Q: We use a wall map with pushpins to keep track of the location of our service technicians, but this manual method requires continual phone calls and pushpin adjustments. Can you recommend a cheap and easy technology solution that would enable us to see where our service technicians are and possibly keep a record of their travel routes?
A: Install the Google Latitude app (free) on each of your service technicians’ smartphones. (Latitude runs on the AppleiOS, Android, BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile, and Symbian S60 platforms.) Thereafter, Google Latitude will track and record each service technician’s movement and position, allowing you to view his or her location on a map in real time. Steps for deploying Google Latitude are as follows:
1. Sign up for a free Google account at accounts.google.com/NewAccount. Have each service technician do the same.
2. On each service technician’s smartphone, visit the smartphone’s app store and search for, download, and install Google Latitude. (If Google Latitude is not available at your app store, then download, install, and launch Google Maps, press the Menu button, and then select Join Latitude). Read and accept the agreement, and launch Latitude. From the Latitudemain screen, click the Mini button, select Location settings, and make sure the following two settings are enabled:
a. Detect your location
b. Enable automatic check-ins (this setting may not be available for all smartphones)
3. Next, on your desktop computer, from the Latitude main screen on the website, click the Add Friends button, then to request tracking approval, select either Choose from your Google contacts or Invite a friend by email address, select each service technician from your contacts list (or enter his or her email address), and click OK.
You can also add friends from the smartphone app, but the menu options are slightly different. To add friends to your tracking list in the app, from the Latitude screen click the Invite Friends button (the icon consisting of a plus sign and the silhouette of a person), choose either Select from Contacts or Add via email address, select each service technician from your contacts list (or enter his or her email address), and click OK.
4. Your service technicians will receive a request asking them to approve your tracking of their movements via Latitude, and they should accept your request.
5. Upon the technicians’ approval and after applying the two setting adjustments described in step 2, you can then view their locations by launching and logging into Latitude on your desktop computer or smartphone. Examples of Latitude’s mapping screens on the desktop and the smartphone are pictured below.
6. Important notes about Latitude:
a. Keep in mind that Latitude does not track the person; it tracks the movement of the smartphone on which the app is installed.
b. The map locations pinpointed and displayed in Latitude are based on predetermined check-in intervals you specify, or if you so desire, you can ping the person whose phone is being tracked to determine the phone’s current location in real time.
c. Latitude can be set to record a history of each service technician’s travel route, including the approximate amount of time spent at each location.
d. By enabling Latitude’s Location History feature, you can produce map-based reports by day, week, month, or year, pinpointing locations where the phone being tracked has stopped, including approximately how much time it spent at each location.
e. The Latitude app provides a quick button for disabling the tracking feature, so the person whose phone is being tracked can maintain privacy during personal hours.
There are many GPS-based tracking solutions on the market, including those designed to track people, vehicles, inventory shipments, laptop computers, and even pets. Some tracking systems not only record locations but also track other information, such as a commercial truck’s speed and how hard the driver presses his or her brakes. Some accounting and enterprise resource planning systems offer service modules that include advanced service technician tracking and scheduling. There also are highly sophisticated solutions designed to track people using facial recognition and other methods. You should consider this brief description of Google Latitude an introduction to these types of solutions; investigate your options according to your tracking needs.