“Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven.
I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without talking about the other.”
– Bill Gates¹
Who knew Bill Gates had such clairvoyance on this issue? Understanding this truth, we must carefully decide which information technologies are best for our business. One innovation that stands out in linking information and business is Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) beacons.
How do beacons work?
Beacons work much in the same way as a lighthouse. They distribute a pulsing BLE signal (light) that is read by passing devices (ships). The signal is then picked up/read by an application (the ship’s captain) on the device. Once the signal is received the application (captain) can decide how to respond to the information it is given. Pretty simple stuff!
There are a few things to keep in mind when determining practical uses for BLE beacons. A beacon does not read the devices it signals to, much in the same way a lighthouse does not know the ships or the contents of the ships it signals. BLE signals are read from anywhere between 1 meter and 70 meters depending on how they are set up. The frequency at which the signals are distributed is adjustable. How long a beacon lasts on a charge is directly related to the frequency and distance of the signal it produces.
Uses for beacons
There are many uses for beacons in the business world. From the beginning stages of production to the retail store fronts, beacons demonstrate their value everywhere. This post will focus on implementation in manufacturing and retail environments.
In the world of increasing automation the demand for eliminating inefficiencies and increasing productivity is greater than ever. One beacon solution allows managers to easily track productivity in real time as they make their way through the plant. Beacons set up at specific stations transmit a signal to the managers device (phone, laptop, tablet, etc) to show statistics for that section of the manufacturing process. This allows them to easily diagnose and address issues in real time on location.
Employee safety is paramount in a large manufacturing plant. Accidents happen, but it’s important to do everything possible to prevent them. Beacons offer a way to keep employees out of high accident areas they shouldn’t be in. Say there’s an area in a factory that stores dangerous chemicals. That location should only be occupied by certified operators. A beacon can map out the area so when an unauthorized employee enters that zone a response is sent. The barrier breach response can alert the employee, a manager, set off a signal in the area, etc. Proactively managing the problem before it happens is one of the best ways to prevent accidents.
Retail stores are on the forefront of beacon technology. In conjunction with their custom apps, retailers have set up beacons in different sections of their stores to drive sales and promotions. As patrons, who have the app, walk through the store they are sent deals and coupons based on the section (beacon defined area) they are currently in. So a person in the shoe section will see promotions for shoes, and at the same time someone in the summer wear section sees those promos. It’s a highly effective tool for customers looking to save money, and for store managers who are looking to boost sales.
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¹ Bill Gates. BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2017. 18 April 2017.