get to the front and find out that the "system is not working"?  While M2M cannot help with old government databases, it can help to provide assurances that key IP-based connections are backed up, ensuring a continuation of service.  As well, cellular data networks have now reached throughput speeds to allow them to replace legacy landlines (often at a small fraction of the costs).  They further offer the advantage of quick setup and flexibility of placement.  This is ideal for temporary offices, such as elections, security posts and disaster communications.

Need to see something remote?  Use Mobile Video  Mobile video is not that different from using traditional landlines to send/receive video feeds.....and that is the point!  By having real-time access to a high-speed network in the vast majority of the country, governments are able to better use video surveillance to reduce costs, prevent unnecessary visits, reduce theft, improve traffic flow and much more.

Use M2M to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gases at the same time  Energy control systems are starting to show that they can drastically help to reduce HVAC/Electricity costs by 10-15%, while not affecting the quality of service or occupant comfort of buildings.  They do this by optimizing the control of each of the units, meaning that they are able to do more with less.  Along the same lines, Fleet Management solutions are able to improve productivity of workers (more accurate dispatching = less driving and time in traffic) while reducing fuel/vehicle costs (reduced engine idling, better speed limit adherence and reduced unauthorized usage)

Reducing contractor bills  M2M solutions are being used today to better manage on-site contractors (such as repair/service teams).  By keeping a more accurate log of contractors, governments are better able to ensure that key work is being done (work that is being paid for) while reducing legal liabilities (proof that work such as clearing of snow from a walkway was done) and overall contractor bills.

As always, let me know if there is a certain topic that you wanted me to write about by emailing me: larry[@]novotech.com.  Novotech is your one-stop shop for M2M, so let us know how we can help!

Some of the lesser known benefits of using M2M for your business

Submitted by Larry Bellehumeur on 

While the number of M2M deployments is starting to accelerate, there have been many applications/uses that have been in place for years, if not decades. Applications such as Vehicle tracking and the monitoring of Oil wells are two examples of solutions that have become such commonplace that even people who are not employed in the M2M space are well aware of their benefits (such as reducing fuel, optimizing driving routes and in the case of oil wells, complying with government regulations and monitoring of a valuable asset). However, these applications (and ones like it) make up a very small part of the overall value that M2M deployments can bring to a company.

Here are a few of the benefits of M2M that many people may not have thought of:

Offering monitoring services to your customers It is common in the business world for companies to have one of their assets deployed remotely, and often on the premises of one of their customers. This may include large items like heavy machinery, kiosk type solutions such as banking/parking machines and various pieces of high end medical equipment. Since many of these devices are vital to a company's operation (or in the case of medical equipment, they have impacts on people's health), many customers are opting to have manufacturers/distributors monitor their "health" to optimize their usage. This is often a chargeable service, and one that customers are usually willing to pay to maintain a certain level of service. While offering break/fix services is not new, M2M allows for a level of pro-activeness that has never been possible before. Customers can have downtime virtually eliminated, often not even knowing that a service went down before it is repaired.

Optimization of remote repair/service crews For many trades, there is a shortage of skilled labour, despite some weakness in the economy. It may be that customers are keeping devices longer than expected (which creates more opportunity for repairs/downtime), a spike in sales in particular areas or a general reduction in new workers entering that trade. Whatever the reason, the shortage of skilled workers in some professions hurts company's bottom line (both the service company who is limiting their revenue potential, as well as the customer who is losing the ability to keep their machinery functioning). While an M2M solution can't instantly train workers, it offers the following:

1) Ability to perform simple resets over the air (reducing the frequency of visits by a serviceperson, allowing more work to be done by key resources)

2) Reduction in clerical work for each call (either through a Field Force Automation solution that simplifies data entry / clerical work, or by machines being able to report automatically what service work was done by a repairperson)

3) M2M solutions allow for the ability for maintenance to be better optimized (reflecting the true hours of operation), resulting in lower repairs.

4) Finally, vehicle tracking solutions allow for optimized routing, preventing unnecessary time spent staring at the windshield of the repair vehicle, instead of working at a customer location.

Better usage data I have to admit, this one is even somewhat new to me.....Many manufacturers are finding their margins cut due to overseas competition/slower economy, and they are trying to find ways to both optimize their products (to increase the value that they are offering their customers without reducing selling price) as well as to reduce unnecessary costs to bolster margins. M2M solutions allow manufacturers the following benefits:

1) Seeing how their products are ACTUALLY being used. Perhaps brake pads are not lasting as long as expected, or perhaps a manufacturer cannot figure out how their competitors are able to cut costs while improving build quality (by reducing unnecessary components).... Whatever the reason, manufacturers are starting to use M2M to get a better sense of the accuracy of their engineering assumptions that they used to design the product.

2) Determining possible trends/issues in products. In the past, it was often only through customer complaints that a manufacturer was able to see part/design flaws. Now with M2M, manufacturers can get real time information about the health of their product, allowing them to be more proactive in nature. This provides better customer service and can prevent large repair expenses / recalls.

3) Better input for future products. Most people in business have used (correctly, I may add) the old adage about listening to their customers. However, many customers don't speak up about issues/needs for future products, and this is dangerous for manufacturers. These are not flaws in the design, but rather unanticipated usage patterns or requirements, and without the right information, a company may miss the target with their next product launch. M2M solutions allow companies to see where the market is going.....do you need to use a bigger battery because people are often experiencing downtime recharging? .... Do truck owners often come close to / exceed the recommended weight on the truck (meaning that you may wish to raise capacity) or do none of them come anywhere near capacity (meaning that having such a large capacity is both adding unnecessary costs and perhaps putting your product at a cost disadvantage)?....Can you better time the intervals of your maintenance to reduce the amount of downtime for a piece of equipment, reducing the Cost of Ownership?

As always, let Novotech know how we can help you with any of your M2M needs!

Need to “back up” or “talk to” something?

Many people visualize M2M as being two machines (one being a complex server of some sort and the other being a basic device like a vending machine) communicating, sending bits of info back and forth.  While this is the more classical definition, it misses out on an important growth area for M2M, namely using wireless communications as a method of backing up a vital landline connection and to replace landlines in more traditional forms of communication.

How does it work?  Landline communication has proven to be very reliable for many applications, ranging from providing communications for offices to remote sites and to end devices such as backing machines.  For most customers, this communication is the benchmark of reliability and is ideal as the primary method of providing these communications.  However, landlines are not without their limitations.....they are not available everywhere, lines can get damaged and they are not ideal for mobile assets.  For situations where landline is available, wireless communications are used to provide a secondary/redundant method of transmitting information in case wireline is not available.  For situations where a landline is not practical/available, wireless is emerging as the best method of providing this communication (called Talk to something).

Situations for "back up something"  In this fast moving time that we live in, no one has the time/patience for network downtime.  While the traditional application for backing up landlines (Point of Sale, Public safety dispatch, internet providers) are still quite popular, virtually any company who has any Internet presence should utilize this application.  Vital applications include: backing up connections to/from email servers, backing up main lines to accept orders / inventory control systems and for Internet-based business using ecommerce.

Situations for "talk to" something  For these applications, using landline has always been the default choice, and for many apps, it is still the best.  However, using wireless as a landline replacement offers the following benefits:  Lower monthly cost, faster setup time, increased flexibility of placement of connections and the ability to provide consistent connections in mobile environments.  Common ways that it is being used in replacement of landline now include ATM machines, parking meters, well monitoring and smart metering.  It has become so common in some areas that traditional landlines are not even being installed by carriers.

As always, let Novotech know how we can help you with this or any M2M application!