M2M platforms recast for the age of the Internet of Things

M2M is a label that has been attached to a concept that has been around in the telco industry for years. In fact, the roots of M2M extend back over several decades and include basic fleet management solutions and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) solutions. Traditionally, M2M solutions have been conceived and deployed as ‘stovepipe’ (or standalone) solutions with the aim of improving (or enabling) a specific process, and without consideration of how these solutions might one day be integrated into a wider business context.

In the early days of M2M, any aspiring application developers would have had to face up to the challenge of creating an entire solution stack to support their intended application. Relatively few of the components needed to develop specific applications were available ‘off the shelf’, and relatively few solution components could be shared between different applications. In all, an early M2M developer would have had to contend with three key elements of an overall M2M solution: Devices, M2M Application Environment, and M2M Application Logic. That’s a tall order, and has acted to slow the adoption of M2M to IoT solutions. However, in recent years a range of different kinds of M2M platforms have emerged to speed the development and deployment of (generally still stove-pipe) M2M applications. And, as a result the M2M market has grown into a significant opportunity.

Traditional M2M markets are changing to support an emerging IoT world (Source: Machina Research, 2013)

Traditional M2M markets are changing to support an emerging IoT world
[Source: Machina Research, 2013]

If all this sounds reminiscent of the approach used to deploy mainframe systems in the 1980’s, then I’d have to agree. Right now we are at significant risk of building tomorrow’s ‘legacy M2M systems’ problems for future generations to sort out.

The emergence of the M2M / IoT Application Platform

However, the industry is now at a tipping point, as traditional M2M markets give way to an IoT world. Essentially, the old stove-pipe M2M application approach is evolving towards a more integrated approach to application development which draws from a wider range of data sources (including M2M connected devices of different types and also corporate and other IT systems) and stitches these together with more sophisticated applications.

This emerging need to analyze information (both core application information, and also ‘data exhaust’) from a diverse range of applications, and also to control those applications, has given rise to the need for a new kind of M2M platform which we have termed the ‘M2M / IoT Application Platform’.

From a technical perspective, the key function of an M2M / IoT Application Platform is to abstract across a diverse range of data sources and also more traditional M2M platforms, so enabling application developers to efficiently create solutions that incorporate, and draw from, multiple M2M devices (and other information sources).

From a market perspective, the emergence of M2M / IoT Application Platforms enables the open application development environment that presages the emergence of the Internet of Things. In short, ‘M2M / IoT Application Platforms’ represent M2M platforms re-cast for the age of the ‘Internet of Things’.

The glue between application developers, devices, platforms, and systems

The M2M / IoT Application Platform thus provides the ‘glue’ that intermediates between application developers, M2M connected devices and a range of niche and specialized M2M platforms and wider enterprise IT systems. And, ultimately, web-sourced data. Also, an M2M / IoT Application Platform may not interface with all these elements in all cases, sometimes managing devices via third party APIs, sometimes disintermediating other platforms to manage devices directly.

In the world of the M2M / IoT Application Platform, the application developer is king. Successful M2M / IoT Application Platforms must focus on supporting a seamless and intuitive environment in which IoT application developers can focus on developing application functionality, without worrying about underlying and supporting mechanics. This relationship is illustrated below:

M2M solution stack

The role of M2M / IoT Application Platforms in the M2M solution stack
[Source: Machina Research, 2013]

We think that the advent of M2M / IoT Application Platforms as described above will transform the dynamics of M2M marketplaces and that they will become one of the main factors that drive what we have termed ‘Subnets of Things’ and so, in turn the Internet of Things. We’ve begun to think through what these changes might be, and how they might come about. But, like the ‘traditional’ Internet, M2M / IoT Application Platforms will only reach their true potential when the wider user and application developer communities have had the opportunity to chip in their ideas for applications that could be supported.

So what do you think M2M / IoT Application Platforms could do for you?

In my next blog post, I will explore the functionality of M2M / IoT Application Platforms. Alternatively, for a more comprehensive analysis of the emerging M2M / IoT Application Platform space please download my white paper.

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About the author

Jim Morrish

Jim Morrish

Jim Morrish is a Director and Founder of Machina Research, the technology research and consulting firm focused on emerging opportunities associated with new forms of connected devices. He has over 20 years experience in the telecoms industry, including strategy consulting, operations management and research. He has worked on-site in more than 25 countries through Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. He has a MA in Mathematics, specializing in logic, from the University of Oxford. Jim is a guest author for the Bosch ConnectedWorld Blog.