This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Michael Gundling, Vice President of Product Marketing at TerraGo
In many industries, the mission-critical work happens outside the office walls. For example, when there’s a service outage, utility companies find themselves on the clock as they dispatch field crews to restore essential services. Electric, gas, water and other companies in the public sector are continually challenged to reduce the time it takes to complete repairs, as well as efficiently track field crews and assets. There is also a growing demand for field-based technologies to capture and share vital data real-time, with the ultimate goal to provide continuity of services — yet at an economical price point.
Since the 90’s, most companies that deploy as many field crews as utility companies do have relied on GPS handsets, paper maps and forms, radio dispatch and call centers to manage field operations. But with the advent of BYOD, more and more of these companies are turning to cloud-based solutions using smartphones and tablets that now come equipped with GPS receivers.
Smartphone and tablet GPS workflows are replacing traditional GPS handsets and software suites in industries such as utilities, government, construction and many more. In many cases, the technology is being introduced for the first time, since traditional GPS data collection had a high cost of entry. Now, even companies that need sub-meter accuracy that’s not currently available with consumer-grade devices can attach Bluetooth GPS receivers that outperform legacy handsets, at a fraction of the cost.
For many organizations, the degree of precision in the data generated is not as critical as the speed and cost associated with getting that data. In other industries, such as utilities, oil, gas, and water management, the precision of the data is mission-critical. Tolerances are not equal for all users, but in both use cases, the adoption of mobile GPS solutions, along with the benefits and cost savings, is increasing.
The mobile GPS technology disruption extends beyond the enterprise to customers and vendors as well. Construction firms are able to share mobile “punch lists” of work sites with contractors and customers alike. Electrical engineers can quickly obtain approval signatures on GPS-tagged mobile forms and photos. Shipping firms can get proof of delivery with on-site receipt and verification. The retail sector is taking advantage of a concept called “geofencing” to deliver “hyper-local” mobile ads.
The degree to which smartphone and tablet GPS technology has been disruptive can be seen in industries that once were dominated by proprietary GPS devices. Many trucking firms have shifted to smartphone tracking and are finding such an impact on their return on investment that proprietary tracking devices for commercial vehicles are expected to disappear in some regions and diminish greatly in others by 2022, according to the GNSS Market Report.
At the Esri Water Conference, a water utility presented a case study that demonstrated how by switching from GPS handsets to mobile, they decreased their data collection costs from more than $10.50 to less than $.50 per data point and reduced costs by 95%.
The global adoption and multi-billion dollar investment in traditional GPS technology has created a tightly integrated ecosystem that’s resistant to change. It’s simply been easier for companies to maintain the status quo, expense and limitations of traditional GPS handsets, as well as proprietary vendor software and data. After all, it works well enough and time and money has been spent training people to use the technology.
Currently in the GPS industry, traditional GPS handsets are now challenged by the capabilities of today’s smartphone and tablet GPS surveying technology, along with the cost advantages. CFOs are taking notice. The convergence of four different technologies is the catalyst for the disruption in the field data collection landscape: smartphones, mobile maps, GPS receivers and surveying apps that brings them all together in a BYOD, mobile cloud-based solution. Deploying mobile surveying apps on devices that employees are already familiar with contribute to the increasing rate of adoption as well. More and more, instead of the traditional yellow handset, field crews will be BYOD-equipped with GPS workflows.
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