How iBeacons will revolutionize both work and shopping

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Logistics, efficiency, and customer-first experiences.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Business Consumer -- a blog series focused on the ever shrinking gap in technology dedicated to business versus consumer. Each time, we'll take a particular technology and discuss how it is relevant to both the enterprise and consumer.

This first post we are looking at iBeacon, an indoor positioning system that communicates worth devices via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). It's basically GPS for indoors.

iBeacons in the workplace

The value of iBeacon in the enterprise may not be immediately obvious -- most of the use cases, like Apple's placement of iBeacons in retail stores to push marketing messages and other information to shoppers, seem very consumer-oriented.

But the ability to associate a user's position with tasks that need to be accomplished can be valuable to an organization. Companies have employees for a simple reason: To accomplish tasks. These employees often are able to accomplish these tasks because they have specialized knowledge. These tasks also involve interaction with assets and inventory. When organizations can quickly bring together the right individuals and inventory as quickly as possible, an increase in productivity will follow.

Take for example a warehouse distribution center, where loading is a dynamic activity to manage. Alerting a forklift driver that he is right by the next pallet to load will save time and extra trips. Or take an IT help desk that is out in the office supporting users. Knowing that this expert resource is right next to an individual who needs its expertise is a huge win for getting someone back up and running as quickly as possible.

Beyond these immediate uses, iBeacon also l;ets enterprises collect data about people and assets over time. This could provide enormous insight into time, motion, logistics, and areas to improve efficiency. Want to know average response times, internal routing paths, or user request locations over time? This could all be easily extracted from the data.

Looking back in time at geolocation data is only the beginning of the business value of iBeacon. Enterprises can analyze past patterns in order to predict actions before they even transpire, and recognize where and when to react before the need even arises. This would allow businesses to have people and product in the right place at the right time.

iBeacon and personalized customer experiences

iBeacons could also change the retail experience for consumers, letting companies market to them based on their precise location.

For example, if I’m standing in the TV section at a big box retailer and my location is picked up, the retailer send a message to my phone asking if I need help, or offering a discount offer for immediate purchase for a TV set. Even better, the retailer could look through my purchase history and recognize what brand I’m more likely to purchase, then make a highly relevant offer.  

One might argue that relevant purchase insight is more beneficial to the business. But we think this creates more of a two-way street for the consumer, letting you save time and potentially some money, and once in a while helping you to discover new things.

For instance, Virgin Atlantic recently launched iBeacons in London's Heathrow airport to let customers check in without going to a desk. Now, imagine if your flight was delayed and you got a text message offering you a drink around the corner? This is where we get value as a consumer -- it goes beyond a transaction and creates an excellent customer experience.   

But isn't this a little bit creepy? In fact, while people say they are concerned with privacy, a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 77 percent of consumers said they'd be OK with sharing location data in exchange for something of value.

But what is that value and to whom?  Some people would give away data for a $5 coupon, while others may need timely information to complete a task. With these services, the consumer opts in, so they determine the value -- a stark difference from old-school couponing that hits everyone.

Imagine Groupon if it was tied into iBeacon: Value + location + relevance on consumer buying habit = value to me.   

We’re bombarded everyday and in every computing medium with dozens of offers, data, and digital noise. Although we opted in to many of these messages, a lot of them are useless because we have similar patterns of buying, living, and getting around. The tools for targeting us are still too blunt.

We need services and offers that are more intelligently differentiated based on combination of things, like behavior, time, micro-location, and attitudes. Think of this as our digital DNA. iBeacons are one useful tool to help make sense of that DNA.

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