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M2mMachine-to-machine (M2M) has been around for years, but you might not know that considering the buzz it is getting today. Perhaps this is because M2M – fueled by the Internet of Things – is experiencing a massive increase in the worldwide connectivity of devices.

It is estimated that anywhere between 20 billion and 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020 which will streamline communication and drive multiple operational efficiencies. Field service vendors are hopping on the M2M bandwagon, hoping to capitalize on the benefits that integrated M2M and field service management can provide service organizations.

I therefore sat down with Andrew Lichey, one of our resident M2M experts at IFS, to discuss the M2M craze, his thoughts on its lasting success, and how IFS is embracing this trend in field service.

How do you see M2M from a technological and consumer perspective in 2014?

From a consumer perspective: M2M isn’t anything new, it’s been around for decades, but it is really coming into its own thanks to universal connectivity these days. From a consumer perspective, you see M2M a lot in the telecom and auto industries (OnStar for example), as well as in the home with smart appliances and security systems. Home automation systems can notify you via your mobile device in regards to power usage levels, and other notifications that allow you to better utilize energy consumption, or even secure your home from a distance.

From an industry perspective: In field service, sensors on assets allow service organizations to transform from a reactive model (always reacting to failures that are occurring in the field) to a proactive model where dispatch and field technicians can be notified on their device before a problem occurs and before there is any down-time. The technicians can go fix these issues in the field before it ever becomes an acknowledged issue, therefore significantly improving customer satisfaction.

Therefore M2M in field service allows service organizations to:

  • Reduce downtime (often fixing an issue before the assets actually breaks)
  • Improve first-time fix rates with better diagnostics (sensors communicate with technician devices, pinpointing the actual error or issue)
  • Reduce inventory/stock issues (if technicians have accurate diagnoses before they reach an asset they will come to the site prepared)
  • Reduce travel costs (less trips to a customer site, or re-stocking warehouse)

From a technological perspective: Another area where M2M has really taken off in the past couple of years is smart metering. Even five years ago, most metering was done by sending technicians or engineers to customer sites or to homes to look at energy consumption meters. Now, smart meters themselves can provide that information to organizations without having to send anyone out into the field.

Smart metering has benefited service organizations by:

  • Reducing head count (not as many engineers needed in the field)
  • Reducing travel costs (significantly cutting down trips to customer sites)
  • Reducing PM visits (smart meters can analyze their performance)

How is IFS Field Service Management set up to embrace M2M?

From a software perspective, the key is that IFS Field Service Management Software easily integrates with M2M solutions. IFS uses an open platform for integration using common standard xml, making it easy to work with any device or system related to M2M. Right now, there is no universal standard for how all devices should communicate with other systems. The industry is obviously moving in that direction but until those standards are put in place, IFS thinks it is important to be flexible in how information is received and flexible in how the system is configured to react to the receipt of that information. For instance, if IFS Field Service Management gets a notification from a printer out in the field that is low on toner, it can react by automatically scheduling a job and allocating the inventory so that when a field technician arrives on site they have the parts they need.

Where do you see M2M in Field Service going in the next five years?

M2M is definitely going to change the way we approach field service. The benefits from a cost and customer satisfaction perspective are enormous. Having the visibility in the field where devices can tell use when they need service and what type of service they need and just as importantly, when they don’t need service, is going to save service organizations millions of dollars. It will also allow them to reduce resources while still improving customer satisfaction. The lack of failure in the field will drive customer satisfaction rates higher and higher.

The next big leap forward now will be establishing industry standards. When communication protocols and methods are finally standardized, M2M will become mainstream in field service, whether you are a refrigerator repair organization or a computer-chip manufacturing organization, or anything in-between.

In other words, yes, M2M is the real deal, and it is here to stay.

To delve deeper into the M2M discussion, download Field Technologies report, How the Internet of Things is Changing Field Service, which Andrew contributed to.

Image courtesy of Futurecom Blog

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