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GPS: Handheld Is No Longer the Way to Go

GPS: Handheld Is No Longer the Way to Go

January 29, 2015

By David Basil

There are more than 2 billion smartphones in use today, and that number is expected to jump to 6 billion by the end of the decade, according to the GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association).

The Geospatial Intelligence industry sees 6 billion potential users of Global Positioning System technology, sharing notes, photos, videos and project updates among team members and with headquarters, driving commercial customers, water management, municipal and emergency services and a growing list of organizations that are finding reasons to invest in GPS because they are finding more ways to use it.

Six billion ways to manage projects, tasks and locations from a central point; 6 billion ways for crew members to track each other.

Six billion reasons to say goodbye to the concept of a proprietary device that may cost as much as $10,000 and require specialized training to update your GIS.

Those devices had their day, but with the development and widespread dissemination and use of Smartphones and Android devices, beginning with the mobile revolution in 2007, the sun has set on that day. Since then, the geospatial industry has recognized the potential offered by the devices and has focused its innovation and technological development toward helping customers realize their potential.

That innovation has been spurred by the establishment of cloud networks and web-based mapping services, by the improved efficiency of the mobile devices and their servers, by increased capability for real-time data exchange and resultant dialog they offer, and by customers demanding alternatives to single-use devices.

Field Force Is Already Trained

Those customers also want more people able to take advantage of GPS capabilities on their jobs, and they don’t want those people losing valuable time to excessive training sessions. Now that they understand what GIS can do for them and see how it can be designed for use with little training for field forces, they want the next step: devices their employees are already familiar with, because many of them already consider iPhones and Android devices as much a part of their daily lives as lunch.

Two-thirds of those workers in the United States are using their phones to access the Internet, and half of them download applications, according to the Pew Research Center.  Increasingly, those applications are location-based, using GPS to find addresses, restaurants, hiking trails, weather conditions and other venues, while at the same time training the user to work in a world in which location and time have assumed a growing importance.

The geospatial industry has given businesses the ability to adapt to change more quickly and efficiently, with adaptable workflows that can cope with real-world conditions.

In many ways, GPS customers want what the military already has.

“Mobile apps will allow us to achieve what we always wanted to achieve: Every soldier is a sensor,” said John Timar, vice president of global business development at TerraGo in a recent editorial whitepaper for C4ISR & Networks. “Everyone will be carrying a way to communicate, whether it’s an individual soldier or a squad leader who collects all of the information. Either way you have hundreds of thousands of people out there taking pictures and recording video. That is going to be tremendous amount of information.”

BYOD and ROI: Links to Productivity and Profit

That’s information from a system that customers know contributes to the bottom line. Those customers are tying the expense of GIS progress to their Return-on-Investment and like what they see. What’s not to like when you see a $1.5 million annual savings from a 100-person field force using iPhones and/or Android devices equipped with photo and video capability, Internet access and standard interfaces?

Customers also like the flexibility the iPhone and Android devices offer, which is why the workers buy them in the first place.

The operative acronym these days is BYOD: Bring Your Own Device. More than 1.5 billion around the world can do that, with 6 billion on the horizon. Those devices are no longer just for ordering lunch or finding out what you need to bring home from the store. The geospatial industry is finding that they’re also for reading and writing the information workers need to do their jobs economically and well.

Research by the Aberdeen Group indicates that BYOD programs produce employees who are 5 percent more productive.

Dave Basil is vice president, Product Development at TerraGo Technologies. He has more than 20 years of experience in the development of cutting-edge technology in enterprise software, cloud-based security, aviation and satellite-based navigation and surveillance solution areas.