Beacons in the Enterprise

The market for beacon-based mobile solutions is set to boom in 2014, as companies search for 'hyperlocal context' according to Chris Marsh, Principal Enterprise Mobility Analyst at Yankee Group. Hyperlocal context refers to apps that provide content to smartphones, tablets and wearables based on a specific location, time or other pre-defined variables.

Beacons are battery powered Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) modules that emit a broadcast signal to trigger actions in apps. These interactions can be logged and recorded to provide businesses with a wealth of hyperlocal, real world analytics. Essentially, beacons bring the principles of online analytics to real world objects. The recent introduction of iBeacons, a brand name coined by Apple for beacon technology in iOS 7, has led to an increase in its popularity.

BLE has the ability to work across a number of non-Apple devices featuring Bluetooth 4.0, but at the moment Apple is the only OS to support beacons across the system. To work on other platforms, apps need to use custom libraries which are readily available.

Many of the early beacon case studies weã??ve seen so far include trials in stadiums and shopping centres. However, it is in the enterprise that we believe beacons have a huge amount of potential to increase employee productivity and streamline business processes.

A good example of beacon technology improving efficiency for both employees and business is in managing a physical workforce. For security management teams who need to patrol buildings, beacons can be placed around buildings to ensure staff are reaching all of their checkpoints.

Equipped with a bespoke app on their mobile devices, beacons would trigger the app to register as security staff pass their route around the building. This means that employees would no longer have to go back to the office to fill in reports after a shift, as the system will be able to detect the areas that have been covered. Equally, the app will help to detect if any of the rounds have not been completed, which could send an alert to the user to remind them of the areas theyã??ve missed.

Beacons could also work well in a hospital as they are able to trigger apps to provide patients and staff with information most relevant to them, such as when their doctor might be there, patient details, as well as other useful information.

The construction and maintenance industry can also benefit from beacon technology. Beacons placed in areas of high risk, or on machinery for example, can surface contextual back-end server information to mobile apps. This data could include product information, alerts and checklists, as well as critical health and safety documentation for employees when out in the field. Jobs that require checklists to be ticked off can utilise beacons to activate the correct list for the right environment, improving the user experience. They could also be used to schedule maintenance tasks in a more efficient way with mobile apps updating back-end systems based on the location of employees.

For travel and logistics organisations, there a number of benefits for the use of beacons and dedicated mobile apps. Beacons could be placed around airports so that notifications of delays and gate assignments could be delivered instantly to passenger mobile devices. Taking it a step further, beacons placed in transport hubs could push other value-added services to passengers, like transfer or car hire information. Beacons could also be used in other transport hubs including ferry ports or freight train stations to send alerts and collect logistics data to be sent to back-office systems.

One area that is up for exploration is within Mobile Device Management (MDM). At the moment, device features may be disabled across an entire campus or building, when actually it is only certain areas that require features or apps to be temporarily disabled. MDM could be enhanced by beacons to enable or disable features such as, the camera, microphone or volume settings. This will give organisations better control of employee mobile devices to ensure secure company data isnã??t compromised. There are plenty of different scenarios in which beacons could be used to manage staff devices in more secure ways.

In any case, itã??s best to think of a beacon as a touchpoint where the user would be interacting with your company on mobile, whether they are an employee or consumer. The beacon is designed to help the user be in the right place, with the right information based on their location. Itã??s about improving the user experience that leads to better engagement and better efficiencies. In return, companies get better data.

Data is really the real driving force behind investing in beacon deployments. Online analytics have been used to help improve web layouts and provide better business intelligence. This carried through to apps but is all based on our online or digital behaviour. Beacons help to bring the same principles to the real world, something which is hugely powerful and valuable to companies around the world.

There are so many different sectors in the enterprise that could really benefit from hyperlocal context. These include healthcare, travel and transport, as well as maintenance, utilities and construction. Being able to send out contextually relevant messages to employees or customers enables businesses to become more efficient, which eventually leads to a better return on investment from mobile technologies. Not only this, but the data logged and recorded from beacon interactions can provide businesses with a wealth of analytics to help them enhance and continually improve a number of business processes.

This article was written by Sarah Weller, Managing Director, London of mobile consultancy and app developer, Mubaloo. For more information about beacon technology, read the whitepaper, BLE Beacons and iOS Support: A Technical Overview.