Integrating location data into enterprise applications

Today, enterprise app developers can tap into a host of location-based apps, mobile location based services and hyper-local-marketing tools to deliver highly relevant features and content based on where employees or potential customers are. But how do they know which type of location is best for their specific needs?

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Today, enterprise app developers can tap into a host of location-based apps, mobile location-based services and hyper-local-marketing tools to deliver highly relevant features and content based on where employees or potential customers are. But how do they know which type of location is best for their specific needs?

Depending on your industry and use case, requirements for latency, accuracy, authentication and privacy can dictate the suitability of various location sources.

There are two ways to access location technologies, and each one offers distinctive advantages that enterprise app developers should understand to help them achieve their business goals:

• Network-based technologies -- where equipment installed in a wireless carrier's network calculates and accesses the location of the phone.

• Handset-based technologies -- where the location information is generated and accessed by a GPS chip installed in the phone.

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Many smartphones have a GPS receiver to help them determine location. Handset-based location has the advantage of being easy to deploy. For users, it has the distinct disadvantage of strenuous processing and battery power drain. For developers trying to reach broad audiences, GPS is limited to smart (app-capable) devices with onboard GPS capabilities. This means that handset-based location is available for approximately 100 million devices in the United States. Second, to access handset-based location, the device must have an app installed or preloaded that will obtain a GPS fix using the device's onboard hardware. This limits the reach of applications using this location method.

Because app-based location relies on GPS, it requires a reasonably unobstructed view of the sky to work. Even in ideal conditions, handset-based location can take several minutes to achieve a location fix.

Network-based location can locate both smartphones and feature phones without draining the battery. This is important because -- if a device's battery drains regularly through constant location pings -- the person's experience with the app or service will suffer. In addition, if a device's battery runs out, that device naturally cannot be located.

Network-based location works with or without cellular data connectivity, an app download or onboard GPS.

MORE: Location and tracking technologies: Understanding the technology

Among the different use cases where network location is preferred for its reliability, three primary applications stand out as especially critical:

* Authentication/fraud prevention: According to Javelin Research's "Identity Fraud Survey Report," 11 million people experience fraud, with identity theft up 12% this year. In general, fraud costs enterprises and customers about 21 hours to resolve a claim.

Using a customer's location to determine whether a transaction is fraudulent creates fewer false positives that can cost a financial institution time, money and customer good will by using a customer's cellphone location to determine if the card is where the customer is.

In cases where the location of the handset helps direct content or advertising, or enables tagging or check-ins, GPS may be effective. In use cases where location is adding an authentication factor to a transaction, location is being confirmed for regulatory compliance, or enabling employee time-tracking, service level or payroll, location must be unspoofable.

Because a device's location coordinates originate from a carrier's network infrastructure, location fixes cannot be spoofed or modified by an end user, providing critical authentication in financial services and mobile gaming use cases. Even devices without GPS (e.g., feature phones) can be located, making network location services a universal location detection technology.

Using a financial institution as an example, here is the process for using network location:

1. Customers opt-in to the program to allow a financial institution to use their location as part of the fraud determination algorithm.

2. When customers use their card, the financial institution checks to see if their cellphone is near the card.

    o If the phone is with the card, it's likely to be a good transaction.

    o If the phone is in Ohio, but the card is being used in China, it might be a cause for concern. That information is added to the fraud determination algorithm to see if the transaction might be fraudulent.

3. If the transaction is deemed suspect, then the financial institution can ask for more information or deny the transaction.

* Location verification: Location verification can be used for a host of different applications, including proximity marketing, consumer apps, industry-specific uses (e.g., online gambling) and more. [also see: "What's shaking in location technology?"]

For proximity marketing and consumer apps, network location can identify where subscribers' devices are regardless of major carrier mobile network; whether the subscriber is indoors or outdoors; whether the subscribers' mobile device is GPS-enabled or not; and whether it is a smartphone running apps or a feature phone that is not. This information is critical to ensuring a positive customer experience with a brand and driving bottom-line sales.

* Internal/employee applications and services: One advantage of network location is its utility in non-mobile applications. For Web services and cloud services, network location can be easily integrated via an API into enterprise applications such as, Oracle, SAP or other enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions; customer relationship management (CRM) solutions; as well as other proprietary tools.

Top use cases include analytics and measurement, asset tracking and fleet management, call center/IVR, fraud prevention, identity protection, proximity marketing and usage-based insurance. In addition, location can play a huge role for companies that support employees bringing their own device to work by better enabling the delivery of services, both in and out of the office.

Integrating location with enterprise apps

Location APIs are available to integrate the various location methods (e.g., GPS, Cell ID, A GPS, Wi-Fi and NFC) into back-end enterprise applications. As depicted in the diagram, the various location methods feed location data through a Location API into an enterprise ERP or CRM system that acts as a repository for various applications and use cases to access.

The key to successfully deploying location for enterprise developers is to look at their location needs holistically, see where there are synergies between applications, and create a strategic "location roadmap" that addresses how location data can be incorporated across various systems without duplication of development time.

Network-based location offers several key advantages for enterprise app developers, such as enabling mobile location for all customers, whether they carry a smartphone or not, and eliminating the need to download an app or perform some other action or click-through.

Because network-based location is connected to the carrier location networks, it is carrier-grade and highly scalable, more reliable, and passes the demanding requirements of large brands, retailers and enterprises.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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