What is a location based service (or proximity service), and how can your business benefit from them?

Essentially, as one might guess, they use the location tracking capabilities of a mobile device to perform one or more actions to improve your business. Typical uses include marketing & advertising, customer relationship management (CRM), field team management, and analytics.

Beyond Mobile Marketing

Many companies are now using location based mobile marketing for retail. If you are a brick and mortar store, there are many applications for a location based service. If you owned a department store franchise, wouldn’t you like to be able to gather the same data that online retailers enjoy? You can tell when a customer enters your store, what areas they spend the most time in, how long they were there, how frequently, and even maybe be able to tell when they went into a competitor’s store? This data provides endless opportunities to improve your business and to market to your customer.

Certainly, for marketing purposes like location based messaging and analytics, you can’t argue the value of location and proximity services. What other benefits might there be to these types of technologies?  What business operations might you be able to streamline, or what kind of business feedback might you be able to act on with these services?

Use Cases for Location Based Services

Customer Relationship Management

  • A service company (lawn care, let’s say) wants to track the location of their teams as they go about the day. Up-to-the-minute location information allows them to map out all teams and monitor progress throughout the course of the day.  When a geographic barrier is crossed, the company sends an automated text to the next customer stating that someone will be there shortly.  This of course offers a wide collection of data points for analytics in determining schedule and team efficiency as well.

Efficiency

  • Contextual Data: imagine a warehouse auditor working their way through the floor space, going from section to section. Wouldn’t it be nice if their app could display the relevant information for each area without needing to navigate the app?  Or inspection routines making the rounds, having their appropriate information in front of them based on where they currently are?  How about a local tour company with an app to push relevant data to the tour-goer based on which area they’re in?

Team Management

  • Check-in verification: have someone that needs to be somewhere? Compliance tracking perhaps?  With mobile location based services, an app can record a confirmation that your employee was in a particular location at a particular time, without requiring the user to do anything other than have their phone turned on.

Analytics

  • Event Analytics: is your company hosting an event? Offer an incentive for attendees to use your mobile app to gain more insight on who, where, and what they’re doing at your event.

OK, But What is a Location Based Service really, anyway?

General Location Based Services (LBS) is merely a matter of saying “here I am!”  These are everywhere: Facebook check-ins, emergency location tracking for 911 calls, etc.  Aside from the standard positioning services, two more location based software are of particular note: Geofencing and Beacons.

Geofencing

Geofencing is the ability to mark a defined geographic area and have an action take place when the mobile device crosses the boundaries.  Examples could be preparing an up to date list of to-do information when a field team enters a certain neighborhood or industrial plant or sending an appropriate notification to their office manager.

Geofencing boundaries can be set in any polygonal shape, and can be large (encompassing cities) or small enough to hone in on a single building, depending on circumstances.  For best accuracy, geofencing will utilize the device’s GPS capabilities.

Beacons

A beacon is a small Bluetooth device that publishes a data signal containing its identifier.  Think of it as a lighthouse: it does nothing more than signal your location with a unique identifier, but that signal can be consumed by devices to mark when they’re within a pre-defined distance to the beacon.

While geofencing tends to cover broad areas via GPS signals, beacons are highly accurate and geared towards specific locations.  This accuracy is usually configurable to somewhere between 1 and 50 meters.  Beacons are particularly useful indoors where GPS signals easily fail.

Mobile devices can be programmed to look for these unique beacon identifier signals, waking up your app and taking some action when it does so.  Examples include reporting entry to a facility for access and security auditing, noting that an inspector did indeed stop by this station, or tracking how many users come to look at a specific museum exhibit.

The Differences Between Location Based Software

While closely related, geofencing and beacons have very different operating environments, technical requirements, and ideal use cases.  Let’s take a close look at some differences between the two:

Geofencing Beacon
Coverage Area Large to medium-small areas.  Encompass a city or a large building. Small areas.  Pinpoint an entryway or a specific location.
Type of Action “We’ve crossed this boundary.” “We’ve made it to this point.”
Requires Special Hardware? No.  Any modern device has the required location services. Yes.  A small beacon must be purchased to emit a signal.
Requires GPS/Location/Bluetooth Services? GPS, yes.  Bluetooth, no.  Your user must have their location services enabled and must opt-in to the use of your app. Bluetooth, yes.  GPS, no.  Your users will need Bluetooth enabled on their phones to consume the signal and must opt-in to the use of your app.
Ease of defining usage area? Can be programmed, automated, or user-defined on the fly at any time.  Dynamically respond to changing circumstances. Static location: bound to a physical location (however, that could be a moving object, such as a train or subway car).
Ease of Development and Deployment? Relatively easy.  Modern device manufacturers include a device-level API for working with location services.  No special configuration is required. More time-consuming.  While modern devices have the required device-level technology for receiving a signal, beacon hardware must be configured and installed.
Maturity of Technology Mature.  Any modern mobile device has location services. Emerging: the most modern devices will have the BLE (Bluetooth Low-Energy) services built in, but older devices may not.
Battery Usage GPS and location services consume a fair amount of device battery. Beacons operate over a low-energy Bluetooth protocol (BLE) that is highly efficient for battery use.
Consumer/Personnel Usage The estimate is that approximately 90% of device users leave their GPS/Location services enabled on their phones. Here, estimates of device users who are likely to have Bluetooth on at any given time is only 30-40% (note that number significantly increases if you’re considering use in conjunction with a paired device)

 

Conclusion

While currently dominated by the marketing and advertising industries, the possibilities of location based software can be applied in many scenarios and are adopted more and more.  With geofencing, we have wide-area monitoring capabilities, while its beacon counterpart allows us to pinpoint specific locations.

Much of the information to be found “in the wild” on these technologies is in the context of marketing and advertising, and of course, business process use of the technologies carries a different (and usually easier) set of considerations.  While consumer apps must be creative about their means of ensuring users opt-in to these services, business process related apps usually are not privy to such restrictions simply because it can be a company requirement. It is a similar scenario for marketing firms. Agencies might be concerned about how many shoppers might have Bluetooth enabled, for internal business use it’s quite easy to specify and ensure that this is the case.

At Dymeng, we’re pretty excited about location based service technology.  Always looking for ways to improve business processes, this provides a unique opportunity for us to incorporate a whole new area of technology to provide data points, insights, and compliance resources that may not have been traditionally available.

We gave a few examples of use cases. Could your business benefit from location based services? Do you have a different use case we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear about it!