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The Power of Place - The Strategy of Location

The Geographic Information Technology Association coined the phrase “The Power of Place” a few years ago in order to make the point that location is central to many critical activities performed by enterprises.  This is only becoming more true as rapid technology innovations utilize location information to provide new ways to address fundamental business needs.

Location Based Services (LBS) and Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) are cases in point.  Context aware technologies, where information and services are provided in real-time to people based on their actual physical location, depend on LBS and RTLS to provide location context.  Typical applications include navigation support, local search, delivery of enterprise services and location based business intelligence.  It is predicted that the overall worldwide market for LBS and RTLS will grow from USD 11.36 billion in 2015 to USD 54.95 billion in 2020 (marketsand markets, 2015).

 Similar growth can be seen in the augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) spheres.  While this is still perceived by many to be science fiction, it is quickly becoming an important disruptive technology for the enterprise.  PWC in an article titled “The road ahead for augmented reality” (Sherman, 2015) identify that warehouse workers using AR glasses can increase productivity by 25% while substantially reducing errors.  They go on to point out that AR offers potential benefits to field service, maintenance, marketing, customer support and other functions.  The information demands of mobile workers are increasing and augmented reality provides a way for context aware information to be delivered intelligently to workers wherever the information is required.  The market for AR is expected to grow from almost nothing today to USD 90 billion by 2020.

As a final example, when one looks at the growth of unmanned vehicles one sees a pattern of rapid acceptance in the enterprise space to address numerous critical business needs.  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Drones are finding application in agriculture, security, monitoring, product delivery, remote inspections and research.  While government regulations, particularly in the US, are limiting growth, the global commercial UAV market is expected to grow from USD 500 million in 2014 to USD 2.07 billion by 2022 (GPS World Staff, 2015).  Ground based autonomous vehicles are also changing the way enterprises operate.  They are being developed for use in transportation, delivery, mining, and public transit.  Today tests are underway for applications as diverse as transportation of ore around Suncor’s Oil-sands mine site (Morgan, 2015) to provision of taxi services in Pittsburgh (Chafkin, 2016).  For self-driving automobiles alone the market is expected to be USD 1.5 trillion by 2030 (Paul Gao, 2016).

Together, these and other evolving technologies, are changing the way organizations collaborate, monitor, plan, design, support, and market.  For most organizations, all aspects of their business will be impacted by these new innovative and disruptive technologies but the largest risk is related to the additive effect of these technologies when combined. 

We have grown used to a pace of innovation that allows us to iteratively adopt technology to support significant, but manageable, enhancements to the business environment.  Today, however, core technologies are converging rapidly to provide new capabilities that will totally transform how business is performed.  Robotics, artificial intelligence, communications, voice recognition, location sensing and user interfaces are coming together to significantly increase productivity, improve safety and change service delivery across all facets of business.

While it is easy to see the major impacts of these technologies on first-line industries, it is more difficult, but just as critical, to visualize the impacts on your organization.  As one example, the impact of autonomous vehicles on the automobile industry, transportation and logistics is obvious.  Less obvious but just as important is the impact that this transformation will have on monitoring activities, maintenance, and customer service within your organization.  For example, any organization that has field staff will soon be able to turn travel time into productive time.   Rather than a person having to drive to a location they can spend the travel time updating reports, checking data or collaborating with co-workers and customers.   This provides a significant increase in productivity, improves safety and provides better customer service.

While these new technologies have impacts across the organization they are dependent on the existence of critical corporate infrastructure.  In particular, in conjunctions with robust communications, and information systems, they require accurate real-time ubiquitous location information.

LBS and RTLS require real-time information on individual locations as well as the location of enterprise assets and events that provide content and context for the individual’s location.  Augmented reality requires the real-time location of the individuals combined with real-time mapping of the environment to perform multiple business activities and integrate with enterprise information systems.  Unmanned vehicles require real-time, accurate maps of the environment in order to operate, but for many enterprise applications they also require the ability to locate enterprise assets in real time and continuously and automatically update corporate information systems.  This requires the real-time location of the autonomous vehicle combined with accurate, up-to-date, location information of assets, people and events everywhere within the range of the vehicle’s operation.

Clearly, if an organization is to take advantage of these evolving disruptive technologies, they must have a robust ability to manage location and location information.  This requires the development of a clear and complete strategy for the capture, transformation, use and management of location information. 

