Over The Air: Key Questions To Ask When Considering A Location-Based Technology

Some issues are unique to the mobile nature of this emerging tech.

Stephen Wellman, Contributor

February 7, 2008

3 Min Read

When most people think global positioning systems and location-based services, they think of the devices on their dashboards. Thanks to the convergence of GPS and mass-market smartphones, 2008 promises to be the year mobile GPS grows up in the business world.

Location-aware applications offer greater productivity to many workers, but any business looking to capitalize on this technology must focus on two factors: how the business can integrate location into its existing mobile strategies, and which applications make the most sense for location.

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Don't count on mobile device management vendors to be the experts on using and managing location data. Most of their systems focus on providing access to push e-mail and securing data stored on mobile phones, including e-mail, customer information, and contact databases. While some products, like Motorola Good and BlackBerry Enterprise Server, have recently expanded their scope, they still don't manage data regarding device location.

Mapping software companies such as Tele Atlas, Ekahau, and MapInfo can help companies looking to add location to applications, but that integration's not likely to be part of an off-the-shelf application. What's required is some in-house development or work by a system integrator, a pure-play mobile services specialist like iAnywhere, or a carrier directly.

Two other problems that could complicate a rollout are carrier and device compatibility. Does the application need to work on two or more carrier networks? Do employees use more than one type of device? Also, will the application be Web-based, or will it rely on some a widget on the device? No one has a long track record of solving these problems, so businesses should be prepared for some trailblazing.

When looking at where to get the most value from location services, a good place to start is with highly mobile tasks, especially field service and sales force automation. The gains don't just come for people in the field; location data could make managers much more efficient in supervising their people and in allocating resources.

Some of the questions facing location projects are no different from any other emerging tech rollouts. How will the company handle the location data it collects, and are there any regulatory requirements for that data? Does it open any new security holes? (None of note yet with location, but hackers haven't had much time to probe.) There are also questions unique to location, particularly in terms of employee and consumer privacy. Many people carry their work mobile devices round the clock; will they be able to turn off the location-tracking apps during off-hours or on breaks?

They're all questions worth asking before a business starts writing checks for location-aware tools.

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GPS Isn't The Only Tool For Location To find out more about Stephen Wellman, please visit his page. To read Over the Air blogs, please visit the Over the Air homepage.

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