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Microsoft MapPoint Location Server "Attention-focuses" Mobile Devices

  • July 2, 2004
  • By Jonathan Lurie
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Who Will Use MapPoint Location Server?

We already know that law enforcement vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, and some taxicabs have installed GPS locators so the vehicles can be tracked. The business drivers and corresponding return on investment for location-based application development need no further expatiation in those established industries. The real question is whether they will make the switch to MLS? I would venture to say that many of them will, for the simple reason that it is so much easier to develop location-based applications on the MLS platform. The ease of development obviously means increased productivity, faster time to market, faster time to value, blah, blah, blah. (Time-to-value is the time delta between the moment a business need is identified and when it's filled.) Now, consider all the small taxicab companies that have not "automated" due to the high cost of traditional location-based services technologies. MLS changes that.

Does MLS provide a better mousetrap for these applications? Probably not. MLS is not necessarily better because it may not provide pinpoint accuracy. Remember, the preciseness of the geographic location depends on the cellular operator. This lack of absolute precision may be inadequate for critical uses (military, medical, and so forth), but it's very acceptable for commercial uses. Thus, the question of whether MLS is better is a moot point. Besides, I expect that most will use APGS to get excellent location precision anyway. Where MLS hits a home run is in providing affordable location-based services to companies that could not previously afford them.

I have spent a good deal of time building law enforcement applications, and I can attest to the difficulty in building applications that integrate maps. With law enforcement applications, the need for geographic information systems (GIS) is crucial. Analysing crime statistics against a map allows law enforcement management (police chiefs) to allocate resources (police officers) with greater efficacy. The APIs for building GIS were relatively cumbersome and difficult to integrate—especially with a mobile device. MLS abstracts the developer from many of these complexities and thereby provides a far cheaper mousetrap because it doesn't require expensive mapping software nor GPS tracking devices to be installed. A cell phone will do, and many of us already have those.

Why Use MapPoint Location Server?

If I may adopt corporate speak: MapPoint Location Server's value proposition can be asseverated by measuring its potential for improvements over existing operational processes. Got it? No? Let me try again: MapPoint Location Server helps a business to do more with less. For example, consider a small distributorship that delivers beer and alcohol. It uses only half a dozen trucks to service a metropolitan city and each driver has a "locatable" cell phone. A retailer that is out of inventory places an online order with the distributorship for immediate delivery. Leveraging a service-oriented architecture (SOA), the new order could execute a background process that determines whether any of the drivers are within close proximity to the retailer and even whether the truck contains sufficient inventory at the time. If practical, a message could be sent to the driver instructing him to make the delivery. Other uses include tracking your sales staff on their daily routes: Are they really working hard, or hardly working? The following list provides just a few ideas to consider:

  • News dispatch—Tracking news vans and reporters for better dispatch. Reporters can be messaged when the van is within twenty minutes of its destination.
  • Service repair—Dispatch mobile repair technicians
  • Delivery drivers—Where are they?
  • Fleet management/tracking
  • Field service management—utilities, repair, and so on
  • Sales force automation
  • Security applications
  • Real estate—Show similar properties within one mile of current location
  • Mobile workforce management
  • Taxi and transportation
  • Locate colleagues—Where is my technical sales support?
  • Where can I get film developed? Eat? Sleep? Get cash?
  • Is there a restaurant near the theater?

Timothy Stockstill, CTO of Code Conference (a company specializing in mobile applications such as route automation and an early adopter of Microsoft's MapPoint Web Service—yes, that was a blatant plug for my company!), cites MLS as a breakthrough technology for the mobile sector. Location-based applications are now within reach of everyday businesses.

Mobile workers will certainly benefit from MLS, but they aren't necessarily the only ones. Think about how MLS might lead to new services. Doctors, nurses, and other health providers would be able to respond to life-threatening emergencies in record time, given that the person nearest the location could be messaged immediately. (But let's get real. Doctors making house calls?!)

In essence, MLS allows developers to build new applications that will turn the cell phone into the attention-focusing device of tomorrow. The concept of "attention focusing" is currently the subject of significant research at the Infospheres Project at the California Institute of Technology, where I will be pursuing my doctorate studies (yet another plug?!?). The term is highly relevant to MLS, because MLS allows people to become more integrated into critical business processes, meaning humans become more "integrated" into the software. The bottom line is that you're going to be able to respond to exigencies at any time, day or night, because when your cell phone beeps it may no longer be a matter of convenience but a matter of necessity. Hence, the device focuses your attention, whereas currently it often defocuses you. MLS will make devices even more attention focusing because you will not be "notified" unless you are geographically situated in a position to take action. A fire in Los Angeles, for example, would not cause a notification to be sent to a Los Angeles fireman currently vacationing in Miami, unless to tell him to cut the vacation short!





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