When I first starting writing my blog posts, I promised myself that I would not just write "warm and fuzzy" things about the world of M2M.  As a new technology/industry, M2M is not without its issues.  In the past, I have looked at the topic of how many feel M2M will be a negative introduction for many companies (as it will reduce jobs....not true, by the way) and I have spent a lot of time being critical of our industry (such as topics about our lack of standards, our lack of cohesiveness and our inability to form key partnerships).  So, it only makes sense that I would look at something quite topical and a tad controversial – could M2M solutions actually reduce our safety?

By now, everyone has heard about the tragedy of the Asiana airline crash in San Francisco that cost a few people their lives and injured many others.  In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek.com article, it suggests that one of the main causes of the crash was the pilot's inability to land the plane safely when some of the automated systems were not available.  It claims that the Korean trained pilots do not know how (or feel comfortable) to land without automated tools.

This started me to thinking....if professionals that are trained as thoroughly as pilots can become too reliant on key systems (putting us all in danger) to the point that they could not do things "manually", could M2M solutions cause similar concerns in other areas of life?  At first, my first thought was no....but, when you start to think about it, it may actually be a concern...

Concern 1 - Elimination of thorough inspections

M2M solutions offer the ability to gather information from sources that aren't traditionally used to gather information.  Whether it is a piece of machinery that now has remote connectivity for the first time or a brand-new end-to-end sensor based solution to monitor environments, M2M solutions allow for information to be retrieved better than ever before.  Most companies will use this information to better inform their workers – both workers that work at the headquarters (such as customer service and Operations) and remote workers (such as sales and repair staff).  There is a concern that some companies will replace some inspections with the information gathered by M2M.  While the idea of an M2M solution is to provide more information than ever before, even the best M2M solution cannot replace the 5 senses of a skilled professional.  In areas such as pipelines, health care and utilities, an experienced professional can often spot problems that may not be detected by an M2M solution, usually as they are able to incorporate readable values (such as fluid/pressure levels) with non-readable information such as a patient's attitude and "that pipe sounds different than normal" type of logic.  If companies try to cut costs by making such a replacement, this would unnecessarily put people at risk.

Concern 2 - Professionals losing their "dogfighting skills"

As someone who was in high school when the movie "Top Gun" came out, I know it all too well (just ask my wife who laughs that I can recite most of the lines before the actor speaks).  One of my favourite scenes is when Tom Skeritt's character (call sign - Viper) describes why the Top Gun academy was created....namely that the pilots had become too reliant on technology and had lost their "dog-fighting skills".  As evidenced by the tragedy in San Francisco, it appears that not only military pilots can lose their "dog-fighting" skills.  Like the automated systems in an airplane, M2M solutions (along with automation solutions) can help to replace many basic tasks.  After a while, many professionals may forget how to do things without the use of an automation solution.

This trend is happening more often, and not just with M2M...I mean, when is the last time that you did long division on paper?  We need to ensure that remote workers (especially those whose systems are critical) don't lose their dog-fighting skills because of M2M. 

This ties into my next concern....

Concern 3 - No "Human" backup plans

For the most part, cellular/satellite based M2M solutions have proven to be very reliable.  They are involved in controlling most energy pipelines, most traffic lights and many utility meters.  However, like any other technology, they can fail.  For many important services, there is always HAS to be a manual way to do things.....if an automated blood pressure machines do not work, health care professionals can still use a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff (according to my Mom, the nurse, this is still the only way!) 

Designers of M2M solutions still need to ensure that there is a "manual" way to gather information or to affect change (such as shutting off valves).  This may be through the use of HMI (video terminals that provide readings for devices) so that information can be read locally....it may be diagnostic ports that can be read using legacy equipment if a device cannot report over the air....or it may be the remote professional being able to still use legacy tools that were used prior to the M2M solution.  Regardless, attention has to be paid to giving people back up tools (and the ability to still use them) after an M2M solution is deployed.  As well, such as in the case of the pilots from Asiana, they also need to practice these skills on a regular basis. 

FYI - As a footnote, I tried to do long-division on paper....wow, I think I would do badly in math without a calculator!  Try it sometime....

Bottom Line

The tragedy in San Francisco is one that could have (and should have) been avoided.  M2M solutions need to be implemented intelligently.  M2M solutions should be designed to be a tool to give more information to a business, to automate some activities and to help workers become more productive.  They should not be used to replace the valuable skills of your experienced professionals, but rather as a way to make them better.....to finish off with a Top Gun quote: “You are here because you are the best, we will make you better!" 

That should be the goal of any M2M solution... to make workers better, not to eliminate them.

As always, let Novotech know how we can help with your M2M needs, such as antenna selection.  You can view our line cards, browse our site or each out to me directly ....larry(@)novotech.com.  You can also follow us on Twitter (@NovotechM2M) and you can follow me personally as well (@LBNovotechM2M).