Magazine Article | September 1, 2005

It's All About Location

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

LBS (location-based services) may have been all hype a few years back. Now, they can transform the way you manage your mobile workforce.

Integrated Solutions, September 2005

I recently spoke to the general manager of a small field service operation � maybe 40 techs in the field. All of his mobile employees were equipped with Nextel handsets. The company used the push-to-talk feature to communicate updated information throughout the day. Appointment finished, the tech relayed the information to dispatch. If there was an urgent need to reroute a tech, dispatch relayed the change to the field. The company had no problem taking advantage of the handsets' push-to-talk feature.

But, by the way, the phones were also equipped with GPS (global positioning system) tracking. Did the company leverage this technology as well? Hardly. It was more of a curiosity than any real business benefit. "It would be great to know where my guys are at every point in the day. But we just aren't that far yet. Based on the routes we set up each day, we have a general idea where our techs are throughout the day. So, we just use push-to-talk and ask for their present locations," the GM explained. "We really should look into what we could be doing with that GPS data."

He really should. Seriously.

LBS Impact Current Apps
LBS are really about taking advantage of GPS technology, which has long been mature. It was just a couple of years back that LBS received an overly abundant amount of attention at trade shows and in publications. Not surprisingly, the technology followed the typical hype cycle and lost mindshare as quickly as it gained it. But like all sound technologies (e.g. Bluetooth, ASP hosting), LBS rose from the technological ashes � stronger and more focused.

I once saw an example of LBS where a GPS-enabled phone was linked to an application that could indicate to the user the best pizza joints in a given distance. Certainly, today's versions of LBS offer more practical uses for the technology. For example, a CRM (customer relationship management) system uses GPS data to determine the location of a salesperson who finds himself with an open morning. In this case, the LBS relays key accounts in the area that the salesperson could visit before lunch. In another example, a construction company uses GPS-enabled handsets to keep track of its subcontractors as they enter or leave a job site. The LBS clocks the tradesmen in and out. So, it not only keeps track of hours worked, it allows the general contractor to dig down into even more granular data. The result: more accurate bids (read: more competitive) on future jobs and better control and flexibility of employee overtime.

Managing a mobile workforce is much different from managing a workforce within the four walls. The most obvious difference is that you simply can't see your employees. You can't monitor their activities and check for ways to improve processes or performance. This isn't big brother; it's a matter of productivity. GPS technology, however, solves this problem � allowing you to "see" your mobile workforce. LBS allows you to take action on this new information. Think about it; the most common question asked to a field employee has to be, Where are you? In fact, it's probably the first question asked of mobile workers.

Now, you have not only an accurate answer to that question, but also a way to respond proactively and in the most appropriate manner. And, that's certainly more compelling than finding the best pizza joint.