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How beacon technology will bring an enterprise sea change

More and more beacons are infiltrating our daily lives, and it's becoming clearer how beacon technology will affect enterprise IT.

Beacon technology is becoming a more prevalent part of everyday life. Now, with more opportunities for integration with enterprise systems, the future truly has arrived.

Radio-frequency identification sensors have been in the enterprise since the 1970s, tracking assets as they move through operations and preventing the theft of goods from retail stores. Fast-forward to today, and we are seeing a host of new sensor technologies that are truly transforming the way companies do business and interact with their customers.

At one point in the movie Minority Report, the main character walks into a retail store and a voice from the sky startles him by asking how he liked the pair of blue jeans he bought a month prior. The important part to understand here is that this event was mostly passive. The character didn't log in to a system, push a button or swipe a credit card. He merely walked into a store.

We could see beacons in most every facet of our lives within a couple of years.

In 2015, that fiction is becoming a reality with very small and simple sensors called beacons (or iBeacons). A beacon can be as small as a quarter and contains a very small processing chip with a Bluetooth Low Energy radio for communications, all powered by a simple watch battery (in most cases).

It is a very basic device that can only effectively send its broadcasted signal about 100 feet. Mainly, it transmits two unique identifiers: one that is associated to device location and a second that provides a receiving device with a special code that triggers an event. The receiving device is typically a smartphone, tablet or even wearable.

The retail market has already seen a major influx of these beacons. For example, a customer using a Bluetooth-enabled Apple iPhone can go into a store and receive a push notification about sales from the store's app, delivered via beacon technology.

We could see beacons in most every facet of our lives within a couple of years, and not just for consumer-facing services. There are tangible benefits to using beacon-based asset-tracking technology internally to optimize operations. For example, organizations may drop beacons in with shipped packages to track movement and provide information throughout the entire logistics journey.

Robin, a startup based in Boston, offers conference room management technology that uses beacons. Its software can automatically initiate a phone call or online meeting when a person enters a conference room and even change his or her presence status to "in a meeting." When the meeting ends and the employee leaves the room, the presence status reverts back to "available" and the conference room technology resets to be ready for the next meeting.

Allowing technology to track your every movement is a somewhat scary thought. Our smartphones have the capability to keep personal data secured, and using them in combination with beacon technology adds convenience to our daily lives. It could save significant time and money for consumers and businesses alike as beacons become more pervasive.

Next Steps

Privacy concerns for beacon technology

How to use beacons in retail

Keep consumers close with beacon

Bank utilizes beacon technology to assist disabled customers

This was last published in October 2015

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