Historically, in most organizations, a GIS strategy has performed this function but its focus has always been limited.  The role of geospatial information in an enterprise has often been tied to planning, construction and operation of outside assets.  GIS strategies have focused on the best ways to capture this information and transform it to make it useful for a suite of defined purposes.  The end result is the capture and careful stewardship of a limited, specific set of spatial data that is delivered to end users through well-defined and strictly managed products.

Given that new technologies operate indoors and out, require real-time locations and must track individuals, assets and events it is clear that the continued reliance on traditional GIS strategies will leave the organization exposed.  Since the implementation of a spatial location strategy is a multi-year complex undertaking there is significant risk associated with a business-as-usual approach to location.

A spatial location strategy needs to address the organization’s requirements for tracking people, assets, other objects and events in real-time across all indoor and outdoor spaces where the organization operates.  There may always be a mapping group creating and managing traditional geospatial data and products but a location strategy will only see them as one part of the delivery of location data and services to the business.  A spatial location strategy focuses first on the provision of a full location fabric that covers both indoors and out.  It then delivers a consistent plan to locate, in real time, at multiple levels of accuracy, all people, assets and objects of interest to the organization.  Finally, the location strategy provides for the integration of all enterprise data systems with the location fabric, tracked people and objects.

This is not a trivial undertaking.  Implementation will engage the organization for many years across all groups and departments.  The creation of a Spatial Location Strategy will guide this effort and prevent the development of redundant and competing systems. 

The creation of a Spatial Location Strategy has four pieces:

  • The first critical step is to develop an understanding within the executive suite and upper management of the importance and impact of location on business operations.  Educational sessions for executives and management will provide the longer term cross-organization support needed to begin the development of an enterprise wide Spatial Location Strategy.  The Power of Place The Strategy of Location
  • A gap analysis identifies the short and long term location based business needs.  A picture of the specific gaps in technology, processes and organization are developed by comparing business needs with present capabilities.
  • A strategy is developed that presents a future state vision for the organization that meets the needs identified in the gap analysis.  It guides implementation design and provides a baseline for measuring success and making course corrections.  Tied to the strategy is a Governance Plan that defines how implementation will be managed.  It concerns itself with organizational structures required to implement the strategy along with change management of business structures, corporate culture, business processes, data stewardship and technology implementation.  Beyond that it addresses the methodology to continually revisit and modify the strategy as business needs and technology evolve.
  • A roadmap develops a timeline for implementation based on business priorities, available resources and technology projections.  The roadmap identifies implementation projects and links them to functionality gates that define delivery stages and related success criteria.

The implementation of strategic location infrastructure combined with an appropriate spatial location governance approach will position the organization to take advantage of the benefits that new technologies are rapidly bringing to the table.  Adopting location as an enterprise strategy turns the challenges of new technologies into opportunities to undertake business more safely, more effectively and more efficiently.

References

Chafkin, M. (2016, August 18). Uber’s First Self-Driving Fleet Arrives in Pittsburgh This Month. Retrieved from Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-18/uber-s-first-self-driving-fleet-arrives-in-pittsburgh-this-month-is06r7on

GPS World Staff. (2015, November 9). Report: Commercial UAV market to reach $2 billion by 2022. Retrieved from GPS World: http://gpsworld.com/report-commercial-uav-market-to-reach-2-billion-by-2022/

marketsand markets. (2015). Location Based Services (LBS) and Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) Market by Location (Indoor & Outdoor), Technology (context-aware, UWB, BT/BLE, beacons, & A-GPS, and others), Software, Hardware, Services, and Application Areas - Global Forecast to 2020. marketsandmarkets.com.

Morgan, G. (2015, June 8). How Canada’s oilsands are paving the way for driverless trucks — and the threat of big layoffs. Retrieved from Financial Post: http://business.financialpost.com/news/energy/how-canadas-oilsands-are-paving-the-way-for-driverless-trucks-and-the-threat-of-big-layoffs?__lsa=204a-424f

Paul Gao, H.-W. K. (2016, January). Disruptive trends that will transform the auto industry. Retrieved from McKinsey & Company: http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/disruptive-trends-that-will-transform-the-auto-industry

Sherman, V. B. (2015). The road ahead for augmented reality. Retrieved from pwc: http://www.pwc.com/us/en/technology-forecast/augmented-reality/augmented-reality-road-ahead.html