Keeping track of people with beacons: Privacy, relevancy and optimisation

tracking_people

Recently we’ve been talking about using beacons to track assets, but it’s worth remembering that in many cases, the most valuable asset might be a person.

When we talk about tracking people, there are often some concerns about privacy involved, so I thought I would look at some of the situations where you might want to track people (either anonymously or specifically) and address these issues.

Privacy Concerns

Let’s talk about privacy first of all. While it is an important and understandable concern, it is worth remembering that attitudes around tracking are evolving. In many cases, online users are willing to trade a small piece of personal data (an email address for example), in return for information.

What matters here is making sure that the information or service you are providing is relevant enough. In order to collect this information, you will need not only to clearly inform the user about what information you need, but also where you plan to use it, and what they will receive in return.

It’s also worth mentioning that beacons themselves are fairly passive devices. They cannot transmit any information at all to your phone without explicit permission. In most cases this involves allowing an app to receive messages and send push messages, as well as enabling Bluetooth.

While some efforts are being made to address the need for an app (and Bluetooth devices like fitness wristbands often come with appropriate software pre-installed), it is still the default for most devices. This brings us back to relevance and value again. Points of friction are best addressed by providing something genuinely useful.

This is actually a microcosm of the wider mobile commerce market, where many businesses invest in a mobile site to initially attract users, before attempting to ‘upgrade’ users to a dedicated app to increase ‘stickiness’ once they have already proven value. For now there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this, as value changes from business to business. It’s one of the main reason we offer consultation services for our customers, so that we can learn more about the specific needs of customers.

Use Cases

As mentioned, there are a number of reasons you may want to keep an eye on people, and it’s important to remember that it doesn’t need to be a Big Brother-esque scenario. Simply anonymously tracking devices as they enter and leave areas can add enormous value. Here are a few different use cases:

Optimising workflow

In previous posts I mentioned that tracking assets could speed up the flow of goods from warehouse to store. The same is true of people. Ever booked a taxi to the airport, and then waited for your delayed departure? Think what you could do with the spare time (Duty Free is calling your name…).

In a business situation, it shouldn’t be used to ferry staff around like drones, but knowing where I need to be, and when is extremely useful. If a delivery is running late, then I can prioritise other tasks to fill in the lost time. If a task requires a set amount of time to complete, then my progress can be monitored. It can cut down on a huge amount of wasted time and allow me to more efficiently organise my own day.

Building better environments

One of the easiest beacon implementations is simply tracking the movements of devices around a space. With a management system like superHub, it’s easy to see where people enter, how long they stay, and where they hover.

Which in-store displays are attracting the most attention? Are customers spending so much time in the dairy aisle because they love looking at the cheese, or because they can’t find the eggs easily?

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Keeping track of their movements and interactions is entirely non-intrusive, but allows you to optimise your physical space – be it supermarket or warehouse – so that people can easily find items, and also keep moving during busy periods.

Renting devices

Recently a couple of the blueSense team visited the Barbican in London to try out Edgelands, an interactive experience which uses our beacons to showcase the building’s unique history and architecture (Look out for more on that in a future post). Before we began though, I realised I had forgotten my headphones.

Luckily I could rent some from the shop. Unluckily it involved handing over my drivers license and making a cash deposit (They were very nice Sennheisers, so I appreciate why).

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It is possible however, to avoid this. Thousands of museums, parks, zoos and attractions now offer experiences with an audio-visual element, and hand out dozens of iPods, tablets and headphones to go with these. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just take one without needing to fill in the paperwork. This actually works for all kinds of items, from headphones to bicycles, with your personal device linked to a specific device that can be easily tracked.

Tracking children in public spaces

There is also a safety element involved in tracking people. We’ve talked before about shopping malls using beacons for wayfinding, providing maps that point out key features. While this is useful for adults trying to find their own way around, it may not be quite as useful for children.

beacons_Retail

Several large malls are now experimenting with beacon tracking for wristbands, meaning you can easily keep an eye on your children, even if they have been distracted by the enormous M&Ms display and run into a shop they shouldn’t have.

