Beacons in the enterprise can do everything from help employees locate buildings on a large corporate campus to automatically connect a participant to a dial-in meeting when they walk into the scheduled conference room.
Over the past six months, VMware has installed 2,000 beacons across its 105-acre, 17-building campus in Palo Alto, CA. The project is expected to be completed by the third quarter of this year, with additional beacons added during the global rollout of vNavigator, said Chandra Elango, senior director of IT for VMware.
"Since our campus is really big, we've developed a mobile app for employees, contractors, and guests to find their way around when looking for buildings, conference rooms, cafeterias, etc. The beacons will help locate where they are, and help them navigate around," Elango said.
The pilot for the app began in the second quarter of this year, and there is a staggered rollout scheduled for the third quarter—from now until September—for all Palo Alto employees. VMware started small, with one floor of one building, for the pilot.
The updated mobile app provides step-by-step navigation to conference rooms, or help finding a colleague at their desk. They began the project by using the existing Wi-Fi structure, but this year they are adding additional Wi-Fi access points, he said.
The fast navigation is helpful for employees visiting from other locations, or for anyone in a hurry and not quite sure where something is located on the vast VMware campus.
Throughout the next three months, VMware will be unlocking new features on the app for employees, and seeing what other sensors they can develop for the campus.
"The first feature that we are turning on will most likely be if there is nobody in the meeting room and it's already booked, we will unbook that meeting room and free it up," Elango said.
At the Silicon Valley campus, there are far more electric cars than there are charging spots available at VMware. The company has offered a separate app that shows which electric car chargers and adjacent parking spots are open or, if they're all full, when the next one will become available. And, VMware is now working to integrate the EV charging app with the new campus app, he said.
In addition, the indoor campus maps are being reconfigured on the app. They were in black and white originally, and people have asked to have them rendered in color with more detail, he said. They've also made it easier for employees to access the app and updates.
"Employees can download vNavigator through the application catalog on VMware Workspace ONE, our enterprise platform that delivers and manages any app on any device," he said. "Our IT department can also seamlessly push updates to users through our VMware AirWatch enterprise mobility management platform."
The beacons benefit VMware in several ways. "First, we're improving the employee experience and their productivity, which is clearly a benefit to VMware. But also, we're just starting to look at what other use cases beyond office and conference room navigation as we combine the beacons with the capabilities of VMware Workspace ONE. We see a lot of opportunities as we bring together identity, mobility, and location; and we will be able to not only provide them to employees, but also showcase them to our customers," he said.
Elango said that the app has improved employee productivity as well.
Although VMware could not release the name of the vendors it is working with, one of the companies in this arena is ReadyTalk.
ReadyTalk has released its beacon-powered version of FoxDen Connect that provides video interactions on mobile and in huddle rooms, by identifying who is in the room, and automatically connecting the participants together for HD video conferencing between iOS and Android mobile devices or Chrome browsers. It also sets up in-person meeting rooms for video interactions. A host's mobile device automatically recognizes the presence of a meeting room via beacon technology and wirelessly initiates an onscreen meeting.
Having this option available can immediately save someone the 10 minutes of time that it can sometimes take to connect a video conference with participants, said David Chao, chief strategy officer for ReadyTalk.
The company is beta testing facial recognition software so that everyone, not just those with iOS devices, Android devices, or a Chrome browser, can be automatically added to a video conference when they walk into a meeting room.
Beacons are the wave of the future for the enterprise, since more employees are working in remote offices and connecting with colleagues in other locations.
"There's going to be an easier way to connect people in a meaningful way. As we look at the beacon technology and how we use it as a starting point, we hope that you'll see a lot more of that intelligence being connected," Chao said.
Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:
- VMware has added 2,000 beacons to its 105-acre Palo Alto campus over the past six months, improving employee productivity and their experience.
- ReadyTalk is beta testing facial recognition software that works in conjunction with beacons.
- The growth of beacons is enabling more remote workers and allowing workers to work from different cities than their colleagues.
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Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.