Will Connected Cars Kill People?

M2M Applications

When I hear about “Connected Cars”, I go crazy.  To me, Connected Cars mean that robot guy in the cab in “Total Recall” (the original movie, not the cheesy remake with Colin Farrell, which is another rant entirely).  I believe that Arnold shot the unfortunate cabbie in the head.  At any rate, the simple truth is that our cars have been connected for years and for as long as I have been in the M2M space, there has been this idea that our cars, through IDS (Intelligent Driving Systems), would be able to do the driving for us.  Back in the day, they were going to rely on pegs put into the road to keep the car in its lane and at speed … what a quaint and frankly dangerous proposition!  The other day, I saw an Audi that advertised lane correction using camera-based technology.  My modestly priced car features total collision avoidance and beeps at me if someone is in my blind spot or if there is movement to my side if I am backing up. Heck, even my wife’s Honda Fit (a modestly priced compact car) has a camera that looks down the right side of the car when turning right.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the electronics in cars to make them safer is a good thing, probably a great thing and it’s to be applauded, but “Connected” cars? The car companies are practically encouraging you to drive distracted. 

Distracted driving kills, we all know that, but our penchant to be entertained is an even greater pull.  Who is to blame at this point? Someone on SnapChat or the car manufacturer who put all that wonderful stuff in an entertainment package that you selected as an option at the dealership?  Someone in our city was charged recently for watching a screen in their car as opposed to the road and was fined $240.00 this I guarantee is the tip of the iceberg.  It used to be, when I bought my first car, that my only distraction was playing my 8-Track too loud or trying to get close to the song I wanted to hear by … Or perhaps rescuing a tape cassette when the machine started to eat it. Today reaching for something in the car accounts for the least number of crashes at 6% of teen crashes Today, the unconnected cars that have a cell phone in them are just as likely to hurt us as they are help us. 

In a recent news report by AP columnist Judy Lowry 58 % of teen crashes were caused by distracted driving. I encourage everyone to have a look at the video, and read the article. It sobering.

I am all for being driven around … secretly I imagine having a chauffeur, I mean how cool would that be? It probably explains why I like to use taxis when I travel as opposed to rent a car.  Alas, the Board and Shareholders would never go for it, so I am forced to drive myself around and that’s really my point.  There is no advantage to having a Connected Car if you have to drive yourself. So, until we live in a future with the McQuades and Quattos, I really don’t see the point of being connected, except maybe if your car calls an ambulance for you when you are in an accident from reading your emails at the wheel. 


Our security is in our numbers

M2M - The Industry

I hear a lot of people tell me personally, and I read a lot about security and data as it relates to IOT or M2M. The articles and people say things like "our grid is in imminent danger of being hacked", "our hardware provides the maximum amount of security", and “the banks and credit card companies are spending billions on securing our financial data”.  I hear a lot about identity theft, but I don’t know a single person that this has happened to.  Why is it that something so pervasive in our society has escaped all of my colleagues and friends and yet Life-Lock makes it seem that one out of every two people have their identity hacked?

I am not one to fear monger, but the simple truth is that we are completely vulnerable on almost every aspect of our lives (when it comes to security breaches)... our financial records are an obvious target, but also our governmental records, our health records...the list goes on and on. I am here to tell you that the reason most of us are safe has nothing to do with hardware or software, but merely because of statistics.

I will explain.

Statistics, being what they are, tell us that the amount of data generated is simply too great to allow a statistically significant portion of any population to be targeted, much less affected.  We are like the "huddled masses", totally fearing the apocalypse of having our data stolen or our identity compromised when in reality we could probably be blissfully ignorant and uncaring about who sees our PIN number.

How, you might ask?

The reason there is no great worry about data security is that almost no one is interested in your or my data (despite our fears). On top of that, it is almost impossible to do the analytics or decipher anything from it anyways.  I would compare this to the Federal Government trying to find a single stock trade in an account of an individual in the past year. It does not work because the effort required to isolate the trade outweighs the value of the information. Similarly, we could eliminate all theft of data and totally secure every network in the world but the cost would be so great that it would outweigh the value of our time…never mind the cost of doing so.

