2013
08.09

“Companies who are waiting for the market to arrive and start buying the gizmos they developed in large quantities—this moment may never arise.”
Isn’t that the fear? The idea that the blood, sweat, and tears we have all been pouring into this crazy thing called M2M (or Internet of Things, or Smart Services, Pervasive Internet, or what have you) could all be for not is a pretty disheartening proposition.

But that’s why we have books like “The Silent Intelligence”—to help the market at large make sense of this whole crazy thing we like to call … M2M. I had the pleasure of getting an advanced copy of the book, written by Daniel Kellmereit and Daniel Obodovski, which tries to, in 91 pages, present the past, present, and future of machine-to-machine. Taking that description at face value, I’d say such a task is ambitious.

The two authors certainly have the credentials: Kellmereit the CEO of a consulting company and Obodovski having led multiple M2M projects through companies like Qualcomm. They take on some rather heavy lifting for M2M in trying to shed light on such questions: What exactly is this market? How did it come about? What are the key trends? Where does the potential exist? How we can succeed in the space? Again, all in 91 pages.

I tip my cap to the determined task from two highly knowledgeable individuals who spent nearly two years penning the copy for the book. Not to discredit any of the work done in this book, but I come away wondering whether what they were trying to accomplish was perhaps a bit too ambitious a task.

I applaud the move they made in terms of resources for the book, reaching out to their respective networks to interview those they deemed to have the most experience in the space with the intent to convey their stories. Among those sources was our own Peggy Smedley, who gives us the line: We need to look back before we can look forward. Heeding such advice, the back is where I would like to begin; more precisely the conclusion of the book. Here we find some very poignant statements related to the state of M2M:

“For many companies, venture capitalists, and other investors, it’s important not to wait too long, but to embrace the world of the Internet of Things and get involved in projects, because this is the only way to learn about the space …”
“It appears that in most conferences and industry events it’s the techies who are talking among themselves and complaining that the M2M market is not happening soon enough.”

I love this last line and could not agree more. I mean, talk about a “silent intelligence” … I think this line has been the unspoken truth about M2M for far too long. This market is jammed packed with some highly intelligent individuals, all of whom have been pushing this idea for far too long, and who deserve to reap the rewards once this whole thing finally does take off. But I think the authors touch on a very important point here, and one I have observed on more than one occasion: We do far too much preaching to the choir. In other words, we need to stop putting so much effort into telling each other how great this whole M2M thing is, and instead start voicing that message outward to the world outside M2M.  

To that point, the authors outline the most obvious solution to the problem: “… the best way to embrace it is to work closely with the industry—with the consumers of the M2M technology, with banks, insurance companies, industrial companies, utilities, automotive companies, municipalities, and so on.”

Great point, but I have two issues with that statement: One being that none of these types of companies were interviewed for the book. Without a doubt this book includes a venerable who’s who list of M2M experts, but I would have liked to have seen more of the end users quoted. It’s not like they are hard to find: GM, Ford, Whirlpool, Coca-Cola, etc. To be fair, chapter five does talk through some use cases, but the section was far too tech-provider heavy for my taste. To me, if you are going to give me use cases, give me two or three hard and fast examples of companies making the case for why it’s important for their business to use M2M … or Internet of Things … or …

And that leads me to my second issue: Is it M2M of Internet of Things? The official name of the book is “The Silent Intelligence: The Internet of Things” so going in I was under the impression the authors would embrace Internet of Things, which was fine by me. But as I got into it I found this term and M2M were used interchangeably at many points. Quite frankly I have no preference, but was looking for the authors to lay a stake in the ground on one side or the other.

The myriad of terms could prove to be a bit confusing for the average reader. With that I often fear we will ultimately create confusion to the average person and they start to get the impression M2M and Internet of Things represent two different categories of devices. (Some argue that is indeed the case, but I digress …)

To their credit, I think the authors set the stage nicely for why there has been so much confusion associated with the name. I particularly like the part about why Harbor Research introduced the term ‘smart services’; because Harvard Business Review was interested in a paper about M2M, but didn’t want to call it anything too technical. Yikes.

Here is where I thought the authors did a great job: Building the case for M2M (what I will call it from here on out) eventually being woven into the fabric of our daily lives. Chapters four and five tackle core applications/domains and use cases, respectively. While some of these ideas are introduced by market or use case (e.g., healthcare, automotive, etc.) you get the subtle hint the authors are making a case for not viewing these ideas in isolation over the long term. For example:

“As more sensors become available and more information can be processed and analyzed, it will be possible to tell more about individual behavior.” Going on to quote Astro Teller, “We could see things about people’s commute cycles, about how long they commute, and how it relates to their sleep and other things. No one has ever seen things like this on a hundred people or even a million people.”

“According to Panos (Nasiopoulos, University of British Columbia), non-intrusiveness and immediate value are critical for the adoption of connectivity in the home. For example, if my appliances start telling me how I can use them more effectively to achieve better results and save electricity, I may be prepared to pay more for them. In the longer term, appliances would learn how people live and behave, which would give manufacturers a wealth of information on how to design better appliances.”

“… A machine should know and should be sending you and your doctor notes if something is out of the ordinary. It should be like your bank notifying you when your checking account is overdrawn. I really visualize every human body connected to the network. That means a lot of worn, non-intrusive biomedical devices. Many of those devices will be embedded in the clothes you’re wearing.” – John Major.

Nicely done. I highlighted a bunch of such nuggets scattered throughout the book. To me the true ‘Silent Intelligence’ is how these devices will eventually become so engrained into our everyday lives that we won’t want to use them in isolation. In other words, why would I want a connected home and a connected car that don’t talk with each other? Or why would I wear a health monitor if my doctor isn’t linked in?

Above all, I think the book does a nice job at pointing out there needs to be a valid reason for connectivity beyond the fact it is technically feasible. I could not agree more, and believe it is the very reason refrigerators or washing machines never need to tweet.

The authors call this book a “starting point” in their journey into M2M. The plan is to continue the dialogue with readers at www.thesilentintelligence.com and publish more information along the way. Let’s hope we all continue to build up awareness outside our inner circles and create new opportunities along the way, so that we never see an “end point” to this stream of information we are all creating.

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