Magazine Article | August 23, 2012

Key Factors To Consider When Deploying Remote Services

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Pedro Pereira, Field Technologies magazine

Deciding you can benefit from remote service is just the first step — here’s what comes next.

You know the value of remote services — they allow organizations to perform tasks more efficiently at a lower cost. Enabled by M2M (machine to machine) technology, remote services include sensors that report back to a management console on the performance of the monitored equipment. The goal is to keep equipment running with minimal human intervention while having the ability to respond immediately to early signs of trouble. Information from sensors make it possible for technicians to be better prepared when called on for troubleshooting.

So what’s the first thing to consider when deploying remote services? Darren Koenig, VP of marketing and products at M2M vendor Numerex, says it’s important to consider partnering with service providers that have the expertise you need as well as a product with proven scalability. “Experience is critical because there are a lot of pitfalls that most companies fall into the first few times they try to develop a solution,” Koenig says. “Expertise comes through in understanding how technology can help for very specific types of measurements in M2M.”

Do You Need Remote Service?

Typically, companies look to M2M solutions for three reasons, says Fred Yentz, CEO of M2M vendor ILS Technology. “Save money, make money, and maintain or improve compliance with operating procedures, regulations, or both.” Remote services ROI is commensurate with how many of the three goals you achieve, he says.

To determine the need for remote services, Stein Soelberg, director of marketing at KORE Telematics, a provider of M2M services, recommends the following checklist: Does your company have remote assets? Are they valuable assets? Are they fixed or mobile? Do they require any kind of support or maintenance? If so, is proactive maintenance going to prolong the life of the asset and thus make it less costly to operate or replace?

“Answering yes to any of these questions means remote monitoring is a very good idea and will provide a positive ROI and a payback in as little as one year,” Soelberg says. As an example, he cites a customer that manufactures wind turbines. A $30 sensor on each turbine keeps track of its operation, so technicians can be dispatched whenever needed for troubleshooting. Left unattended, he says, the turbines could fail and cause major expenses.

Koenig says it’s also important to identify how a current process works and how remote services can improve it. For instance, managing a remote fuel tank in a rural location becomes a more exact science with M2M, requiring fewer refill trips and, ultimately, fewer trucks and employees. “There is also a very tangible improvement in customer satisfaction. The customer didn’t mind when the oil truck came to refill the tank early, but he definitely had a major issue when his usage was higher than expected, and he ran out of oil,” Koenig says.

How To Achieve A Successful Remote Services Deployment

A successful M2M deployment hinges on a number of factors, including the location of the monitored devices, communication methods, and M2M integration with other systems. “It’s easy to create the remote connection,” says Yentz, “but the challenge is to collect and react to the data generated by M2M systems.” Seamless integration to the back office and workflow is key, he says.

Dan Murphy, VP of marketing at M2M vendor Axeda, says M2M data can deliver value through integration with other systems, combining information from the connected devices with complementary systems. “For example, product data from a CRM system can be sent to billing or into a supply chain management system, eliminating error-prone manual steps and providing new sales opportunities for consumable replenishment or warranty renewals,” he says.

How the M2M system communicates to the back office, be it through satellite or a cellular network, is an important consideration when deploying these systems. Centralized management is critical too, Soelberg says; otherwise it may end up costing too much. “You need a central entity within your organization to own and manage it. Pockets of individual departments or divisions aren’t controllable from a cost-containment perspective and don’t scale well.”

Keep an eye on the future. Noting that connecting products to a network can get complex, Murphy recommends developing a solution that is resilient to change and using applications that can capitalize on, rather than get hindered by, product differences. “The numbers and types of devices produced by manufacturers continues to grow rapidly, and keeping up with this is a real challenge. We recommend that companies allow established solutions providers to do the heavy lifting; otherwise it may take longer to get the solution to market.”

Remote Service Benefits

It’s one thing to intuitively understand the benefits of remote services, but another to articulate them clearly to partners and customers. Soelberg says the overall customer experience improves as a result of remote service. “This means you provide better customer service and decrease operational costs, which gets passed along in the form of lower prices to the downstream customers.”

Yentz says people worry when they can’t see how something works because it is handled remotely. So it’s important to clearly define the benefits — operational effectiveness of assets, better time to repair, and quicker, predictive notifications of issues — while addressing customer concerns. “The customer does not have to give up control or security. They can actually decide when to allow remote access or to do it continuously.” On security, Koenig advises checking the security credentials of M2M partners early in the engagement process. That includes checking whether they have data security certifications such as ISO 27001.

Remote services present plenty of opportunities to make money. “Once connected, organizations begin to realize a new means to generate growth and revenue. Connected product services typically generate a recurring revenue stream, require less fixed capital, and typically produce higher margins,” says Murphy.

Koenig notes that many companies sell service plans with their products and explain the benefits of the services to justify pricing. Other companies use the services to lock themselves in for future maintenance engagements. As an example of a monetized remote service, Soelberg says a trucking fleet can sell the ability to locate drivers or track individual packages on a truck.