Archive for February, 2011

So what do you know about machine to machine (M2M) technologies?  Not so much you say.  But I suspect you may have heard of Smart Grids.  These are a form of ‘smart infrastructure’ that employs M2M technology.

A basic definition of M2M is the suite of technologies that support wired or wireless communication between machines allowing for the exchange of information about such factors as location, temperature, device status, etc.

Simple M2M Architecture (courtesy ETSI)

Smart Grids are an example of an M2M technology implementation where infrastructure within a utility grid are instrumented with sensors that can monitor a wide variety of information such as energy consumption, power outages, etc.  These sensors are networked into a communication network that allows the sensed information to be fed to a central system where events can be monitored and various responses affected.

M2M technologies are emerging as a significant technology growth area with applications being realized in many areas.

From a geospatial perspective, M2M presents many opportunities.  At CeBit Australia in August 2010 David Hocking, CEO of the Spatial Industries Business Association boldly stated “No smart infrastructure is smart unless it’s geo-enabled.  Spatial data is the glue for Smart Infrastructure.”

Whether the centrality of geospatial information is as great as that or not, there are clear opportunities for the inclusion of geospatial technologies within the M2M technology mix for many applications.

Many of the classic benefits of geographic information systems can be exploited when M2M systems account for and collect geospatial data.  These include:

Asset visualization – the ability to view network devices being monitored in an appropriately scaled spatial context is beneficial in quickly assessing network status, problems, patterns, etc.

Asset management – geoanalytical tools can be utilized to understand the dynamic nature of the network as assets by assessing qualities like grouping, patterns, movement, etc.

Spatially structured dashboard views of key network parameters can provide both alerts and contextual information about network asset behavior.

Correlation with ancillary information – one of the strengths of GIS technologies is the ability to correlate various types of data on the basis of location.  For instance it might be relevant in an M2M utility grid application to be able to visualize the network against weather information to better understand causes of network disruption.

M2M network performance analysis – spatial measurement tools can be utilized to visualize and better understand network behavior.  These can be summative (evaluating past performance) or real time in nature.

Resource allocation and deployment – network management planning – whether for regular maintenance or emergency response, can be better planned and coordinated with a spatial reference.

While the integration of geospatial technologies with M2M infrastructure has the potential to add value to the overall network, there are issues that need to be addressed in order to achieve maximum benefit.  These include:

The degree to which network monitoring and analysis needs to be dynamic in nature?

Issues around data management:

Where is it stored?

Who owns the data?

Is the data complete?

Do the various data layers have compatible levels of accuracy?

Has the data been cleaned and structured so that it can be interfaced with other data layers?

How is the data maintained?

System connectivity:

How will systems talk to each other?

Can data from disparate systems be reliably accessed?

While there may be challenges to integrating M2M and geospatial technologies, there are also clear benefits that can enhance the value of M2M networks.

What Direction Is Your Company Headed?

It has been said that it is the direction you set for yourself and not your intention that will determine where you end up.  I believe this to be true –  both at a personal and at a business level.

The path we set for our business is essential to where our company will be 5, 10 or 20 years from now.  While we cannot fully anticipate the future, defining the path and making critical decisions as to what needs to be done along the path must be done.

Several years ago I was providing some advice to a company that was in the process of revamping its business plan – determined to take their company to the next level.  They had arrived at a point where partly through their own hard work and partly because of outside circumstance and opportunity, they saw an opportunity for their company to expand and achieve significant growth.  I recall a lunch meeting with the founder and his long time partner – both of whom had invested time and money in getting the company to where it was.  At that meeting the founder confirmed the intentions for growth and then he made a very significant statement – “I believe the company would be better served if I handed the president role to someone more skilled at the functions required of that position.” He would continue with the company in a role that was more suited to his skill set and interest.  It was a bold statement and one I knew was appropriate based on my knowledge of the company and the business plan they were in the process of fine tuning.  The founder made the statement understanding that for his company to grow, it would take more than just intention.  It was necessary to take a very specific step – bring into the company expertise that would be required to achieve the growth they all desired and would benefit from.

All too often the scenario is completely different – one where an individual or group of individuals come up with an idea for a business.  They become business founders and owners.  They are the knowledge centre, the energy centre and the major stakeholders.  Sometimes the decision to make changes such as bringing new skill sets into the company is not easily recognized nor executed.  Sometimes the need is something else but whatever it is, it is essential that it be taken to achieve the end result – not always easy decisions but absolutely necessary.