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Geofencing: putting location and the internet to practical use

What the heck is geofencing?


Geofencing is the use of GPS satellites, Bluetooth or WiFi to create a virtual boundary around a specific location from which you can trigger an event for your mobile device. That device might be a car, a phone or any other type of connected device. These days even mattresses (insanely) are connected devices!

 

Here’s a quick example of geofencing: As you drive home from work, your phone reminds you to pick up a gallon of milk as you drive by the grocery store. For iPhone users, this can be done via the Reminder App. Implementing geofencing application used to be an expensive endeavor. Not anymore. Now, the hardware and application software costs have made geofencing available to everyone, whether that’s a business or a single individual.

 

For your organization, the possibilities are endless:

 

Automotive (Connected Cars)


Soon, instead of an annoying beep that your gas is low or when it's time for an oil change, your car will tell you where you can actually get gas or an oil change based on your regular commute and which places have the best deals. FYI, this “connected car” functionality happens to tie directly to our experience in developing and supporting Ford Motor Company’s connected car program. It’s an exciting time to be in technology for the automotive industry.

 

Internet of Things (Smarthome)


Today there are connected devices such as the Nest smart thermostat. Right now, Nest can determine when you are at home and adjust the temperature accordingly. But with geofencing, you can take that further. Soon you can have your cell phone “talk” to the thermostat as you drive home, and based on how far away you are, automatically start warming the house for your arrival.

 

Industrial Internet of Things (Manufacturing)


Here’s an example of how geofencing can save manufacturing thousands (or more): Say you have a product that requires First In, First Out. If the product doesn’t ship quickly, quality and cost suffer. With RFID chips and geofencing, the company can now be flagged when a product is nearing its critical delivery date and clear the flag automatically once it’s left the plant.

 

For those of us at i2, geofencing is like the ultimate “if/then” application. If something is here, then do this. Or, if something is not here, then do that. For 20+ years, those kinds of questions have resided solely within code on a server or workstation. Now, with geofencing, the doors are open and the opportunities are (literally) anywhere you want them to be. Pretty cool.

 

 


 

Draw.io: 7 reasons this app rocks for business

The web developers at i2 never stop impressing me with what they know about the best available technology, which they know not only because it's their job to know, but because they think knowing this stuff is just plain fun."


Recently, I needed to create a flowchart while working away from the office. I had my laptop and I had Internet access, but that particular laptop did not have Microsoft’s Visio flowcharting software installed.


Instead of downloading Visio, which would have taken forever given the living-in-the-woods speed with which I have become accustomed, Sean (i2's director of development) pointed me to a cloud-based flowchart and diagram application called Draw.io (www.draw.io).


Five whole minutes later, having already created my first simple chart, I said aloud: “Damn! THIS is how cloud-based apps should work!”

Here’s why:


1. It’s entirely browser-based. No software to install.


2. No login or registration required. Go to www.draw.io and just go to work. How refreshing – not having to give my email to yet another company.


3. Incredibly easy to use. Drag-and-drop, fast and intuitive.


4. Powerful flowcharting capabilities with tons of objects to use (and you can even create your own).


5. Can save files to your desktop, Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive.


6. Export to PDF, JPG, PNG and GIF.


7. Manage styles, fonts, colors, etc. to make your charts more prettier.




And it’s free, which is great. But what also truly impressed me was how Draw.io looks and functions like a traditional desktop software app. You would be hard-pressed to spot the difference.


If you need to knock out a quick chart or even something more complex, I recommend give Draw.io a look.


You were right again, Sean; that was fun.


 

Analytics: (Eye)-Tracking a Potential Game-Changer

It's always a lot of fun to learn about emerging technologies and imagine ways they can become game-changers for our clients. For instance, have you read about the new eye-tracking system from a Swedish company that's being used mostly by the gaming community? When I was introduced to it, my first thought was that eye-tracking could potentially have a huge impact on those of us who do website design. Turns out I wasn't the first to think that. 

As you read this, companies are in the beta stage of developing eye-tracking software that can be used to determine the effectiveness of websites based on where user's eyes travel (or don't).

Right now, the only things analytics can track are what is clickable. But those analytics don't tell us what has been seen, and that information can be huge. The questions – and answers – would be extremely useful to web developers, and ultimately to you. You could get rid of anything that clutters the message – and once and for all, prove to Sonja in Accounting that the dog scampering across your homepage has no tangible value whatsoever and is, in fact, clutter. 

Or are those competing banner ads your website committee insisted on truly doing their job? Is your call-to-action button being seen, or are anyone's eyes making contact with it at all? This is what's coming. The likely result: cleaner, more efficient websites. 

