To most people, location-based services mean sat-nav systems or phone location software – something GPS, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth beacon based. This is not particularly surprising, given how long satellite-based technology and other radio communications have been with us and continue to be part of everyday life. However, as technology continues to expand and innovate, location-based services have morphed into something entirely different.
This change has been partially driven by a growing need from businesses and the enterprise for accurate, reliable and up-to-date knowledge of both indoor and outdoor locations as part of the drive towards digital transformation. This includes enclosed spaces, something GPS is not capable of providing, but is equally if not more important; given that 80 percent of people’s time is spend indoors. It’s often said that in business, information and knowledge is power and this is particularly true within the enterprise, where the correct information can deliver efficiency, productivity, safety, and profits for a company.
But instead of calling it information, it’s referred to nowadays as location data and few things provide as much data for the enterprise as real time location systems (RTLS). This is because most modern RTLS system include internet-of-things (IoT) gateway capabilities, effectively merging the location data with communication data by linking the remote sensing of environments around the monitored asset with location information- enabling them to constantly collect information on both “where is…?” and “what is happening….?”, no matter the target.
Accordingly, leading enterprise vendors are investing substantial resources to make RTLS more accurate, reliable, and easier to use across several different markets and use cases - from asset and supply chain management to safety / security and MRO (Maintenance repair and overhaul). But where should that investment be focused on in the enterprise?
First, a recap. RTLS provide location data by recognizing the precise positioning of critical assets—supply chain, manufacturing, and human, in real-time. In other words, these solutions ensure the enterprise has immediate information on precisely where something is and/or has been – and in some instances what it has done – via constant communication between the system and the object being tracked.
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location services is a logical next step for many within the enterprise. The potential for these solutions can be seen across a wide range of business areas as RTLS technology transitions from vertical to horizontal enterprise applications, including those for security, business-process improvement, and network optimization.
This is a key element of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or “Industry 4.0”, built around what was started in the third with the adoption of computers and automation and enhancing with it with smart and autonomous systems fueled by data and machine learning. A system that depends on near real time communication between machines that have been augmented with wireless connectivity and sensors to monitor and visualize an entire production process and make autonomous decision will be highly dependent on RTLS to provide faster response times.
As with all things do to do with transforming the enterprise, there are two key investments as RTLS make the move away from standalone implementations: the cloud and a scalable technology infrastructure:
Cloud: the ability to access location services via a real-time API/SDK is critical to making future enterprise services useful and while many mobile apps already have a location service capability, virtually all enterprise apps will ultimately add RTLS as a component, making it more relevant to users, as well as creating a means to achieve much better outcomes and enable more efficient analysis.
Scalable horizontal infrastructure: today there are several RTLS which are implemented as stand-alone applications, operating independently and supporting only one (or few) use cases at the time. These all have a negative impact on the Return-of-Investment (ROI) time for the end-customer. Instead, the goal should be to adopt a technology that will be a key part of virtually all future solutions across a variety of needs, including artificial intelligence (AI), AR/VR, processes optimization, robotic and autonomous vehicle navigation, simulation/modelling, data analysis, and more. Linked to this, it is worth noting that the infrastructure investment cost can be minimized leveraging on wireless connectivity solutions (like 5G or private LTE) or by using optimized cabling strategy for reducing cable runs.
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The move to the cloud is also important when it comes to data and use within enterprise. The battle for RTLS relevance will move from companies that only support specific vertical solutions without API capabilities, to those that can offer (directly or via an ecosystem of providers) open and ubiquitous location services. This means that RTLS technology providers should not create HW, SW, or applications locks with their offering. Instead they should only be the enabler for an open ecosystem of companies providing a variety of solutions and services.
In return the end-customers avoid remaining locked by a single technology provider and, by buying from different company providers, leverage on the same location data for running multiple use cases. Adopting a value-added strategy that offers location data as a component of a wider need is beneficial as it enables enterprises to utilize more strategic value in using location — not just a factor in directions, but also as a key component of their decision processes. All of this will have a positive impact on the ROI of any infrastructure investment; the more use cases can be supported by an RTLS implementation the better ROI it will bring. This requires not only expertise in making services available, but partnerships that can form complete and useful solutions that enterprises can leverage.
As RTLS continues to move beyond outdoor navigation and mobile apps toward indoor environments across multiple vertical markets. IRTLS is becoming a critical component of the enterprise, laying the foundation of next-phase autonomous IoT and connected devices, as well as advanced services like AR/VR and AI analysis. Going forward, successful enterprises will focus on powering the most useful solutions through partnerships that deliver key value-added benefits.