This also works for themeparks, zoos, and all kinds of complexes where many people need to be safely identified and guided.

Meetups and networking

Finally, what kind of marketer would I be if I didn’t mention networking? In the past I’ve worked with events that have used apps and RFID to track users, but beacons can actually offer a much wider experience with a much higher level of personalisation.

They can easily supply you with live information on who else is in your vicinity so you can optimise your networking time, and allow vendors to know when important clients are using their stands. In the past this kind of data has relied heavily on word of mouth feedback, but with beacon tracking you would be able to identify exactly who had visited which booth or conference session throughout the day.

Finally, there is also the added bonus of providing live information on the event itself – knowing which sessions are starting and finishing is a huge boon, as is automatic check-in to events.

Keeping track of people can provide us with a huge amount of new data, which in turn should allow businesses to optimise their own efforts internally, and provide far more relevant messages and experiences for users. If you’d like to know more about tracking, check out our proximitySense platform.

How can beacons help with asset tracking and management?

asset tracking

When we talk about beacon deployment, there’s a tendency to focus on consumer-facing applications. Retail has been the sector driving adoption in many cases, and being able to track customer flow – or even a specific customer – has clear, measurable value.

However, customers aren’t the only thing that has value within an organisation. While it may be less ‘sexy’, asset management is an area where beacons can provide massive business value. I thought it would be useful to look in more detail at asset management here, and lay out a few simple use-cases.

What is asset management?

Before we get started, let’s define our terms. Put simply, a beacon can tell you where any given asset is at any given time. So no more lost equipment, much faster and more accurate stocktaking, and even status monitoring. If something goes down, you can know about it right away. 

Using beacons to track items is also extremely simple. You can simply attach a beacon to the item and monitor these through a management device like our superHub.

Let’s consider a few typical use cases.

Locating assets.

A number of organisations have experimented with tagging items with RFID chips in the past. While these are useful, they have a limited range, which means they are not useful for larger spaces. Beacons have an advantage here, partly because they have a larger range, but also because they can be deployed in groups.

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You can easily cover a large warehouse space with just a few beacons. For other internal spaces (where you have to deal with smaller rooms, corridors, lifts etc.), you can quickly deploy beacons in fleets to give total coverage.

It’s also worth noting that beacons offer greater security, and more control over the type of signals being broadcast and accepted.

One case that we have talked about internally is hospitals. Medical equipment is very high-value, and quickly locating the right device can literally be a case of life and death.

Beacons_asset_Management

Medical scanners and devices are routinely wheeled from place to place within hospitals; so tagging them with BLE beacons makes perfect sense. Because beacons use low-energy signals, they also avoid interfering with device operations.  This also allows usage patterns to be monitored and optimised.

Inventory and logistics.

Warehouse inventory can be a time-consuming process with a great deal of manual work involved. Staff are often required to scan stock in and out of various warehouses for transit, and stocktaking often involves manually recording each and every item in turn. 

With beacons it’s easy not only to monitor the position of a given asset or container of assets, but you can also receive real-time information on position and stock levels. Transport hubs or even individual vehicles can be easily equipped with beacon monitoring equipment so that any asset can constantly be monitored.

This reduces logistics workload, increases security and enables businesses to optimise their logistic workflows. In the current business environment, where everyone struggles to provide speed and agility, the ability to quickly locate and distribute goods can offer a real competitive advantage.

Process management.

It’s also worth mentioning that the ability to monitor assets does not end with finished products in a warehouse or on a shop shelf.

It’s also possible to monitor parts and materials during the manufacturing process, which again can help avoid bottlenecks in the process and aid fulfilment, and even assign staff to specific tasks based on their current proximity to particular assets. This is a low-cost way to greatly improve efficiency.

There are endless other possible asset management use-cases available, from mobile device management to optimising transport. Take a look at our other use case examples to get inspired, or check out our range of beacons to see which best fit your business.