Beyond the map: 3 ways businesses can use GPS

By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven by Upstate Business Journal

Ah, Valentine’s Day. You find the coolest new restaurant by following your Instagram friends and get Siri (or Cortana) to make reservations for you. You’re a romantic so you send a digital rose via text to your BG, but text the restaurant to have the real thing on the table. You order an Uber from your smartphone app to chauffeur you. And maybe try out your new Nest lighting scheme when you get home...

All because of GPS. Without much fanfare, GPS shares its birthday with Valentines’ Day. This year marks the 26th anniversary of the start of the GPS era that began with the launch of the first commercial GPS satellite. 

More than 12,000 miles overhead, armed with atomic clocks and GPS technology that traces its origins to Sputnik, 24 satellites triangulate signals to feed the massive GPS system that has changed the way we live and work.

We are all well versed with the personal applications of GPS - maps on our phones, point of interest searches in our cars and location tracking on our mobile devices. But what about business applications?

The integration of GPS with mobile communications is generally referred to as telematics and there are quite a few applications that you may or may not have thought of. Large businesses with huge vehicle fleets almost certainly are already utilizing telematics. But what about a local florist, or pizza joint? 

A significant application of GPS is employee tracking, logging and geo-fencing. You may be familiar with geo-fencing from apps on your mobile phone. Your loyalty card pops up on your phone when you get near the store? That’s geo-fencing. Apps to help monitor your kids’ driving set geo-fencing limits and send a text message to parents when the car gets outside the virtual boundary.

Here are three ways your small business can benefit from GPS applications.

1. Vehicle and asset tracking. The ability to use GPS to track vehicles is old school; but the availability for small businesses to utilize the same tools that the big boys do has become more feasible in recent years as the technology matured and - naturally - prices came down. Of course, there are companies that sell complete turnkey solutions, like Verizon’s Networkfleet. But more engaging are build-your-own solutions that integrate out of the box apps for a customized solution. 

You’ve already got the GPS - in your mobile devices, in your vehicles - now just figure out what you want to do with it. Tracking delivery or service routes can provide data to build optimize routes, save on gas, and streamline logistic costs. Knowing the exact location of your sales or service team at any given time can help redirect resources and improve customer service. 

2. Employee monitoring. Ever wonder what your outside staff are doing outside? OK, this is a sticky wicket, a slippery slope and any number of other alliterative cliches. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t used - legally - in thousands of businesses. In fact, according to a 2012 report by the Aberdeen Group 37 percent of companies monitor employees’ real time locations via vehicle or cell phone tracking. 

Smart employee cards and RFID chips are useful tracking tools so long as the employee is in the building, but what about sales, service and remote employees? Businesses say GPS tracking isn’t a tool to catch people doing something wrong - although that may be a by-product - but a means to improve productivity and increase efficiency. Legally, employers enjoy fairly broad rights in this area - so long as the employee is using company equipment. (The Society for Human Relationship Management: http://goo.gl/B5l9px)

3. Geo-fencing. This has both an employee and a sales component. At its basic, geo-fencing is a virtual barrier and while it can’t keep people contained, it can notify you when they stray. Trucks that vary from their delivery routes, sales staff who stray outside their territories and office staff whose lunch meetings take place on golf courses can all be identified with geo-fencing. But that’s the pejorative side. 

There’s also a mobile marketing opportunity that triggers and action when people wander IN, not stray out. A mobile app could be programmed to deliver a coupon or sales flyer when a customer wanders inside the geo-fence. Mobile application development is widely accessible with a growing - and cost beneficial - development community. GPS can provide robust customer targeting.

The space program is responsible for many of the innovations that dramatically changed day to day life - from velcro to microwave ovens. For GPS, it all began with one radio beep from the Soviet Sputnik satellite cruising through space.