Context-aware mobility: What is it and how will it change the business world?

Employees can save time by more quickly finding goods on warehouse shelves or supplies buried in storage closets

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Three challenges

Of course, context awareness doesn't happen in a vacuum. Enterprises must be aware of a number of challenges, one of the biggest being privacy, industry watchers say.

"Some of this personal privacy stuff just screams at you," says Michael Finneran, principal at dBrn Associates Inc., an independent wireless consulting firm in Hewlett Neck, N.Y. "We see a lot of this from local governments, which want to use location services to find out where their housing inspectors are sleeping," he says.

But unions have balked at such deployments, suggesting that supervisors need not know everybody's whereabouts all the time. A work-around is to limit monitoring to the lunch hour and after 5 p.m., and to promote the idea of increasing worker safety, he suggests.

A second challenge is the federation of information, Gartner's Clark says. To add context awareness, a system may need an ID from a user's carrier, a meeting time from a smartphone calendar or information from a social media platform. But ownership of the information is a big issue. Does the carrier own the ID, or does the user?

"Whoever owns that information will need to be compensated, either monetarily or in service," Clark says.

Last is the challenge of complexity. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the next level is correlating all of this context information, and there's a lot of opportunity to make the world more complex than simple," Clark says. "The trick will be to figure out how to keep it simple and in a way that's scalable, agile and quick."

Smooth airport operations

These potential challenges aren't stopping some users. SITA is implementing a context-aware test platform that centers on the Appear Context Engine (ACE), a rules engine that determines where and when information should be available, and to whom. Appear, a Swedish mobile software provider, also offers push/provisioning, synchronization and device management modules, all made context-aware via the ACE.

At an airport, context awareness will come into play in many ways for a variety of constituents, SITA's Fabre says. In the case of a security breach, the personnel closest to the incident would receive alerts, a map of the problem area and perhaps video from nearby surveillance cameras. Meanwhile, duty managers handling aircraft turnaround could more efficiently allocate tasks to baggage handlers, gate agents and maintenance crews while streamlining deployment of air bridges, fuel trucks and luggage ramps.

Fabre says that one airline reported that implementing a context-aware mobility platform has enabled it to change its staffing practices from one duty manager per aircraft to one manager for four or five planes. As a result, it projects double-digit cuts in aircraft line maintenance and intervention time. It's also considering a hosted context-aware service from SITA to streamline operations at airports where it doesn't have a large enough presence to warrant building out a context-aware mobility network of its own, Fabre says.

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