Frankly, I am tired of all the talk about security, not because it’s not important, but rather because it is so overstated as to its occurrence and its benefit to everyone.  As I am fond of saying, there is an optimal amount of security in the world and we are at equilibrium. 

For a counterpoint on this topic, read this blog post by my fellow Novotech colleague, Larry Bellehumeur, where he talks about how important IoT security is becoming... https://novotech.com/learn/M2M-Blog 


Top 10 Tech Trends for 2015

M2M - The Industry

I know that I have been silent lately on my rants, but don’t think it’s because I’ve “turned over a new leaf" because I am still as angry as ever.

More to the point this industry, our space, is requiring a bigger level of commitment and energy. For many, this means we find ourselves without the luxury of time to write about, and indeed even contemplate, the changes to our marketplace. 

I have a lot to rant about, but most of my thoughts at this time of year relate to what is coming down the pipe. Those of you who read my rants know that I do these tongue-in-cheek and 2015 is no exception.

So please take these with a grain of salt and remember they contain a grain of truth...

In no particular order, here are the Top Ten Trends and Issues I see for 2015

1) Wearable technology will continue to be the dud that everyone thinks it is. Listen, I am all for baby clothes that monitor your children's vital signs, as long as the sensors don’t burn your baby. I also think talking into a watch is so ridiculous that it ranks right up there with checking your heart rate and steps on an iWatch. Are there a certain number of steps that you want to hit on any given day? Unless you have a heart condition there is no need for you to monitor your heart rate. 

2) Cisco will continue to add no value to M2M and IOT. They will however continue to spend gobs of money on advertising to make it appear that they are market movers.

3) Connected toasters, thermostats, alarms, and microwave ovens etc – aka the connected home – will continue to attract a lot of investment and feature incremental growth because hardly anyone wants a machine learning what temperature they want their house, let alone have it burn their toast for them. Seriously read 1984 by Orwell then watch the Gorn episode of Star Trek. People, this is not a time saver. It is Advertising and Marketing 101 for what I am calling Huge Data (that Big Data about stuff we do in our home). It’s the next best thing to having Google set up cameras in your house.

4) The industry will become more and more fragmented as a result of every public company on the NYSE and the NASDAQ having an IOT or M2M play. There will be less than ten companies that actually know what they are talking about which will lead to a bunch of mergers and acquisitions as the companies that said they had a play realize they don’t have any internal knowledge and are therefore forced to buy it.    

5) Our industry will be plagued by a shortage of qualified sales and technical people. Please visit www.novotech.com to submit your resume for any future ops. Conversely, there are too many administrative and executive applicants for almost no jobs. This means that consultant company ranks will continue to grow. 

6) TV will cease to exist in 2015. I am predicting that at least one of the major networks will go bankrupt, and I am leaning toward CBS because of its shows… particularly the Big Bang Theory. This will impact our industry because the pipes will be clogged at all of the carriers with their branded versions of Netflix. So for 2016 the major trend will be watching old shows, which when I was a kid, were called re-runs.

7) Security will become a huge issue. I predict that North Korea will find that if they can control all of the connected toasters in North America, they can also disrupt the morning routines of millions of Americans providing a slight annoyance to their day. Or they may go after a major movie studio and release tons of gossip and salaries…. On second thought no one would be interested in that so look for the toaster thing.

8) ISIS will come up with a machine to machine strategy, but will abandon it after they realize that you need electricity and infrastructure to make things connected in the real world. Oddly Russia will still try to sell a solution….but there will be a constant fear of being killed which will be a great aid in taking power yet a very poor motivator for society in general once you have it. 

 9) Anonymous, the hacker group, will start to release details of baby monitor recordings that they claim came from NSA servers. The results will go viral and prove to be very cute audio clips of babies making noises in their rooms, further raising everyone’s fears about how much of our everyday data is out there for anyone to look at.  

