Just as we are getting our arms around terms like B2B and BYOD, the latest technology acronym emerges — M2M. And this one is big and getting bigger fast. For many of us, M2M (machine-to-machine) is a new concept,but you might be surprised to learn that it is already a $24B market and predicted to reach nearly $86B by 2017.

M2M…what the heck?

Yes, M2M (a.k.a Internet of Things) is now one of the fastest growing segments in technology. M2M solutions can connect millions of devices via a network, like vending machines, heart monitors, trucks,appliances and buildings — nearly anything with sensors or software agents that can report device-specific information back to other devices or applications.

Conceptually an M2M network is simple. It uses a sensor or other type of device to monitor activity or a status change, such as inventory levels or even an increase in radiation. The captured data is sent via an IP network (e.g. LAN, WAN, hybrid) to another device or application, which in turn can analyze the event and take further action.

That means that M2M solutions can actually kick off tasks and execute complex instructions without human intervention, based on the data gathered. While this might conjure up visions of super computers running amok in a bad Sci-Fi movie, with a little thought, you’ll see that M2M will be a game-changer for individuals and businesses alike.

From connected homes to connected hearts

Imagine having the groceries you need waiting at your house,automatically reordered by your refrigerator when its internal inventory control system notifies your local supermarket you are low on milk and eggs.Or, more significantly, a sensor on a heart patient that can recognize and alert his doctor and hospital of an imminent heart attack. This type of life-saving service is available today — and the possibilities are endless.

Many companies are utilizing M2M technologies to improve quality of service, strengthen customer relationships and even increase profitability. At this year’s Google I/O, for example, Google experimented withM2M by deploying over 4,000 environmental sensors at the San Francisco Moscone Center that monitored temperature, pressure, light, air quality, motion and noise level throughout the conference.

Productivity gains and cost efficiencies have been early drivers in adoption. Heavy service-based industries that have traditionally relied on field personnel to make customer visits for troubleshooting equipment problems stand to gain tremendously from M2M deployments. Many of these companies are seeing dramatic reductions in service costs because what was once done on-site, can now be done remotely. As a result, those requisite on-site visits actually become more efficient thanks to M2M technology, since technicians can often diagnose the problem before they even arrive.

How business is getting “smart”

The seemingly sudden emergence of M2M has been accelerated by a confluence of low-cost, low-power and fast technologies like worldwide IP networks, sensors, wireless technology and cloud applications, to name just a few.

Several industry-specific M2M solutions are emerging in the market; however, before jumping in headfirst, businesses should first identify how M2M can enhance its own processes or even enable the introduction of new services. Some companies may have to rely on service providers to customize solutions to meet their requirements until more business-friendly development environments emerge. Most communications companies such as AT&Tand Verizon,who have much to gain from M2M usage, have established comprehensive M2Mbusiness services.

Lastly, by now we’ve seen how inundated the market has become with Big Data — massive amounts of data being collected by corporations at an ever-increasing pace. And M2M will offer no relief. In fact, M2M promises to explode the amount of machine data generated with the millions of sensors that will be put into service. So, selecting the right M2M analytic applications will be key to keeping the vast amount of data at bay and useful.

In the meantime, take a moment to marvel at the exciting ways M2M is already appearing in our everyday lives. Take a look around, and I bet you will notice it in all kinds of unexpected places. In fact, if you’re lucky, the next piece of jewelry you get might just be powered by M2M technology.

Raj Sabhlok is the president of Zoho Corp., which is the parent company of Zoho.com and ManageEngine. Follow him @rajsabhlok.