“Where’s My Stuff?” – Listen to Your Bluetooth® Tags

If you’re in the construction, equipment rental, oil & gas, or municipal/environmental business (to name a few) your “stuff” is valuable because it costs a lot, but even more so because it’s what you use to make money. Knowing precisely where your equipment and tools are can make the difference between meeting a schedule or incurring costly delays.

A common technology to track valuable “stuff” is the Bluetooth “tag”, one of the most flexible, available, and cost-effective means of asset management available. They are rugged, weatherproof, long-life battery powered devices that can be installed on most anything including tools, ladders, heavy equipment, bins and dumpsters, and iron attachments. So, what is a “Bluetooth tag?”

I’ve got Bluetooth speakers and a Bluetooth headset, are they “tags”?
Nope. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that is perfect for nearby, device-to-device communication. “Tag” refers to applications where the data quantity is small to modest, not a stream like music or a phone call, and uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) named after its low power features with a range of about two hundred feet. Popular consumer BLE tags include Apple’s AirTag and devices from Tile used to find personal items like wallets and keys. Industrial applications use tags built for tough use and low maintenance.

The nature of the BLE tag data communication is different than continuously connected IoT or consumer device applications. The tag periodically transmits, “I’m here”, and it’s the system’s job to simply listen. The listening element is called a “gateway”. Simply put, the tag tells the gateway, “I’m here,” much like when your kid returns from a date and shouts, “Mom, Dad, I’m home.”

So it is the gateway that listens for nearby tags. A gateway with its own GPS location will connect to the internet over a cellular radio or local network and report on those tags that are in range. The gateway itself can be a mobile phone, tablet, vehicle tracking device, or “box” installed on a building.

Why would I want a Bluetooth tag vs. a GPS tracker?
It’s a matter of affordability. If you have valuable assets where real-time communication from anywhere is needed, then an asset tracker with GPS and cellular communication is your best bet, but at a cost of about 3 times more for the device and service. But if your “stuff” isn’t as valuable and you just need to know where you left it last, then Bluetooth tags might be right for you.

BLE “I’m here” isn’t like GPS.

“Here” simply means “within ‘earshot’ of the gateway” whose location is known.


Here’s how an asset tracking system
using BLE works:

    1. Equip all the assets you want to track with a BLE tag compatible with your selected gateway(s) and record which tag goes with which asset. Note: Some assets have integrated BLE tag capabilities, like many tools from Milwaukee and DeWalt.
    2. Identify the vehicles, warehouses, yards, or sites of interest and deploy gateways.
    3. Select and integrate an asset tracking system to host the asset database, identify assets whose BLE tag is reporting to the site gateway(s), and display results. Coverage in large areas can be accomplished with multiple gateways or on vehicles that move about that area.

The BLE system answers some questions and not others:

    • Is my asset here?
      Yes, and “here” is the location of the gateway. If you’ve an array of gateways it might also know, “In zone 3C of the yard” or “At Site 203”.
    • What happens when my assets move?
      If the tag is in range of just one gateway, you’ll only be notified when the unit is out of range. If you have multiple gateways a tag’s movement will show as it moves between neighboring gateways.
    • What happens when my assets leave the yard?
      The system reports your asset as “gone” when it stops reporting. If it is being transported by a vehicle with its own GPS tracking and BLE gateway capability, you’ll know “asset A is with truck B”. Otherwise, the asset’s location is known only when it shows up in another monitored area.
    • Can many gateways receive the same “I’m Here” signal?
      Yes, if a tag is nearby any number of gateways within range can hear it.
    • If the tag doesn’t have GPS, how does the system know its location?
      The gateways’ locations are known whether they are fixed or part of a device with GPS tracking, so by default the tag’s location is known when in range of the gateway.
    • How can you make a phone your gateway?
      Because BLE tags can be detected by most mobile phones, a standard smartphone can be used to both deploy tags and identify tagged assets using a tag application on the phone.
    • What environments work best with tags?
      Like any radio signal, BLE tag range is impacted by the environment. It works best outdoors or spacious indoor environments with no building interference. If you keep your assets enclosed in a metal truck or locker it may not be detectable.
    • If I already have tags on tools, will they work with tags I purchase separately?
      Yes and no. Some gateways and tags are designed to work together so check first about interoperability.


In Summary, BLE asset tags can help identify the presence and help locate most any asset. They are simple to install, offer a long life (typically more than 3 years), and provide a common or standard wireless interface that communicates to a gateway or smartphone. They’re not an option for on-the-road vehicle tracking, but a powerful complement to identify where all your “stuff” is.

What is Cloud-Since-Birth and Why Does it Matter?

Choosing a Tech Platform in 2022

Today it seems that software solutions targeting enterprise operations are doing so with the positioning that the solution(s) is housed in the “cloud”, but what does that really mean? Well, it means different things to different people, and the complexity goes up when trying to compare solutions (apples to apples) vs infrastructures (apples to oranges). That said, it is very important to understand and incorporate into your buying criteria.

We come across this topic a lot when working with clients or prospects on solution evaluations, and you’d be surprised at the amount of misleading information being presented to the market. As an example, just because a sales rep presents their solution to you as a SaaS solution (software as a service) does not mean that it is a cloud-based solution. And, if it was a cloud-based solution, what type is it? Is it an old clunky technology stack that has been ported from private servers to public cloud and or private cloud? The fact is, each deployment and instance is different, and if done properly would present huge advantages to the provider and the end users. That said, not all cloud solutions are equal.