10) Banks and Credit Card companies will not be subject to any fraud and the whole issue around the protection of personal data will not be discussed as society learns to trust that the big banks have foolproof security and what they are doing when they sell our data

The weakness in our model… is this something we want to admit?

Selling M2M Solutions

I have in the past ranted about service. In my business travels I have always marveled at a country’s lack of, or excellence in, their service models. Having just returned from another trip to China and Hong Kong, I am noticing a slight change in the dynamics.

We stayed at our familiar haunt, the Intercontinental, a five star hotel, so you would assume it would have service levels to cater to a well-heeled travel clientele. The staff is super friendly and very polite – their entire focus is about making your stay more comfortable or enjoyable or satisfying. I did notice one thing however, at the hotel’s morning buffet. I would finish my coffee and although serving staff was constantly around the table, they never offered to refill my coffee cup. It was not an isolated instance. I had several breakfast meetings and told those in attendance to watch for this service phenomenon. It seems like the serving staff was there to serve, wanted to serve, fully prepared to do anything I asked…the only trouble was they had no idea that I wanted another cup of coffee. In North America it is de rigueur to be offered, it goes without saying that we would view this as bad service in our own country.

It got me to thinking about the services that are offered in our M2M space, and I see similarities. We all want to sell hardware, software and services. The very real problem I see is no one knows what the customers want. We aren’t guessing…that much is clear. We are purpose building every application and every solution that is out there. There is no Microsoft or Apple M2M team defining what the services industry framework should look like and the customers, (unlike my example of wanting a simple refill of coffee), are adrift with what they want as well.

Services are the holy grail of our industry and lots of people will disagree with my view, but I truly feel that most of the companies, even the largest in our space, have no idea what the customers want and are subsequently building custom solutions for every application. When you build a custom application the first thing you do is try to find other customers who have the same requirements and then sell it to them with tweaks. I really shouldn’t be surprised but I am. The semiconductor and module business are run this way, but it is efficient because the features are usually overspec'd on modules so people are used to paying for features they don’t want. Here’s the challenge – solution selling is different in that people don’t want those extra features at all and the model seems to be to customize them out.

That’s the way I see it.



M2M: Beyond simply pushing the envelope

M2M - The Industry

I keep hearing about thinking outside the box. Others advise me to be focused or “stay in your lane”. My strategy is to have one foot in the box and the other straddling a lane. Let me explain why…

In any company, it is essential to understand what you do well and execute on that. If logistics is your thing, then make like UPS. If direct sales is your thing, then hire a bunch of Zig Ziglars. That advice is something I take to heart and try to live up to everyday. However, the problem is that’s not enough. As business owners and operators, we can’t rely on what we have done before as being a successful strategy forever. Either organic growth or acquisition will require you to add pieces to your business that you may not currently have. These pieces will be crucial to making your company grow to the next level.

M2M will certainly be a problem for some companies to embrace because they don’t perceive the value of the services that M2M companies offer. Or if they do, they are on a very inelastic portion of the demand curve, where large changes in price result in very modest increases in deployment. We have to do a better job creating value to allow companies to make decisions to deploy our solutions, and therein lies the problem. When you are evangelizing products or services that you currently are not selling, you are hardly ever in your lane, and you are always outside of your box. This is a tough market to get right. How many resources do you put into new offerings? How much time do you allocate? Are you forgetting about your core business? All of these questions keep me up at night. I rely on one vision when I have night terrors: be fearless, be bold, be entrepreneurial. So while I have one foot in the box and one foot straddling the lane, I remind myself to push the envelope every single day.

I apologize in advance for the colloquialisms and buzz words as I leave you with a story that I used to tell customers back in my D&B sales rep days. The story goes that a vacationing couple came upon a very old man in the valleys of China. He was about to go over a rope bridge with an enormous load of wood. The couple noticed that the ropes were extremely old and frayed. With some alarm they approached the old man to warn him that if he went over the bridge it would likely break. The old man turned to them and said “It has never broken before”. The story rightly points out that past behavior is not a predictor of future outcomes. We should constantly innovate and amend our offerings to tailor them to the markets that we serve. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and taking calculated risks every day.


