Abhi Ingle leads the mobility applications and industry consulting team for the Advanced Mobility Solutions group within AT&T. His team works with Line of Business, IT and vertical industry executives to define, deliver and deploy business solutions that help corporations or government agencies wirelessly enable their business applications. These applications cover a wide range of business functions including field service, sales force automation, public safety, logistics, fleet management, fraud management and other vertically specific business processes. His teams are also responsible for creating business-centric machine-to-machine solutions and business-to-consumer marketing applications for enterprise customers.
Location data is a key component to the SensorWeb, or “Internet of Things,” that wireless technologies and GPS chips enable as businesses continuously seek to optimize their business processes and operations. In officially launching their Location Information Services (LIS) platform on June 7, 2011, AT&T brings scale and much needed enterprise-class solutions to an otherwise fragmented location-based services market. We were very pleased to spend time with Abhi talking about his perspective on location information services.
LBx: What is the background and history behind AT&T’s newly launched Location Information Services? What was the problem that AT&T solved?
Ingle: AT&T is one of the largest providers of pre-packaged applications and solutions in MRM (mobile resource management) with 12 million users. To optimize MRM investments such as automated vehicle conditions and asset tracking, our customers are looking for information on where people, processes, and assets are located. We have found that our customers are looking for ways to extend their specific business applications, and therefore need a way to universally access location data across multiple applications and multiple wireless networks (wireless carriers) that support a variety of wireless devices across the company’s geographic footprint.
From a technology perspective, what our customers are seeking is a set of APIs to access any business application and to scale the use of location data across the enterprise. From a business perspective, what our customers need is a reliable enterprise-class provider to support the operations of the business. When you are talking about location information from a business-centric perspective you are not talking about a friend map. There are many consumer applications on the market that are very effective for addressing individual goals, and simple departmental projects. However, mission-critical operations such as dispatching, logistics, asset management and emergency management, for multi-billion dollar corporations require an entirely different level of sophistication and service assurance. This is the problem we set out to solve.
LBx: LIS is a developer platform and appears to be a location data service for enterprise customers. Explain how it works.
Ingle: There are many ways to go about providing location. LIS is a bundled cloud-based service application that includes the APIs and the location datasets, which the customer pays for on a transaction basis. For example, a field professional utilizing a work order management system is interested in viewing location data through this application. In order for that work order application to access the location information of a particular device, the application needs to be able to know where for example a specific truck, hardware, person or phone is located. That location is discoverable by a combination of cell-tower triangulation, GPS, and assisted GPS. The platform therefore acts as both a location database and a developer platform that provides access to information about the object in which the user is interested. LIS allows customers to access location data that is derived from any device that interacts with the network including mobile phones, broadband cards, tracking devices, and sensors.
LBx: So it sounds like LIS is enabling the concept of the SensorWeb and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
Ingle: Absolutely; as I mentioned earlier, AT&T has the largest M2M base in the world today. We have enabled these machines to utilize location as a primary vector. In aggregating carrier relationships across the U.S., we are helping to solve many interoperability issues.
LBx: Who within the enterprise is the buyer of the services?
Ingle: This really depends on where the user is within the cycle of user sophistication. Many times, location data resides with the business process owner. For example, we often speak with customers in the fraud management division of a financial services company. One easy way to improve fraud detection is to triangulate customer behavior based on location, and in particular on the two things that most people never leave home without—their wallet and mobile phone. In the case of a debit card transaction, the ATM network knows where the debit card was used. If the debit-card holder’s mobile phone is identified to be in Kansas City, and the debit card was utilized in Senegal, the likelihood of fraud significantly increases.
We host Line of Business workshops, and provide mobile app consultants to our customers, which helps identify where the customer is in the cycle of sophistication of the user. The buyer can emerge from any function of the business and expose other parts of the business to the benefits of optimizing location information services. We have a flexible account team that works with all facets of the business.
LBx: Looking out into the future, how do you think companies should treat location data – as a feature or a core asset?
Ingle: Most people unfortunately don’t think about location information enough. They haven’t thought about what location information can really do for them. So I would say that right now it’s viewed as a feature. However, in the long-term it’s a core asset because business is about optimizing people, processes, and assets. To optimize people, you are going to depend on collaborative tools and knowing where they are; to optimize process you need to adapt applications to real-time information; and to optimize assets you need to know their location and status. Good managers will eventually see location information as a core asset.