In the transportation technology industry, solutions have been consolidated, ported, integrated and glued together after years of acquisitions, generations of technical debt and decades of sins and scale issues. The opportunity to completely rebuild a technology stack while paying customers are using it and relying on new features and continuous availability is scarce. That is bundled with the likelihood that R&D funding is most likely allocated to the platforms generating the most revenue (aka: legacy platforms), and the opportunity to invest needed resources and focus on building something from the ground up is equally unlikely. So why does this matter to you as a transportation company or services company that is evaluating providers before making a material investment into technology? It’s simple — if a solution was built from scratch using the newest technologies such as cloud services, high-performing software languages, and processes such as the use of microservices, then it will perform better, update faster, and provide scale and velocity to the provider. This in turn means more features, less bugs, and better reliability for you as the end user.

The truth is, cloud computing today takes many shapes. As an example multi-cloud and hybrid cloud solutions offer technology companies further flexibility when it comes to performance redundancy and costs. Hybrid cloud combines both a public cloud infrastructure with that of a private cloud infrastructure. The combination of the two enables extensive computing (which can be costly) to operate in the private cloud while the main functionality and hierarchy live in the high availability public cloud solution. This offers the ability to provide end customers with data intensive solutions like analytics and visualization tools like BI without slowing down the core functionality of the system.

Another common deployment is the multi-cloud infrastructure. It combines two separate public cloud architectures to provide redundancy, and load balancing across disparate networks, which provides end users with a high-reliability and high-performance experience, free from major outages — we have all heard about them in the news — that cripple access to mission-critical tools such as driver log books and load assignments.

So, in summary, not all cloud solutions and deployments are created equal. Your larger legacy options, with their long lists of customers and cluttered logo slides, are more often than not ticking timebombs waiting for another rack to be thrown at a pervasive problem that can not be fixed, but rather needs to be replaced.

At Pedigree Technologies, we are a cloud-since-birth technology company, meaning our solutions were built from the ground up in the cloud, and have been iterated over the years using only the best processing and infrastructure advancements available; we never had to undergo a server migration from our closets or “data center” to a cloud provider.

What is a data center by the way?! I sure hope our competitors stop listing that as some type of advantage versus the costly lease space and redundant headcount it really is.

Do your homework, and when you’re evaluating options and you are checking the box for “cloud hosted”, remember that cloud hosted does not mean it’s a true cloud solution — and if it is, it’s crucial to ask what kind and why and which services are running on which parts. Ask the tough questions and see how they respond; if it truly is an advantage, then their sales staff will be educated on it and use it as such. Reliable infrastructure is not a bullet point on a slide, but the foundation of the solution you are seeking.

See why Pedigree Technologies exceeds performance and reliability standards >>

Buying Based on Functionality vs History

In the transportation technology industry we have been trading bragging rights for years now. One provider does X better than Y and the other bought B & A but what really matters to fleets when making an investment into technology?

We spent the last year or so collecting information from our customers, prospects and even competitors and a few themes emerged. While the ability to solve complex business problems remains top of mind for the fleet operator, it is not always the deciding factor when evaluating one provider over the other. 3 out of 5 prospects we talked with said that relationships and references were deciding factors in why they were leaning our way or another way. 2 out of the 5 stated that most providers “all do the same things” and 4 out of 5 competitors listed “name dropping” and references as a leading sales tactic when soliciting new business.

These findings (amongst others) were telling and influenced us writing this blog post to our audiences with a few pointers and some advice when it comes to attributing weight to decision criteria. So here it goes…

 


 

Not All Features Are Created Equal:

Just because a provider can state that they provide electronic log books does not make them as competent as another provider that provides a comprehensive, integrated hours of service (HOS) solution that happens to include an electronic log book. As an example at Pedigree Technologies we support over 45 HOS exemptions which provide our clients with competitive advantage fueled by more operating hours because we can support various calculations for niche industry applications such as Oil & Gas or North of 60. What’s that you ask? Exactly our point!

 

Tech Over Talk:

We have sat through our fair share of painful sales presentations and it’s one thing to talk about features or functionality but it’s far more powerful to discuss business problems and how the tech will solve them vs listing off a series of cool functionality that may or may not be applicable to the audience. Our team must undergo rigorous industry training to qualify as a sales professional, in fact most of our sales team comes from the transportation industry vs the technology industry. This provides a knowledge base that you can’t teach, but rather have to live. The benefits of industry experience come out in spades when working on solutions.

 

Buying to Catch Up Is Not a Sign of Progress, It’s a Sign of Upcoming Integration Challenges:

We have all seen dozens of transactions in the telematics and fleet technology space over the last decade or so. It is incredibly predictable to identify the path of these consolidating entities over the first few years post combination. As an example: It does not make financial sense for these companies to maintain two technology stacks, so eventually one of them will sunset and many customers will be forced to migrate to either the other platform or a new one all together. Either way the misnomer surrounding buying from one of the consolidators is flawed and almost always results in a shift away from that provider within 3 years. The safest bet is to work with a real tech company that has a fully integrated solution since birth.

 

Bigger Isn’t Always Better:

Have you ever heard the term, “it takes a long time to turn this ship”? That is in relation to the effort and complexity that comes with larger less nimble organization. In fact there are many business books written about this very corporate challenge. Escape Velocity by Geoffrey Moore for one. A good read for innovators and those looking to buy from innovators. It is hard enough to produce leading edge technology and mission critical solutions without having to worry about how it will impact legacy platforms and deployments. You know who we are referring to here. ;)

 


So in summary it is important to evaluate not just the technology, not just the referenceable customers, not only the size of the organization and not only the people, but a combination of all of them. Think about it this way — as a fleet operator, how do you solicit new business and how do you want your target audience to measure your value? What are your competitive strengths? Now that you’ve answered that question — apply the same logic to your vendor and partner selections.

Let’s build something remarkable together — the unofficial member of your fleet operations team!