The Good Ole Days

I was feeling a little sentimental the other day thinking that it’s been almost a year since we witnessed the end of an era. In particular, the end of the year came at Emerson Process Management. Some of you might recall John Berra, chairman and long-time visionary, stepped down after serving 41 years in the process automation industry. John retired on Sept. 30, 2010 and upon looking back, those of you who know the history of M2M recognize that its roots are firmly planted with the advent of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems that were introduced in the mid-1980s.

John, who had a passion for the automation industry, would insist that it was the DCS (distributed control system) that had an even greater impact on the birth of realtime technology. And perhaps he might be right as we continue to see the evolution of M2M today. However, recent advances in M2M technology are certainly more prevalent than any of its predecessors. What makes this so intriguing is that with the advent of the Internet, coupled with SCADA, DCS, and other systems, all the machines and devices worldwide can now to be connected. In fact, many like to say that M2M is old technology put in a pretty new wrapper. Candidly, I have heard that line a dozen times before, but I think there is much more to the story if you take a deeper look at what has evolved since the ‘80s and what we call M2M today.

Now with the birth of M2M, companies can extrapolate key production data from their business machines and incorporate that information into other business processes. Companies are now more agile in the way they track, route, interpret, and apply much needed information on a daily basis.

Even though the underlying functionality might mirror SCADA that is where the similarity begins and ends. What sets M2M apart from SCADA is the network framework which it was built upon. For instance, SCADA has traditionally been built upon a foundation of very industry-specific platforms and networks within vertical industries, while M2M is not limited by any of these constraints. Looking closer at M2M, manufacturers can take the information out of one machine and plug it in remotely to another system to make faster or more improved business decisions. What’s so incredible about this transformation is that consumers are unaware that these actions are even taking place behind the scenes.

Consider for a moment the petroleum industry. We can illustrate the benefits of a M2M system compared to a traditional SCADA system. Let’s look at a heating oil operation as compared to an office building’s storage tanks. By incorporating the appropriate devices to the storage tanks to capture level data, applying wireless technology for communications, adding a software connection to the mix, a customer is able to accomplish three key objectives.

First, the oil company can improve the supply chain and reduce costs by having access to realtime data to dispatch fleets to refill tanks, when and where they are needed. Second, the petroleum company can create a revenue-generating service providing the customer with a view of the data and the ability to manage its heating-oil inventory. And lastly, building management can tailor its heating-oil inventory through the cloud, matching building vacancies, weather, and replenishment via online ordering and fulfillment.

Now this brings me to the future and the soon-to-be formal launch of the Weightless radio protocol otherwise known as the super Wi-Fi, (I’m not sure everyone agrees) which might be available for use in white space frequencies. It appears the UK will be the first country in Europe to make it happen through a consortium of companies that have been working on the protocol.

All of these advances in M2M had me looking back to where it all began so we can look forward and talk about what the future holds. In particular, it has me thinking about how we can continue to advance realtime data sharing to areas and locations that have yet to have access to information anytime, anywhere.

That means white space technology might be able to help solve some of the UK’s broadband problems, particularly aiding rural communities for wireless broadband where wired services are not available. This new protocol will fill the airwaves where TV isn’t. Simply, what we are going to see is that a single Weightless hub will be able to run connections to hundreds of devices. The Weightless protocol specifically is being proposed as a M2M standard. Just think of what we can do when we all work together. The M2M future continues to look brighter the more we all come together.

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