Indoor location: The next step for field service?
Here’s a fun fact: most field service is not performed in the field. Typically it is performed within buildings.
Well, you knew that already. But here’s one implication that’s so obvious we usually don’t even consider it: when you’re inside a building, your GPS receiver turns into a GPS non-receiver. You can’t check your own location, you can’t get any support in navigating to your target, you can’t get location-based automation (that is, when I get to X, the software automatically reminds me what to do next or even does it itself), and you can’t signal your location in case of emergency.
Indoor location technology is getting better all the time. Actually, I should say “technologies” – there are solutions based on cellular networks, WiFi, ultrasound, RFID, inertial navigation, and combinations of these and others.
Indoor location, though currently expensive, is already used in some applications with high potential cost savings (e.g. tracking wafers at semiconductor fabrication plants) or high criticality (e.g. hospitals). As in many other mobile technologies (such as GPS and smartphones), consumer applications of indoor location will be the area that drives the price down and gets the technologies into mainstream acceptance. Once that happens, it’s not an exaggeration to state that the impact on enterprise mobile applications will be at least as large as the impact we saw with GPS.
What would indoor-location-enabled field service look like? What would the benefits be? At ClickSoftware, we have been doing some research along these lines. Some of the technology and benefits are shown in this video. The indoor location technology used in this case is WiFi location, and must be set up beforehand, so it is best applied to mobile operations within a well-defined area – e.g. airports, hospitals, manufacturing facilities, university campus. As more technologies become widely available, you could use it anywhere.
What do you think? What benefits would you see as the most important for indoor location in mobility applications?
One last note about privacy: do we really want our managers and coworkers to have full information about our movements? Well, most field workforces have accepted that their location is known and tracked while on the road between task locations. There may be good reasons to accept that the same would be true inside buildings: time savings, fewer errors, and above all additional safety. What do you think?
About the Author:
Israel Beniaminy is a Senior VP of Product Strategy at ClickSoftware, and a guest writer at The Future of Things.