Indoor Location & Wayfinding: The State of the Market

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The Indoor Location and Wayfinding vendor ecosystem seems to be in Gartner’s Trough of Disillusionment.  Investment and expectations soared several years ago as outdoor applications like Google Maps and Waze became ubiquitous and useful.  But value – and therefore adoption – has been elusive indoors. Why? The simple answer is the costs have become obvious while the returns have not been realized.  

Let’s look at several different dimensions to better understand what I pose is the friction to broad adoption.

Costs

 Indoor positioning technologies need to be affordable, accurate and open.  The costs of instrumenting a venue increase with its size and the level of accuracy you are trying to achieve.  Affordability needs to be based on total cost of ownership (TCO), not just initial investment to provide a fully realized investment. 

Open Standards

Why open?  Because the technologies for indoor positioning are rapidly evolving at the hardware level.  Every couple years a new generation of technology reaches commercial viability -- which I’ll define as being supported by a sufficiently large percentage of cell phones. A venue operator won’t want to be locked into the last version of standards.  

Today, for example, it’s devilishly tricky to achieve consistent accuracy within a couple of meters when using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), despite what the New York Times saysWIFI Time-of-Flight solutions will eventually blow BLE-based accuracy out of the water delivering accuracy within 1 to 2 meters.  When they do, venue operators will want a solution with the flexibility to work with multiple technologies, so they can adopt the new technology on a schedule meeting their needs and continue to get value out of their existing infrastructure, even as they gradually replace it.  

Lack of Integrations

Furthermore, there are three places within the overall domain where “point solutions” predominate: positioning technologies, mapping/wayfinding, and content management.  The lack of integration across these areas simultaneously reduces the utility and increases the operational costs of indoor wayfinding solutions.

ROI is Difficult to Calculate

While costs have become clearer, value propositions have not.  Put simply, people who know where they’re going don’t look at maps. Proximity-based notifications (aka geofencing) are annoying and require opt-in, usually through the installation of a venue-specific app.  When was the last time you installed an app so you could receive its push notifications?  

Or take for example, Augmented Reality (AR) wayfinding which currently is a solution in search of a problem.  Too often, users have asked, “What’s in it for me?”, and the answers have been wanting.

The Bottom Line

Maps are valuable when they tell you something you don’t already know.  In a car, insights into traffic conditions make an app useful, even when you know exactly where you are and where you’re going.  More generally, it’s real-time data on changing conditions that provides value.

That same formula can be applied indoors, too, cutting the time to find where specific things really are, right now – whether it’s an occasionally-stocked item at a big-box retailer, or parts in a factory, or an employee in an emergency.  But delivering value in any of these settings requires a holistic perspective on not only venue management – the union of positioning technologies, mapping, content management – but also fine-grained, up-to-date information of the sort only possible through integration with other systems:  What products are available in inventory and where? Who’s on the floor right now?

Ultimately, to start climbing Gartner’s “Slope of Enlightenment”, indoor wayfinding solutions need to evolve towards location intelligence:  

  • Integration with other systems 

  • Ease of deployment and maintenance

  • A closed loop of data for venue operators to clearly assess the return on their investments

These fundamentals present challenging but tractable business problems.  Solve them, and a multitude of possibilities open up. I give AR wayfinding a hard time, but if it helped me find that one can of cat food in an aisle of 93 varieties that all look the same… I just might change my tune.

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