Firms Find Their Way With Location-Based Services

Case Study: Location-based services track the who, what and where of workers.

GPS has been considered the de facto standard for location tracking. Although still king, a few not-so-new technologies are joining the party to extend the functionality of LBS.

When introduced, location-based services were to fleet managers what VisiCalc was to accountants. This killer app eliminated the time-consuming need for "Where are you now?" conversations between drivers and dispatchers.

With GPS locators fixed on every vehicle, fleet managers could watch a real-time or near-real-time map of their entire fleet, usually connecting to the companys network via Wi-Fi technology. This ever-changing data continues to give them the information they need to make quick changes in routing, maximizing the efficiency of drivers and the entire fleet.

@Road Inc., of Fremont, Calif., has delivered LBS via GPS to transportation, distribution and field service companies since 1998.

"We provide the visibility as to where the mobile workers are," said Joyce Tam, @Roads senior leader on the project management team.

Although GPS data is valuable, it is not always reliable, Tam said. High foliage, tall buildings and tunnels can delay or block a signal, making location tracking either inaccurate or unavailable. Even with the best always-on location information, its still a limited form of one-way communication.

/zimages/4/28571.gifStartup Skyhook Wireless Wi-Fi Positioning System is an alternative to GPS technology. Click here to read more.

Mobile businesses are far more complex. They require far more information, such as "Whats on the truck?" and "Just because I see the driver is at the drop-off point, did they actually do their job?"

Supplementing the capabilities of GPS and its imperfect reliability, a few companies are taking hold of some well-known technologies to expand the capabilities of LBS.

Closing Gaps—Cell Tower Networks

Since 2001, Autodesk inc., of San Rafael, Calif., has been in the location tracking business. When it started in 2001, two things were happening in the industry—the Federal Communications Commissions Enhanced 911 tracking requirement would soon turn every mobile phone into a location device, and mobile carriers were eagerly developing customer-enticing data services, said Sunit Lohtia, chief technology officer for Autodesk Location Services.

A shift in the LBS market was apparent, Lohtia said. What was traditionally a high-end transportation-only playground would soon be open for everyone, even consumers. Location technology was about to undergo a multifold expansion in capabilities. "Each and every app is going to be impacted by location," projected Lohtia.

Unlike a fixed transponder on a truck, a mobile phone is a two-way device thats fixed to the individual and can transmit both voice and data to the network. "[With a mobile phone] youre turning each and every employee in your organization into a resource that you can manage based on their location," Lohtia said.

In fact, Autodesks business service for carriers, Mobile Resource Manager, is just a derivation of MRM (mobile resource management)—the updated industry term that supplants the title and definition limitations of LBS.

Next Page: Location-based services—everywhere you go.