Machine to Machine (M2M) communication has been around for decades. The industrial sector – including logistics, retail, utilities and manufacturing – have long depended on machines that communicate and share data with one another. But with the increasing discussion around the Internet of Things (IoT) and its benefits for product teams and users, people are beginning to conflate the two terms. This is particularly true of the Industrial IoT.

When most people think about either term, the first thing that comes to mind is remote accessibility: accessing data from a device, or controlling it from afar. While this has been a common feature of the machine-to-machine world for decades, remote device access is the beginning – and end – of the similarities between the two.

The “Why” – Data applications of M2M and IoT solutionsA robotic arm in a factor. M2M systems frequently have relatively simple applications, compared with IoT

One of the most important applications for both fields is improving business performance through data-driven insight. Data from connected devices, combined with analytical systems, provide feedback on product performance, product resilience, and user experience.

Data from machine to machine systems frequently have relatively simple applications. For example, a microcontroller in a machine receives data from sensors which tell it to trigger another action, or activate another sensor.

This type of data frequently serves a single purpose, often relating to maintenance – locating system errors, or reducing maintenance costs by eliminating the need for manual, preventative maintenance.

Though valuable, the functionality of data from these systems cannot compare with the business applications of data from the Internet of Things. The latter systems not only provide predictive maintenance, but can improve operations and even create new business models by providing product-driven data services to customers. 

How communications are relayed

Another difference between the two relates to how data is communicated between difference parts of the system. Machine-to-machine solutions usually depend on point-to-point communications via embedded hardware and wired or cellular networks. Internet of Things solutions, in comparison, rely on IP-based networks to send data from a machine, or device, to a cloud or middleware platform.

The acronyms themselves provide a clue to the different purposes of each. ‘IoT’ takes machine-to-machine communications and adds the Internet, i.e. web applications and cloud storage that make viewing and sharing data, and controlling devices, vastly more user-friendly.

With the Internet of Things, data and device management are not solely the realm of tech-proficient experts – it is M2M for the masses.

What machines connect to

Machine to machine communication usually refers to a device transferring data to and from a remote computer, or another device. The consumer and industrial Internet of Things take it a step further, by communicating from a machine or device to a thing, or person, or system. Common systems include ERP/CRM/PLM systems, analytics systems, data warehouses, and control systems.

It’s the difference between connecting isolated bodies of sensors, and islands of data, versus the ability to connect disparate systems and display them – and the data they convey – in a view that’s user-friendly and easy to manage.

Who benefits from the data

Both manufacturers and customers benefit from these two schools of solutions. However, Internet of Things solutions can cater to a wider variety of customers – due, it part, to its reliance on software rather than hardware.

The difference in benefits to manufacturers are even more marked. Traditional machine to machine solution benefits, such as data about how the machines are running, can save maintenance teams valuable time reduce the need for service management. IoT behavior analytics provide invaluable feedback to product and marketing teams, adding new layers of business applications to remote access and connected devices.

So how can we summarize the difference between the two terms? While they may externally ‘look’ the same – a collection of hardware, machines, devices, computer and other software –  the different methods of communication, and the benefits of the communicated data for multiple groups of people – from product and engineering teams, to marketing, to the end users – distinguishes the potential of the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things presents inexhaustible opportunity for innovation, product performance, and new value that sets an asset apart.

Interested in learning more about IIoT? Watch the on-demand webinar, “How to prepare for Industry 4.0

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