Thursday, July 19, 2012

Geo-fencing, GPS Tracking and SAP Enterprise Mobility

Have you thought much about geo-fencing and its value to your business?  To me, it is a very interesting feature of most GPS tracking systems and a useful feature when you want to track locations of resources, materials, equipment and other assets.  Here is how geo-fencing works - when a location-aware device (GPS tracking enabled) enters or exits a particular geographic area that is configured (in the GPS tracking system) with a geo-fence boundary, the device sends or receives an alert/notification.  This notification can be the trigger for any number of clever business processes that you can design.

How is a geo-fence useful?  You can view, in real-time, when vehicles, equipment, materials and mobile devices enter or exit a job site, depots, routes or any other geographically defined area.  You can see when a truck is arriving at a warehouse and route it to the first available warehouse dock.  You can let the job site manager know when materials are about to arrive so they can be prepared to receive it.  For security reasons, you can set geo-fences around job sites so any vehicle, machine or equipment leaving the job site after work hours sends you a notification.  This can be an effective anti-theft feature.

You can also use geo-fencing to notify customers when you are nearing their location.  Let's say that a service technician is dispatched to a customer's location.  When the service technician is estimated to be 15 minutes from the customer's site, a text message is automatically sent to the customer notifying them of the estimated time of arrival.  This certainly is an appreciated customer service interaction.

Another scenario is the arrival on your job site of a specialized piece of equipment.  When it is 1 mile from the job site, the site manager is notified so they can meet the driver and show them where the equipment needs to be off-loaded.

Another use of geo-fences is to identify all resources and assets within a particular area.  Let's say a service technician is dispatched for an emergency repair at a remote location.  It might be prudent to look for other maintenance or repair jobs that can be done at the same location while the service technician is there.

Some companies have service contracts to maintain and repair all customer equipment for a given period of time.  In these situations, the service organization tries to optimize their services and service visits in order to maximize profits.  I worked on a mobile project with a commercial HVAC company (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) in the UK that worked on these terms.  The first thing they did when they signed on a new customer is geo-tag all equipment that they agreed to service.  This enabled them to understand the exact location of all equipment under contract.  Once this was completed, they could geo-fence areas and know exactly how they could optimize service visits in particular areas.

There are an unlimited number of uses for geo-fencing.  I know SAP has a program in place to quickly determine the location of their employees in case of emergencies.  SAP wants to be able to support their employees in times of emergencies and they can set geo-fences around particular areas to quickly see who is there.  I don't believe they are using GPS tracking in these cases - I think they just have a way to see who is in a particular area based on schedules, home and office locations.

The military uses geo-fencing to organize their missions.  Weapons have defined effective ranges.  Aircraft have limited ranges based on fuel consumption.  Soldiers have travel limitations based upon available transportation.  Are they required to walk, drive or be flown in.  All of these tasks and resources have limits.  Understanding locations, resources, schedules and limitations enable commanders to effectively identify and organize missions based upon these variables and timing.  In my mobile strategy workshops I call these "optimized intersections."

Kevin Benedict, Mobile Industry Analyst, Mobile Strategy Consultant and SAP Mentor Alumnus
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
Full Disclosure: I am an independent mobility analyst, consultant and blogger. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.