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What Are Use Cases For Location-Based Services?

By Craig Mathias in · Solutions · August 31, 2016

Last week, we looked at what location-based services are. This week we will examine potential use cases. With indoor and campus wireless technologies that enable location and tracking efficiently, cost-effectively (even to the point of no additional expense), and with accuracy that can range from adequate to amazing, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing an explosion of location-based services enabled by Wi-Fi and BLE. Let’s explore some of these – I think you’ll find the range of applications impressive.

First, the basics. LBS is all about provisioning what a given user needs based on his or her location at any given moment in time. The most obvious application then, is in directories of what services are available, directions (often called wayfinding), and optimal routing, based on specified conditions.

An obvious example here is in the case of a large retail store – finding what one needs can be frustrating, to say the least, and store staff can’t be expected to know the location of every 4mm hex-drive cap screw in stock (I just happened to need a couple of these recently myself, but I digress).

So – just use the store’s app to enter what you need, and a map appears to guide you to precisely what you’re looking for. The app might also suggest some alternatives and additions – advertising and sales enhancement being the requirements that they are. Regardless – problem solved, quickly and efficiently.

Another pervasive need is continual enhancements to personal safety and security. Many facilities across a large number of industries already use (often wireless) security cameras to monitor as much as is feasible given the capabilities and limitations of the human eye and security staff productivity.

Using the geofencing concept we introduced last time, however, any device wandering into an unauthorized area can trigger an alert to authorized personnel. A possible response might range from disabling wireless network services for that device to dispatching security personnel, and beyond.

Someone simply might be lost (think: theme park, assisted living facility, etc.), or the issue might be more serious. Or a panic-button feature of an app might summon help (medical, security, and other, as appropriate) based on the precise location of the person requiring aid. Lives could be saved – and with staff- and cost-efficiency not otherwise possible.

How about energy management? This requirement is only going to increasing going forward, driven by local regulations as well as a simple desire to save on energy costs. There’s no point, for example, in lighting, or perhaps even in heating or cooling, a room that’s unoccupied. LBS can be used to determine precise conditions and update building environmental conditions accordingly.

And there’s more – much more. Let’s look at some examples in key vertical markets: 

  • Retail – There’s no business opportunity where efficiency determines overall success like retail – it’s more competitive than ever today, and pennies count. A key application of LBS is in the analytics that reveal customer traffic and buying patterns. Such data can help in optimizing store layout, along with what to stock and where to place it. Surveillance techniques can also be applied to the always-present shoplifting challenge, a/k/a shrinkage reduction. 
  • Education – Schools of any form, but especially those with larger campuses, can also benefit from LBS. First-year students trying to find their 8:00 AM classroom are by definition operating at a disadvantage, but mapping and directions can easily come to the rescue. Ditto for finding the students involved in a study group or other project, and in locating specific physical or information resources required at any given moment in time. 
  • Healthcare – The very definition of mission-critical, seconds in healthcare are like the pennies in retail. Where’s the nearest defibrillator? Where’s the specific nurse or doctor required? What’s the fastest way to the ER? How about automatically scheduling and reserving a nearby elevator to shave off a few more of those precious seconds? The opportunities for integrated LBS in healthcare environments are just beginning to be explored. 
  • Manufacturing and distribution Manufacturing and distribution facilities are already optimized for efficiency to a great degree. But workflows can be complex, and the scheduling of the arrival of materiel at a given station can be similarly so. LBS can help in minimizing traffic and downtime (really enhancing just-in-time shops), while maximizing staff productivity. 
  • State and local government – Directory services via an app can be invaluable to those of us seeking the right person in the right department, and in finding these with minimal effort and frustration. Staff can also take advantage of information helping them locate the resources they need – including other staff – with minimal effort and maximum efficiency.
  • General organization and enterprise – LBS can be applied, then, in essentially every organization. Where’s the nearest printer? What network services are available based on my identity, location, time of day, and other factors as determined by policy and IT management? How about using one’s device as a access security key (coupled with a PIN or other factor, of course)? The opportunities are endless. And, as with many of the other examples above, we’re just getting started.

So, then - the required technical underpinnings of LBS are established, cost-effective, and available. The irrefutable market drivers for LBS are also in place: reduce costs, improve service, and enhance safety and security. 

There’s no issue with the client end of the connection; almost all smartphones support Wi-Fi and BLE. Users almost always have no problem with installing apps – privacy is rarely an issue in those seeking the benefits of LBS, and what little personal information need be given up adds to the value of the result. The truly paranoid (or nefarious), after all, can always turn off their  phone! We think, however, that the location-driven/based personalization of services will prove overwhelmingly valuable to all involved - and next time we’ll look at the key requirements for success with LBS.

All Posts In This Series:

Reality Check: Your WLAN Is Already Supporting BYOD. Now What's Your Strategy?
BYOD Doesn't Have To Be A Challenge

1) What Are Location-Based Services?

2) What Are Use Cases for Location-Based Services?

3) What's Next For Location-Based Services?

Craig Mathias (@farpoint1)

Craig J. Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless networking and mobile IT. Founded in 1991, Farpoint Group works with technology developers, manufacturers, carriers and operators, enterprises, and the financial community. Craig is an internationally-recognized industry and technology analyst, consultant, conference and event speaker, and author. He currently writes columns for Boundless, Connected Futures, CIO.com, and various sites at TechTarget. Craig holds an Sc.B. degree in Computer Science from Brown University, and is a member of the Society of Sigma Xi and the IEEE.