We work very hard to do this now with the tools we have: assure that everything on your site supports your message, so the mission of your site can be fulfilled. Innovations such as eye-tracking software will soon be an added tool beyond click-through analytics.


 

It's all about the information.

“So what does your company do?” 

Sounds easy enough to answer, right? Dig deeper, however, and it might be a lot tougher to answer. At least it was for me over the last 20 years I’ve been in business. Here’s a little timeline of how I answered that question as our company has grown and evolved: 

We make websites.”  

“We’re a website developer.” 

“We make websites, but also applications.” 

“We build websites and web applications that integrate with databases.” 

“We’re a web development company that builds mobile, desktop and custom applications.” 

“We’re a web development company that builds websites, mobile and custom application utilizing technologies such as DNN, SharePoint…” 

See where I’m going here? The longer I was in business, the longer my simple answer became. It also became more specific, which, conversely, made it much more difficult for people to understand… or care about. Not only was I putting people to sleep, but most importantly, the answer I was giving was no longer even accurate. 

That realization came about this last year when we hired Mark Stiles as our Director of Business Development and began developing a comprehensive sales program. As sales had always been a bit of an informal affair, the task of developing an actual sales program was completely foreign. But it forced us to take a long, hard look at what we were actually doing, at our strengths, and at what benefits we were delivering to our clients. 

The result? 

We learned that although we were referring to ourselves as a “website development company," just 35 percent of our actual work was website development. The lion's share of our work -- 65 percent -- was in application development. And even with the 35 percent of website development, a large portion involved integrating the website with applications. 

Were we no longer a website development company? Were we now an application development company? That would be the easy answer, but we saw that as a trap. If we went down that road, would we be saying in five years “We’re an application development company that specializes in building mobile applications for fill-in-the-blank?" We ran the risk of being right back where we started. 

Instead, through a combination of inside and outside “eyes," we took a broader look at our business. Websites. Mobile apps. Custom applications. As shiny and interesting as they might be, these are all just vehicles built for a higher purpose: capturing and delivering information. That information might be to drive new sales, to increase productivity, retain clients, train members, the list goes on. In the end, it’s all about the information

Looking at it from that high a level was, for us, transformative. It made it suddenly very easy to see what we truly do: we make information matter for our clients

The truth is, we’d actually been doing that very thing for years; we just didn’t see it. A classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. 

So what does your company do? Maybe it’s time to dust off the answer and see if it’s still relevant.

 

 


 

Drywall dust, cast iron tubs and Agile Development...

This summer my wife and I demolished a third of our house. As in, we tore-it-down-to-the-ground demolished. The goals? To rebuild that section of our little house situated on the banks of the Flat River in Lowell, Michigan with more windows facing the river, a higher ceiling in the bedroom, more closet space and the ability to move our washer and dryer to the main level should stairs ever pose a problem (we're not that old yet, but we plan ahead).

Like a similar project we did six years ago (small guest-room and office), my wife and I are doing all the finish work ourselves. We're also using some of the lessons learned at work to make smarter decisions at home, and vice versa. 

And surprisingly enough, there's a whole lotta Agile Development going on.

We didn't plan to apply the principles of Agile to our home project; it was more like it suddenly dawned on us that we had been doing it all along. 

Morgan vs ShowerWith that plan, our contractor did one- to two-week "sprints," including the tear-down, framing, electrical, etc. At the end of those sprints, he would provide a "deliverable" for us to evaluate and tweak as needed, such as a new window where one hadn't been planned, eliminating the reconstruction of a wall we thought looked better once it was removed, and hey, while we were at it, we decided to get rid of that cast-iron tub and its '80s tile surround (word to the wise: hire the bathtub out; cast iron is a bugger).

Our house was built around 1936 as a fishing cabin. Because of that, it was impossible to have predicted all the "gotchas" that might affect the project along the way. By doing it the Agile way, there was just enough time for a pause between sprints to assess our next move and add or eliminate (mostly eliminate) items from our budget to keep the project on track.

The end result: we're thrilled with the final "product". Strangely enough, a few things that least excited us in the beginning have ended up being the few things we love the most. The major thing learned was how key communication is throughout. Even going a week without an update from the project manager was cause for concern. Are we on time? On-budget? Why does our phone suddenly not work? When will we not have power temporarily? Hey... we have no gutters, so is that why we have standing water in the dining room?

A lot of what we've done at i2Integration in the past few months has been done with the goal of improving communication between our developers and our clients. Are we there yet? No. But we're working hard. Having been on the other side for an entire summer, I've been reminded just how crucial that is.


 

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