Magazine Article | February 22, 2013

Put Remote Monitoring Data To Work, See The Results

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine

M2M solutions bring remote assets and products closer to the enterprise data stream.

Machines and other types of remote field assets become easier and less expensive to connect to the enterprise every year. Broadband ubiquity, inexpensive connectivity options, and affordable cloud platforms are driving adoption of remote monitoring and M2M (machine-to-machine) communications among field service professionals. These remote monitoring systems are evolving to allow organizations to share product data across functions and divisions to enable analytics and increase automation as never before.

“When executed properly, remote services creates a nearly unbreakable bond with the customer,” says Bill Zujewski, executive vice president of strategy and marketing at Axeda. “And when the same data is shared within the organization, it enables critical business functions to be optimized to create a competitive advantage.”

The data generated by these remote monitoring solutions is being shared across business functions and utilized by additional enterprise systems in a variety of ways. “Remote monitoring is becoming integrated into real-time business processes rather than deployed as an isolated, standalone application,” says Russ Fadel, CEO and cofounder of ThingWorx. “Businesses are looking for more complete, integrated remote monitoring solutions, and they are starting to make their technology decisions based on solutions that provide seamless integration into their existing business processes.”

No Matter What Industry You’re In, M2M Can Provide Value
Remote monitoring has been used in a number of verticals, but as costs drop and connectivity is easier to implement, the vendors interviewed for this story have seen rapid growth in a number of areas, including fleet telematics, smart energy solutions, and healthcare. In the latter instance, healthcare providers can monitor both equipment performance and patient status via remote monitoring solutions.

“Across all verticals, there is a common focus on the management of the things that an organization has to deliver to customers and partners,” Zujewski says. “These assets can include facilities, operational equipment, vehicles, and goods being delivered. We call this the ‘Internet of Corporate Things,’ and the management of remote assets is perhaps the biggest trend we see across all verticals in our customer base.”

How Remote Monitoring Can Save You Money
By tapping into real-time monitoring data from assets in the field, companies are able to save the expense of sending technicians to perform regular checks on equipment and can even remotely troubleshoot problems so that when techs do need to be deployed, they are armed with the right tools to make the repair on their first visit. In some applications, these systems can drive preventive maintenance programs with customers, improve compliance with service level agreements, and even provide better feedback for engineering and design departments on how to improve future products.

“[Remote monitoring] is applicable to any business that requires a physical presence to determine what is happening at a facility or remote location,” says Matt Jennings, vice president of solutions at Digi International. “Driving operational visibility of valuable remote equipment can lead to greater machine uptime, improved warranty management, just-in-time service and parts management, and more. There are virtually limitless business cases that span across multiple industries.”

Technology Advancements Make M2M A Fit For Just About Any Remote Asset
The continued roll-out of 3G and 4G wireless broadband networks is also opening up new possibilities for M2M usage. The impact has been minimal so far, since the service is not universally available, but as faster wireless networks continue to develop, the opportunities to develop more interactive M2M applications beyond simple monitoring will expand.

“The evolution of wireless connectivity has changed the M2M landscape completely,” Zujewski says. “The cost of devices, connectivity, and data plans has plummeted. As a result, we’re seeing a shift from just companies with expensive equipment being connected over modems and the Internet to the possibility for almost anything, an asset of any value, to be connected via wireless. Connectivity to remote products and assets is simplified by a variety of connectivity options and architectures. Wireless enables devices and services to connect quickly and easily and opens the device options available to customers, allowing virtually any company to select the right communication device for their environment.”

Tips For Remote Monitoring Success
When deploying remote monitoring technology, organizations should focus on total cost of ownership (TCO), return on investment (ROI), and business process improvement, rather than getting hung up on specific technologies. “Any investment in remote monitoring technology will need to demonstrate a direct impact on the business, which could include lowering operating costs, improving customer service, generating new revenue streams, and product differentiation,” Jennings says.

One key challenge falls on the application side, Fadel says. Current application development tools are not geared for today’s accelerating business environment, which can cause delays in development and deployment of the applications that take advantage of remote monitoring data. “We’ve seen this in nearly all of the customers we’ve approached,” Fadel says. “It’s a widespread challenge. Most of these companies have been challenged in the past with the lengthy process for development and deployment, resulting in hindered return on investment.”

Another problem: a lack of internal support and executive sponsorship. For a connected product initiative to pay off, company leadership has to be behind the project. “We recommend building an internal advocate team around the connected product initiative to increase project viability,” says Zujewski. “To ensure that the effort will be given priority and focus within the organization, recruit a strong core team with members from sales and marketing, research and development, project management and customer service, and finance. It’s important to build the team around two essential members: the executive sponsor and the project manager. The degree to which the executive sponsor is actively engaged is a leading indicator of the visibility of the project.”

Jennings adds that managing devices in the field can also be a challenge, although cloud-enabled platforms have made this much easier than it was in the past. Integrating connected devices with multiple, disparate enterprise systems is another potential roadblock that end users should consider and prepare for.

How To Ensure Remote Monitoring ROI
As with other types of technology projects, tying the solution investment to the business case is one of the most important steps. “A major obstacle is demonstrating return on investment,” Jennings says. “Organizations frequently fail to leverage their technology investments to their fullest extent and therefore achieve diminished ROI.”

By being able to leverage remote data across multiple applications and departments, however, companies can boost their ROI and see a return much faster. “Organizations will continue to get better at applying connectivity data across the enterprise to impact the business,” Jennings says. “With further integration in the ecosystem and lower technology costs, I see organizations beginning to use data more creatively and applying that data across the enterprise to achieve significant improvements in ROI.”

Connected assets will move from standalone, one-off monitoring applications to more integration with core business processes. “Those who do not make this move will not survive,” Fadel says. “One of our customers called this ‘becoming a connected business,’ and they stated that those companies that do not fully embrace the integration of remote monitoring into their core business will not be able to compete moving forward.”