5 ways beacons are transforming the enterprise

Bluetooth beacons are proven technology. So why isn’t anyone using them effectively?

Sure, companies are using them. Google uses “beacons” — you’ll find a slew of examples of their use in retail and other B2C contexts. Apple kicked it off in 2013 with iBeacons in their stores. McDonald’s followed suit in 2014, pushing to customers special deals on sandwiches and McNuggets. By 2015, companies like Macy’s, Target, Walgreens and Best Buy were all using beacons to track users and boost sales.

But are we seeing a return on that investment?

Recently, the beacon buzz has been rather quiet. Even with adoption by big brand names, the promise that beacons would “revolutionize retail” seems to have been premature. How many of you have apps on your phone with beacon-powered push messages enabled? I’m guessing not many.

It turns out that as a culture, we’re tired of being marketed to. We’re sick of ads, and we’re creeped out by businesses stalking our movements. For many of us, 10 percent off toilet paper on our monthly Target run isn’t worth the hassle of downloading an app, then managing a barrage of notifications that we find mostly irrelevant. Beacons, or an evolved version of them, will likely infiltrate our retail experiences eventually. But we’re not there yet.

Beacons and their ecosystems have incredible potential to transform how we do work, from the conference room to the construction site.

That doesn’t mean, however, that beacons aren’t useful. The real innovation around beacons is happening not at your local mega-mart, but in the enterprise. Retail showed us that beacon technology works. In the enterprise, we’ll see how it can add real value.

I believe that beacons will be one of the vanguards of the “smart office.” Like devices such as Nest streamlined our home environments, beacons will help us work more efficiently, productively and collaboratively. Here are some examples of what that will look like.

Streamlined access

Just like Bluetooth lets you unlock your car without a key, beacons can streamline employee access to everything from physical spaces to electronic records. Using beacons could eliminate extras like key cards and make proprietary systems and fobs unnecessary, saving the company and its employees time and money.

Keeping track of stuff

What if you always knew where every piece of equipment was located without annoying codes to determine inventory? Beacons can be used to track valuable property for improved asset management.

With beacons, employees will spend less time tracking down the stuff they need to do their jobs. This application could be convenient for things like computers, but life-saving in places like hospitals. It also enables companies to learn how assets are being used in order to plan more effectively, optimizing equipment purchasing, rental, utilization and attrition.

Keeping track of people

Similarly, beacons enable employees to be aware of each other’s location. Maybe it’s not a big deal in your smaller office, but on huge corporate campuses, it could make it easier to connect with colleagues, set up impromptu meetings or even just find your buddy for lunch.

In short, it empowers casual interactions to get work done. Non-office work environments see tremendous opportunity, as well. Tracking people’s locations on construction sites, in warehouses or in factories could bring benefits even more critical than productivity, like keeping people safe and compliant. And in an emergency, knowing where people are could literally make the difference between life and death.

Wayfinding and navigation

Another use case specifically relevant to large corporate campuses, beacons can help people understand where they are, and where they need to go. By pushing information, including your location, a map or specific directions to a conference room (plus the Wi-Fi password once you get there), beacons can empower more time spent working, and less time spent wandering.

Automated environments

Beacons can help our offices become more efficient and secure, protecting and enabling our people and assets without an army of manual resources:

  • Turn the heat down and the lights off when the last person leaves the building.
  • Activate a PC’s screensaver as soon as an employee leaves their desk.
  • Start a meeting when the organizer walks into the conference room.
  • Disable cameras in a certain part of the building.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Beacons and their ecosystems have incredible potential to transform how we do work, from the conference room to the construction site. Best of all, they’re cheap and adaptable. For 10 bucks a beacon, you can increase productivity, security, collaboration, comfort, efficiency, safety and more.

I’d call that a smart investment in the soon-to-be-smarter office.