Beacons and geofencing: Real time enterprise asset tracking and self-service

Sathyan Sethumadhavan, Regional Head/Product Manager, ThoughtWorks India

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Part I

We are living in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Economic Forum says the “the introduction of new technologies creates entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains.” Internet of Things or IoT is one of these new technologies referred to. Industry experts say that over 50 billion smart devices will be connected to the IOT ecosystem by 2020, and that figure will double by 2024.

Asset tracking is the process of tracking and verifying physical assets at different stages of its life cycle – production, shipment and usage. The accuracy of data from this process can lead to invaluable information on asset usage – answering the proverbial who, what, when, where and how’s – which promote data-backed decision making, smarter asset life cycles and augmented utilization rates.

The powerful union of Internet of things (IOT) and artificial intelligence, is providing a new life to asset lifecycle and supply chain, by enabling tracking and monitoring conditions in real-time. The most common ask from industries like retail, hospitality, entertainment and banking, who are investing in this technology is real time location data. This data enables the design of new business models that can provide proximity-based solutions, contextual notifications, indoor navigation systems and more. In the effort to mine location data, Indoor Real Time Location System or ‘I’RTLS has become consumer-accessible, thanks to the ever growing range of sensors and wireless technology like wifi ,bluetooth, ultra-wide band and ultrasound.

When it comes to the accuracy of such positioning solutions, comparing indoor and outdoor positioning systems helps us visualize this a little better. While GPS is revolutionizing the outdoor positioning space, there is still a margin of a few meters of error that’s allowed. But, with indoor positioning systems, the acceptable error range is less than a meter. And, Bluetooth is seeing increased adoption (read, almost every smart phone in the market) when it comes to wireless technology that ensures the best results.

For devices where Bluetooth isn’t an available option, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices are the alternatives. Of them, beacons are the most commonly used BLE devices that comes with positioning capabilities. Additionally, beacons have additional sensors like light, temperature, accelerometer and available in different forms; industry and military grade units have ensured an industry-wide I’RTLS related acceptance for these devices.

Beacons at the workplace

Today, workplaces are more like connected systems where people have a seamless relationship with technology. IT operations is a huge part of an employee experience and include everything from several operational requirements like hardware spend optimization, hardware usage, security and auditing and more. All these activities call for exceptional hardware asset management, real-time and with high data accuracy. And, makes answering these questions much easier with real-time dashboards – How do you ensure assets are secured in the protected zone? What is your inventory prediction for the next 6 months? Do you have an accurate usage pattern for this asset?

Platform to support BLE geofencing

Gone are the days of excel-based tracking, enterprises leverage ‘asset management tools’ now-a-days. However, operational tasks like stock taking, asset assignment, audit of IT assets involve tedious manual processes with higher chances of error. And, this leaves organizations with the big question of how accurate, secure and audit-worthy is their tool’s data.

BLE-based solutions help automate against these challenges. At Thoughtworks, we developed a platform which supports ‘Geofencing’, that can identify assets within identified boundaries. A one-time setup puts all IT devices through a beacon-based tagging process, and the device dictates the appropriate beacon. This poly-beacon solution supports both, Estimote and Kontakt beacons.

The office’s layout is mapped with multiple virtual boundaries using an ‘Edge node,’ and the low cost, enterprise-grade and arduino-based board is connected to each virtual boundary. Every beacon delivers an ‘I am here’ signal to the Edge node, coupled with the RSSI value, at 3 second intervals. The Edge node is also enabled with ‘Edge computing’ capabilities that processes information before it’s sent to the cloud for a more detailed analysis, and ML linked activities.

The event-based platform is configured to send triggers and push notifications based on defined business rules. This solution has a 99.95% precision rate when it comes to real time location accuracy. The 3 to 5 years battery life of beacons ensures automated asset tracking. This creates a 90X cost saving opportunity, that would otherwise be spent on asset tracking and assignment. Interestingly, a study by Mobile Experts, the IoT asset tracking market will triple, from US$22 mn to US$70 mn devices by 2022. And, in Part II of this article, we will see how Geofencing, the IoT led solution is also encouraging workplace related self-service, audit compliance and contextual solutions.

About the Author:

Sathyan Sethumadhavan leads the internal regional product teams, which is responsible to build products using IOT, AI and ML. He also manages the regional IT for India. With his strong technical expertise, he specialized in building product engineering teams which balances innovation and product delivery. 

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