Revisiting the Chasm

As my 13-year-old likes to say, “That’s so last century.” But I found myself in a bit of a time warp recently. While attending the first-ever, M2M Conference (Machine-to-Machine), held mid-April in Dallas, I was amazed at the number of references to the 1990s high-tech marketing classic, “Crossing the Chasm.”Written by Geoffrey A.

Moore in 1991, “Crossing the Chasm” is filled with advice on how to create markets for high-tech products among mainstream customers. The book is based on the premise that, in the bell-shaped curve of a product’s technology adoption life cycle, there appear several cracks—the first between innovators and early adopters, another between early majority and late majority, and yet another between late majority and laggards.

The real focus, though, is on the deep and dividing chasm that separates early adopters from the early majority, who comprise the left half of the large bell-shaped area under the curve. For a high-tech product to reach a mainstream market, it must be able to cross this chasm in its adoption curve. Moore cites local area networks as a technology that finally crossed the chasm to mainstream adoption with the introduction of Novell software running on PC interface cards. One that never made the leap—artificial intelligence (AI).

According to experts at the M2M event, machine-to-machine technologies (also known as machine-to-mobile) are now poised at the chasm. M2M is the new marketing term for device networking, and relies on sensor and device connections, a communication strategy (wired, wireless and cellular) and software to monitor and manage the device network.

Jim Gagnard, president and chief executive officer of Questra (www.questra.com), a Redwood City, Calif.-based provider of service software for device management, says a confluence of factors is driving the use of M2M in markets such as health care. These include low-cost sensors, an Internet pipeline and the ability to connect data to the enterprise. To reach additional markets, says Gagnard, M2M needs to promote exceptional security, extensibility, scalability and a high-performance, high-throughput architecture.

What’s powering the global economy’s recent huge gains in productivity? According to Marc Nussbaum, CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based Lantronix (www.lantronix.com), it’s been networking technologies. The first productivity gains, says Nussbaum, were because of LANs; the second wave came about because of the Internet; and the third wave, he predicts, will be due to M2M adoption.

Another of the many smart people who spoke at the M2M event was Jeff Smith, who leverages his experience on the Supercollider project with the work he’s doing in M2M. “On that project, the system had to make a decision on thousands of sensors in less than five nanoseconds.” Smith, who is the founder, president and CEO of SensorLogic (www.sensorlogic.com), based in Addison, Texas, says the machine-to-sensor connection is no simple matter. “Every cable has 16 ends,” he jokes, referring to the number of possible different connections. But he predicts standards, such as XML and the sensor standard, IEEE 1451, will emerge to “save the day” and promote user adoption.

My take on M2M is that it holds huge potential in the industrial automation market. Companies such as Opto 22 (www.opto22.com), in Temecula, Calif., are leading the way with products such as its M2M starter kit, Nvio. Other suppliers, such as Invensys and ABB, have previewed M2M product development.

Will M2M cross the chasm? To quote Moore’s book, “…the early adopter is buying…some kind of change agent. By being the first to implement this change in their industry, the early adopters expect to get a jump on the competition…By contrast, the early majority want to buy a productivity improvement for existing operations…They want evolution, not revolution.”

So what’s M2M going to be? Change, disruption and revolution—or gradual, steady evolution? Each industry, and indeed each manufacturer within an industry, will make that decision on its own. But wherever you’re at on the technology adoption curve, M2M bears watching. Stay tuned.

More in Control