6 Questions to Answer Before Starting Managing Your Beacon Project

This month we’re celebrating’s sixth birthday and that number is the inspiration behind all of our blog posts in July. So, with that in mind, let’s dive into our first list of six things that will help you to plan, deploy, use and benefit from your own location-based application.
This week, we’re talking about the six most important things to double and triple check in the planning stages of any beacon-based proximity solution. A title that long must be full of important information, right? Well, yes, it is, and following the advice here will save you a lot of headaches and inconvenience in the future. 

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After all, just like any technical undertaking, there are some important boxes to tick in the early stages of designing and planning a deployment. Making the right decisions before everything goes live avoids problems later, when changes come at a high cost in time and money. 
So let’s jump in to our list of boxes you definitely need to tick in order to make your deployment a success. 

1 – Can you clearly identify what you want your beacon solution to do?

Sounds pretty obvious, right? Perhaps it is, but misalignment between the purpose of a proximity application and its design, hardware and management software it uses is one of the main causes of problems in managing any project. Beacon-based applications are not a one-size-fits-all situation. Different use cases demand different adaptations to their unique circumstances and a mismatch between the physical setup they require on one hand and the results they’re supposed to deliver on the other is a recipe for trouble. 
Wayfinding, customer experience-enhancing applications, asset tracking, employee timeclock functionalities—all this and more can be accomplished with small tweaks to the same basic setup, but they still need different approaches that begin right at the start of the planning stage. This means getting input from all stakeholders and precisely defining the main goal of the deployment before any conversation about hardware begins. 
If you’re coming from an industrial or manufacturing background, you’re familiar with the idea of an asset that is designed to do a very specific task very well. You don’t just decide that you want a machine to do something completely different one day and expect great results. The same applies to beacons—getting the right tools for the job starts with knowing exactly what the job is. 

2 – Do you have high-quality, up-to-date maps of all deployment areas?

Another obvious but overlooked point, the details of the physical area where your proximity solution is to be deployed are very important to its success. The shape, dimensions and unique features of the space directly influence the size and configuration of the infrastructure needed to cover it. This is not something to figure out after you’ve ordered your hardware and are looking for what you think is a good place to put a beacon. The number, type and location of the beacons to be used should be determined long before they are unboxed, and that means creating a virtual deployment based on a map of the space where they will be used. 
Start by taking precise measurements of the area and creating a properly-scaled visual representation of the floor plan. Be sure to include interior walls, ceiling heights and objects large enough to influence beacon signals, like machinery or furniture. 
When ready, place beacons on the plan along with their signal ranges. This will make it easier to identify problematic areas where signal coverage may be compromised by awkward layouts, walls or other physical obstacles. These spaces will likely require additional coverage to ensure steady signal availability, especially for applications like wayfinding and asset tracking. 

3 – Do you know what kind of hardware you need?

Now let’s switch from the big picture down to instrument-level issues. As mentioned before, different use cases have different requirements and in the context of beacons, that means choosing the right one for the relevant environment, with the appropriate features for the job involved. 
This starts with making sure that the hardware you choose can withstand temperature extremes, moisture or possible impact in the space where it’s deployed if these factors are applicable. There’s a difference between, say, the still, climate-controlled calm of an airport wall and the sometimes-hot, sometimes-cold surroundings of pallet in a warehouse, with its bumps and frequent movement. Picking the wrong hardware in applications with environmental pressures can quickly result in problems. 
Different beacons have different battery capacities and options for changing their batteries, too. It could be that you’ll need to compromise between one factor and another when choosing hardware. For example, do you need a beacon that’s waterproof? That’s not a problem, but the seal that makes it waterproof will not allow you to change the battery, which in turn has an impact on the costs of fleet management. The form factor of a beacon, which is important in some use cases, also has an influence on battery capacity, with the same implications for overall cost of ownership. 

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4 – Do you know what settings to use? (And did you know beacons have settings?)

Speaking of batteries, mistakes are often made when it comes to battery-related challenges and matching the needs of the use case to the capabilities and settings of the hardware. 
The energy demands of different use cases have an impact not only on the choice of hardware, but on the settings they use. In larger deployments with a high number of beacons, getting the settings right from the start can prevent troublesome recalibration later. The strength of the signal and the frequency with which it is broadcast (called the “interval”) have a major influence on battery life. If they’re not matched to the requirements of your use case, it will result in replacing batteries or entire beacons much earlier than otherwise necessary. 
Depending on the particulars of your use case, you may not need your beacons to broadcast at maximum strength or frequency. In fact, it’s likely that you don’t. But determining what you need before full-scale rollout will make fleet management easier and reduce costs of ownership. 

5 – Have you considered security concerns related to your beacons?

Can we just assume that you don’t want anyone besides yourself or someone in your organization to control your beacons? Right, we thought so. This means checking to be sure that all information handled by beacons is encrypted and no passwords are sent over the air. Also, look for the ability to program your beacons to “shuffle”, or change the identifying addresses and codes they use on a daily basis to prevent anyone from piggybacking or spoofing your device. 
For an extra measure of security, you should have beacons with a built-in software lock, to prevent anyone from directly accessing its memory. 
Security also means getting alerts when something goes wrong. If a beacon is low on power or has dropped off the grid altogether, you should have the ability to generate automated alerts to let you know that something needs your attention now. 

6 – How are you going to monitor and manage your beacons?

If you are planning a deployment consisting of hundred beacons or more, you need to make sure that your beacon infrastructure can be managed as easily as conditions allow. Being able to monitor their condition and manage them in bulk, rather than one device at a time, is a major time and money-saving convenience. 
For example, if one of the beacons is running low on battery power, or it hasn’t been seen for some time, or if you need to apply different configurations at once, you need to have a tool for this. Which would you rather do, physically make the rounds and inspect each beacon or bring everything up on a screen? 
Device and fleet management is very often overlooked as part of the cost of ownership for proximity solutions. You can imagine the investment in time involved in manually managing potentially hundreds of Bluetooth devices spread over a large area. The same idea applies to the matter of being able to update or change beacon settings remotely over-the-air. 
An infrastructure management tool solves a lot of these problems at a low cost. With the Infrastructure Management subscription you can easily apply configurations, and update your beacons remotely, regardless of the physical setup of your deployment. Getting everything done at the touch of a button as opposed to going out and touching hundreds of beacons? The choice is up to you but it should be an easy one. 
The issue of a management tool is important—you can’t not have one. Without an infrastructure management service, you will need to develop your own. Depending on the scale of your operation, this may be impractical for a number of reasons. For reasons of cost and convenience, going with an all-in-one, full-service provider is typically your best bet. 
That should be enough to get you thinking about your own beacon deployment for now. Again, the point is to carefully consider the basics that shape the basic mission of your project, its design and the functionalities it needs to have. 
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Don’t forget to come back next week for another dose of six tips to enhance your location-based experience!