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Google launches field force management tool

"Coordinate" aims to extend maps dominance into businesses

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The Sydney-based team that gave the world Google Maps has released a new product, “Google Maps Coordinate”, which offers field force management through a web app and Android.

The new service, launched at 9:00 AM Sydney time today, replicates many other field force management tools with features that allow administrators to track the location of their mobile workers, thanks to GPS-equipped Android handsets. Dispatchers can then tell such workers where to go, in the most businesslike way possible, to speed them to new jobs. Mobile workers can check in and out of a job, the better to inform dispatchers of their availability.

As fleetingly demonstrated to The Register, the service lacks sophisticated scheduling and routing tools, but does track users' movements over time to help with subsequent analysis.

Daniel Chu, Senior Product Manager for Coordinate, said the new service will cost US$15 per user per month and is available globally, immediately. Chu talked up privacy, insisting that all location data is fully encrypted at rest and never shared with Google. The Android apps offers an unusually confronting licence acceptance process that puts the legalese in users' faces so they know just what they're getting into. There's also a scheduling feature that automatically turns off tracking, which should please the BYOD crowd. And just in case you forget to turn off tracking before a holiday, whenever the app is following you an icon will appear to remind you of the fact. Even full-screen apps won't obscure that icon, Chu promises.

Account-handling is a bit messy, as users will need a google-hosted email address tied to the Coordinates group established by their employer. That account will not link to other Google Apps services, another privacy feature.

Battery life is another area in which the Chocolate Factory has made an effort. “We have tested teams with GPS signals sent every five seconds and handsets still run for a whole work day,” Chu said, thanks in part to unexplained “optimisations” in the app. An iOS effort is also planned, once the Android experience is better understood and tuned.

Google feels just about any organisation that ever sends someone beyond its doors will find Coordinate interesting, but doesn't expect the service to dynamite existing field force management solutions out of current users. New users put off by cost and complexity of such packages are instead the target.

Chu insisted Coordinate is not a non-core diversion of the sort Google CEO Larry Page has famously promised to strangle at birth, the better to focus on Things That Matter.

The add new jobs screen in Google Maps Coordinate

The add a job screen in Google Maps Coordinate

Coordinate, Chu said, “... fits into our plans because it significant investment in mapping. Businesses have been clamouring and saying you already have the technology, do it for us.” Some even clamoured so loudly that they're already signed up as customers, but Chu would not reveal any users.

Chu is of course chuffed with the service, declaring that any time you create a tool for a third of the workforce (for such is Google's estimate for the number of mobile workers), you're bound to find a lucrative audience. He did seem, however, to be using a very broad description of mobile worker, given that he mentioned over ten industries as candidates for the new app. Many of those industries have already adopted more sophisticated versions of similar services. The brief glimpse of Coordinate at work afforded to The Register at a press briefing leads us to believe it's no threat to such packages, but may also be a little too simple to add value to those yet to adopt this kind of kit. ®

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