Service to the Max – Mexican style

M2M - The Industry

After my recent trip to Mexico, I have a new appreciation for rules, as well as, a new appreciation for the definition of what quality service truly means. As a side note, I have a startling admission to make – I had never been to Mexico before, and I was really surprised by what I saw.  

When I think about Novotech and the reasons that companies deal with us, I think our success centers around the service we offer, and by natural extension, the great team of people who work for our company. Without blowing our horn too much, we do a very good job of servicing our customer base. Based on my experience in Mexico, and my corresponding experiences in North America, Mexicans have perfected service to an art form…

I have never in my life been exposed to a level of service as that which I received in Mexico. When dining, I never once asked for a refill of anything – when I finished something, it was replenished. Doors were opened and people were laid back and tremendously polite at the same time. How many times do we say that when we visit Europe, Asia or North America for that matter? The outstanding level of service was so evident that I made a remark to my colleague (who had been there many times). He said that they watch you all the time to make sure that you don’t need anything.

So I asked some of the handlers who were guiding and interpreting for us what the minimum wage was. They indicated that it was $7.00 PER DAY!! That got me thinking that they aren’t providing this service because they are getting paid for it. Far from it – they are doing it for cultural reasons.  I thought to myself that we should all be so obsessed with offering top notch service in all of our interactions. Then I thought I should be paying way more for the things I was doing. People who know me, know that is a strange thought indeed.


Annual Predictions from Richard Hobbs at Novotech

M2M - The Industry

Every year – well to be honest this is the first – I make my bold predictions of what the future will hold in the M2M space, and what I have learned from the past year as it relates to the M2M space. Here’s this year’s Top 10 List:

  1. Cisco will exit the M2M space, after realizing that it’s not big enough for them to care about.
  2. Carriers will stop acting like carriers and try to emulate Cisco, and the market will think it’s an improvement.  
  3. My beloved Patriots will win the Super Bowl in a snowstorm 42-0 over the Seahawks (this is the only one I will stick by).
  4. Services will still not make money in 2014.
  5. Wipro will have more people in their booth at MWC than there are attendees at the show.
  6. CES will become the most important M2M show as CTIA dithers on deciding what it wants to be.
  7. The rest of the world will appreciate how business is run in the USA and decide to follow that model.
  8. China will outsource labour to Vietnam where it is dramatically cheaper to find workers.
  9. World peace.
  10. I will realize the only two things that are certain in M2M for 2014…

And this:  


Who will be burned by M2M?

M2M - The Industry

I was recently travelling in China – one of the most capitalistic countries in the world. It is hard to imagine a place where there are less rules and less protection for customers and businesses than China. China is an infant in this regard, but they will mature as a capitalist country… and they will start to have reforms and more rules. Eventually China will become as communist as our North American economies have become. The question becomes is the communist approach of North America better than the capitalist Chinese economy?

Well, the surprising answer is no.  Although you might argue that there never was a pure capitalistic stage in North America – to my mind the last was the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain – there is a lot of hand wringing about fairness and wage equality. The truth is that this very notion is happening in China as we speak.

The difference between North America and China is the level of complexity in the business psyche. Mainland Chinese business people generally are finding a tough go of it because of the rise of the middle class which is putting pressure on costs and consequently squeezing profit margins. For an economy that was based on price advantages, that means that even Chinese production is being outsourced to Vietnam and Cambodia. But worse still is that the Chinese businesses seem to lack the vision required to be successful when conditions are changing beneath their feet.

