When you think of machine-to-machine connectivity, what's the first thing that comes to mind? For me it was the promise of the connected refrigerator—the ability to harness the latest and greatest emerging technologies so a big clunky kitchen appliance could allow me to access my calendar, send out a few tweets, and tell me when I need to buy more milk.
As technology has become cheaper and we have become more connected, companies and consumers have started to fantasize about the endless possibilities of wireless control and monitoring for everything from pill bottles to toasters to heart monitoring collars that could let sheep text their shepherd. But just because my kitchen appliances haven't allowed me to post one Facebook status update or create one shopping list yet, that doesn't mean tons of other devices aren't already connected.
According to the folks at Berg Insight, the number of machine-to-machine devices using wireless networks topped 108 million in 2011 and will at least triple by 2017. As more machines come online and connect back with and share details with CRM systems, more companies will be able to anticipate the pain points and needs of their customers—often before their customers even realize they have an issue. They'll be able to collect more accurate data earlier in the product development lifecycle and use that data to better understand usage and drive quality design.
Take speed limit displays—you know those signs you see on the side of the road that immediately force you to check your speedometer no matter how fast you're driving. Without connectivity, local municipalities didn't know when the batteries died, whether they were being deployed at the right locations at the right times, or even if they were being tampered with. Now those same speed limit displays are often equipped with GPS, accelerometers, and cameras that can monitor traffic flow and alert local authorities of accidents, aggressive drivers, and congested roadways.
"Two years ago we decided to make a radical transformation to our product strategy by adding connectivity to 100% of our equipment" says Scott Johnson, CEO and co-founder of All Traffic Solutions, providers of traffic safety equipment. "By adding sensors and making our devices smarter, we have been able to move from connectivity to awareness. Now our customers are able to access real-time data and respond to community questions and concerns much faster" he added.
On the back end, companies are also increasingly relying on connectivity to monitor the health and usage rate of their machines and devices. By plugging that real-time data into CRM systems such as SalesForce.com, they're able to listen to machine chatter and collaborate with their assets to proactively address sales and maintenance needs and automate workflows such as warranty management and usage-based billing.
"Connectivity and integration with SalesForce.com not only makes it possible to notify your sales team a customer might need more equipment when they're approaching 100% utilization, but it can also let you know when usage has dipped below 50% and you might want to call on them" says Bill Zujewski, EVP, Product Strategy & Marketing at Axeda, a company that specializes in creating cloud-based services and software to help manage connected products such as All Traffic Solutions' traffic calming devices.
Will my household appliances transform into a bunch of Chatty Cathys? I guess we'll have to wait and see. Until then, it's a pretty safe bet that more and more machines and mobile devices will become more and more connected.
[Image: Flickr user UNDP]