VAR Spin-Off Takes On 'M2M' Services


There are a lot of solution providers looking to tap into the "next big thing." Steve Pazol thinks he's found it in the form of M2M, or machine-to-machine, technology.

To delve into this nascent market, Pazol's 13-year-old IT consulting firm, Professional Consulting Services, recently launched nPhase, a spin-off dedicated to providing hosted M2M services to help customers remotely manage their machine assets.

"M2M is a push to network machines similar to the way PCs are networked on the Internet," said Pazol, president of Professional Consulting Services and president and CEO of Chicago-based nPhase.


nPhase's Pazol
> Location: Chicago
> Expertise: M2M services
> Quote: 'We look to our customers to provide domain expertise, and what we can do very quickly and cost-effectively is build the types of applications they want on top of our own system and deliver it as an ASP so they don't have to do the heavy lifting of the IT stuff.' ,Steve Pazol

By connecting devices such as generators, elevators, gas pumps and cell towers to IT infrastructure, customers can remotely gather realtime data on the status and performance levels of their machines, potentially reducing the number of required service or maintenance visits, Pazol said.

Given that there are about 50 billion machines worldwide, analysts say the market for M2M,also know as "machine to mobile" or "mobile to machine",is poised for huge growth. Research firm McKinsey & Company estimates that the M2M space will generate $100 billion in combined revenue across the United States, Japan and Western Europe by 2010.

NPhase has developed software for gathering, housing and sharing management data from geographically dispersed machines. The data is collected by sensors on the machines and transmitted wirelessly to nPhase's network operations center (NOC), where customers can use mobile devices to access the information via the Internet or integrate it into supply chain or order-entry systems.

While many machines are currently capable of sending e-mail alerts in the event of a problem, nPhase's solution enables customers to get a full view of their assets, Pazol said.

"We consolidate the information so our customers can get an enterprise view,or their customers can get an enterprise view,of what's really happening out in the infrastructure with their assets," he said.

To deliver its service, nPhase has teamed with several technology partners, including AT&T Wireless, sensor manufacturer Opto 22 and Nokia. The Nokia M2M Platform includes the Nokia 31 GSM connectivity terminal, which is essentially a wireless modem that sits at the customer site and talks via the wireless network to a Nokia M2M Gateway housed in nPhase's NOC.

"We have a complete communications solution that takes the burden of designing communications systems off of the system integrators' hands," said Kimmo Savolainen, M2M program manager for the Americas at Nokia, during nPhase's launch last month.

The beauty of nPhase's solution is that it can be easily customized to fit an extensive array of vertical markets, Pazol said.

NPhase's customers already include LifeSpan Technologies, a manufacturer of sensor technology that monitors the structural health of bridges and other infrastructure elements; SpectaSite Communications, a cell tower company; BioLab, a water treatment product company; and Checkers, a drive-through restaurant chain.

For example, LifeSpan uses nPhase's private-label service to provide a hosted monitoring service to public and private sector customers that purchase Life- Span's sensors. Through the nPhase service, LifeSpan's customers can pay a monthly fee to remotely monitor sensors on these infrastructure elements, thereby prioritizing problems and better utilizing limited personnel resources, said Pete Vanderzee, president of Atlanta-based LifeSpan. The de facto method now is visual inspection,a subjective process, he said.

"We provide objective structural information to allow asset owners and engineers to make informed decisions as to whether their assets should be repaired or replaced," Vanderzee said. "We can dramatically lower cost and improve management on a 24x7 basis."