The same can be said about the M2M industry which is in a completely capitalistic phase with no real standards and no protections for customers. Imagine what our industry will look like in ten years. Most people will tell you that a large entity with ubiquitous standards will be the dominant player. Can Google+M2M be far behind? And what about the changing conditions in our industry? I have written about how transient success is in our space especially if you lack the tools or desire to adapt your business model. Still it is a heady time with many companies running in different directions all trying to make a go of it. In this early stage of development, I’d say the customers are the most likely to get burned.



Plug & Play Mindsets and the Heartache of Self Diagnosis

M2M - The Industry

You know that more than half of the people in the North America self-diagnose on the Internet. That means that people think they have a disease, note the symptoms and then research the possible maladies that they think they have…all on the Internet.  I have to admit to doing this myself. I have a keen interest in preserving my health and there is a morbid curiosity that I think we all share, and perhaps a pre-med degree (mine was economics). But I can tell you much to the chagrin of my wife that I have never read a manual. Everything I learn about technology is from people telling me things.  Why is it that when we know nothing about something technically, we are willing to call anyone to figure it out with us?

Given our clear predilection about understanding technology and passing information along on an app or operating system, it doesn’t translate to our health. We tend to never talk to anyone about it. For example, we never discuss a wart or a growth on your body, yet almost everyone knows the AT command AT+COPS=? …but does anyone know what AT stands for? The answer is yes. Everyone knows it because they were told this command and they know what it does. Yet, no one wants to discuss their warts.

So is researching your health on-line a good idea? Doctors say yes, generally it is. There are of course the obvious pluses and minuses of extreme reactions and actions. So why do we not read technical manuals? If we ship a modem to a customer, they generally feel free to call for support. Let me add that almost no one reads the manual or online information before calling or emailing for help. Of course we are here to help, but at the same time we tend to gently nudge them in the direction of the manuals (on line resources) because they are an excellent source of info that is 24X7.  If it’s a good idea to self-diagnose your health concerns on the internet, think how useful it would be to read about a modem or other gadget that you just purchased.

We live in a very technologically advanced world, but it seems that there are fewer and fewer people who know how to make things work and generally more and more people who understand how things should work. In our industry we refer to this as “plug and play”. I think the bane of our existence is that people believe technology is “plug and play”.  It’s not, at least in our M2M bubble. So I challenge and encourage everyone to read all available online resources before you call. I promise it will make your interaction with the technical support people much more rewarding.


M2M Standards: The Elusive Silver Bullet

M2M - The Industry

We should never use the word "ecosystem" when we are talking about M2M because it implies that things are codependent for existence. I know one thing for sure – nothing is co-dependent in our M2M market space.

Look – I wish for universal standards as much as the next guy, but after 20 years in the business, the market is still characterized by small struggling firms who are trying to hit an ever-moving, very small target. There isn't time for universal standards when you are struggling to keep the lights on. With the bigger players like IBM, SAP and Oracle putting a toe in the water, universal standards seem promising. But this industry was built on proprietary standards and the idea that our collective DNA is going to go through a metamorphosis and become something universally standardized… well, I just don’t see it. Let’s face it – customers, OEMs and carriers all have a vested interest in keeping the situation the same. It is the consultants and integrators that really desire the change.

Change will come. I just don’t think it will be by way of sweeping reforms and/or a silver bullet. Keep in mind that it took 20 years to get the proprietary applications and products selling well, so what makes anyone think that any new standard is going to sweep out the old?

Going forward it appears clear that some standards are going to take hold. Consider Microsoft and Apple who got a lot of their ideas from Xerox and then commercialized them. I think that this is the path for our market, more of a think tank derived solution that is commercialized by others, as opposed to a commercialization of a solution to benefit some of the large consultancies. Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT) comes to mind as a first stab at trying to standardize our M2M market place, but I couldn't predict its adoption or even survival. Chances are it will not succeed, but it is a start.

While I'm at it I wish people would stop saying "deep dive", "Internet of Everything" and "Internet of Things" – Machine-to-Machine is just fine. I certainly don’t need Cisco telling me what to call my industry. After all, I was here 19 1/2 years before they were.