Indoor Asset Tracking solutions can take on many forms, depending heavily on the particularities of each Applications. You probably have some idea of what you’re tracking and why that might be important, but it’s even more important to be thorough and exhaustive in conducting preliminary market research before involving an engineering team. In this blog post, we will introduce some key considerations that should be well-defined before attempting to build your tracking solution.
Understanding Your Applications
There are two types of questions that help flesh out early stage product development. These questions will help guide user expectations without overpromising. They’ll ensure that product requirements are both reasonable and feasible.
- From a user/customer perspective, what’s the unmet need?
We recommend using a human-centered design approach when conducting early market research and performing user interviews. Although explicit asks like “built-in sensors” or “small form factor” may seem straightforward, the nuance is usually hidden beneath the details.
For example, Life Alert is an asset tracking product and emergency notification system for the elderly living at home. Accessibility and ease of use are critical design features. By contrast, tracking large containers in a warehouse may instead require frequent reporting of relative location to improve supply chain management.
- From a technical perspective, within the realm of possibility, what can be built?
Although interviewing is a good tool to scope out product requirements, conversations can quickly be derailed by asks that are technologically infeasible or physically impossible. A customer may specify the use of GPS underground, or WiFi/Bluetooth underwater, not realizing that the product simply would not work under those circumstances due to signal attenuation. The uninitiated often get swept away by the marketing buzz around certain tracking technologies without fully understanding how that technology fits into a complex, interlocking landscape of tracking technologies in which each tracking technology has pros and cons and the best solution often arises from unique combinations of several technologies rather than attempting to choose one over all others.
Key Questions for Refining Applications Requirements
The purpose of asking questions is to establish a baseline for who is using the product, how the product is being used, and what the product needs to do.
- What kind of assets are being tracked?
- How many floors, level, split-levels, and ramps are there in the tracking location?
- What region (globally) is your application being built for?
- There are different radio frequency specifications across the globe. A LoRa product designed for North America will not work in France or Australia.
- GDPR in the European Union may affect the type of data that can be collected. How will your solution be affected if at all?
- What is the layout of the space in which assets will be tracked? What kind of accuracy is needed vs. desired?
- Which connectivity technologies and configurations best suit the Applications? There are tradeoffs to each indoor tracking technology (e.g. Bluetooth transmits poorly through walls) and physical limitations to what can be achieved in certain spaces.
Establishing Criteria for Success
Well-defined success criteria are critical to product management both externally with customers and internally as development progresses. These are often presented as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)—a set of well-defined terms with associated quantities and units (e.g. device weight in kg) as well as numerical “acceptance criteria” (e.g. must weigh less than 1.5 kg). KPIs should be mutually intelligible by both business development and engineering teams because they provide both the ability to align customer needs with internal metrics for progress and success.
Important KPIs for indoor asset tracking:
- Position solution time: Is position “real-time” or post-processed?
- Position solution accuracy: average accuracy is more important since optimal conditions are rare and unrealistic.
- Position solution error: What is the expected error with respect to distance? A distribution function can help illustrate this.
- Battery life: How long do the batteries last? How often do they need to be recharged? How will they be replaced and maintained?
- Coverage: Is coverage needed on the full premises or only in certain spaces (e.g. conference rooms)?
- UI update lag: Is there significant time delay between moving in real time and position updates on UI? How much lag (if any) is acceptable for the Applications?
Defining Return on Investment (ROI)
ROI is typically the first and last factor in determining whether a product is worth developing. Because indoor asset tracking depends on custom hardware and software, the cost of R&D can quickly stack up. Cost factors can range from UI work (web/mobile) to optimizing data flow and battery consumption at the device firmware level.
In addition to R&D costs, there are recurring Operational Expenditures (OpEx) associated with continued customer support and data management in the cloud. These must be properly accounted for as the computational resources to handle large volumes of data can become fairly expensive at scale.
Ultimately, location data provides tremendous added value in many Applications. It’s often worth the cost. This is especially self-evident for living “assets” such as employees or family members or pets, but it’s also true of expensive assets like medical devices or vehicles that may easily be misplaced or mismanaged. To estimate the ROI of an indoor tracking solution, five questions must be answered.
Five Questions for Determining a Solution’s ROI
- What costs will be eliminated by implementing this solution? Is indoor asset tracking the best and/or only way to cut those costs? Examples include jobs for menial tasks like inventory management, as well as anticipated inventory loss.
- What sources of revenue will this solution help generate?
- Is the tracking data valuable to third parties? Can it be analyzed to improve existing processes?
- What is the cost of the product?
- Compared to the cost of the product, how much direct and indirect value is added from its use?
In sum, market research for indoor asset tracking requires careful consideration of many different factors in order to set the foundation for a successful product. The results of this research should be formally compiled and used as a reference document for external customer work and internal R&D.