In Yankee Group’s annual enterprise mobility predictions webinar that we conducted in mid-February, one of the predictions I made was that the market for beacon-based mobile solutions will boom in 2014 as companies search for hyper-local context.
Beacons are small, low-energy Bluetooth-based transmitters (otherwise referred to as BLE) whose signals can be picked up by mobile devices while keeping their energy consumption lower than Wi-Fi.
Much of the attention around beacon solutions has been generated by Apple’s iBeacons, the term Apple uses to refer to both the hardware and the software in iOS devices that detects and can transmit to and receive data from those beacons.
As much as some of the early fanfare has been around iBeacons, BLE is enabled in other devices also, such as Nokia’s Lumia range, some Samsung Galaxy devices and the Blackberry Z10 and Q10.
The reason why these technologies are so promising is that the use cases for both B2C and B2B solutions for the enterprise are exploding. They have the potential to deliver on the long held promise in enterprise mobility of more accurate logging of enterprise data and more contextualized location-based targeting. Although it’s a nascent market, this year will see a boom in interest in beacon deployments.
PayPal and Apple Ahead in the Consumer Curve
PayPal is hoping to take advantage of BLE technologies with the launch of “PayPal Beacon” — a simple USB connecting to PayPal-compatible point-of-sale (POS) systems, detecting a customer’s device as they enter the store and allowing them to pay hands free.
By installing the PayPal app on their devices, consumers can set up lists of their favorite companies where they want to be able to do this automatically with the receipt emailed to them afterwards.
Apple has showcased a partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB) to scale the concept in a number of ways, from pushing tickets and seating plans to fans as they enter the stadium, to pushing offers directly to enabled devices as their owners enter merchandise stores within the stadium.
Many other use cases are show great possibility for companies across different verticals.
Hospitals can use beacons located in wards to push content to medical staff’s devices, and as a compliance log to record when, where and that a medical professional had actually visited the ward at a certain time.
Museums could locate beacons next to exhibits so that visitors can access relevant information on the exhibit as they view it.
The presence of security professionals patrolling buildings and other sites could be logged by beacons, removing the need for paper-based records of the routes completed. Alerts could also be sent if specific areas have not been patrolled.
Safeway and Giant Eagle stores in various locations currently use beacons to deliver proximity based coupons and rewards and shopping list reminders.
Restaurants can be beacon enabled to entice people inside, call a server to the table, provide a view of the remaining wait time and pay the check.
The mobile technology consultancy Solstice Mobile has created its own “Smart Office” solution using beacons to display relevant campaign and sales data on employee’s devices as they enter their office. Beacons also show, on employee devices, which meeting rooms are occupied and which aren’t. These are just a few of the use cases here.
Not Your Mother’s NFC
Unlike NFC which has a smaller range and which is not supported by Apple in their devices, BLE has broader applicability for a whole host of enterprise solutions. With enterprises hesitant to invest in mobile solutions other than where there is a clear case for a positive ROI, they will not have to look far to see where beacons can deliver.
While some of the beacon hardware is limited currently in its capability, it will only be a matter of time before beacons, plus mobile devices, plus mobile applications converge into solutions that help deliver on that promise of greater contextualization and data utility.
With this companies will begin to think of their data as their inventory, iterated in mobile solutions for greater worker productivity and customer engagement.