TimeForge Intros Beacon-based Solution for Managing Staff, Assets

By Beth Bacheldor

The company's PlaceForge system can locate personnel in real time via Bluetooth readers that receive signals from beacons incorporated into key fobs.

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TimeForge, a provider of online labor-management software, is introducing a solution that leverages Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to help companies view where their personnel and key assets are and have been. The solution, known as PlaceForge, includes Bluetooth beacons provided by Gimbal and Radius Networks, as well as TimeForge Bluetooth readers consisting of omni-directional antennas and a credit-card-sized Linux single-board computer, known as Raspberry Pi.

PlaceForge represents the company’s first foray into real-time tracking and asset management. Previously, the firm has used time clocks and proximity cards to monitor employee clock-ins and clock-outs, according to Anthony Presley, who founded the company in 2004 with Erik van Gilder.

The PlaceForge reader, called a hub, is designed to receive the signals of a Bluetooth beacon located up to 100 feet away.

“I really liked the Bluetooth beacons I saw at the NRF [National Retail Federation] show last year,” Presley says, “but much of the focus has been on delivering coupons, etc.” Last March, he and his colleagues began exploring the idea of employing Bluetooth technology to track assets, such as pallet jacks used to lift and move heavy pallets of inventory or materials within warehouses, on loading docks or at job sites. “Where things got interesting was the idea of putting beacons on staff members and using a reader with Wi-Fi that could track those beacons 50 meters in any direction,” That, he says, was the genesis of PlaceForge.

PlaceForge readers (hubs) are placed around a store, warehouse, restaurant or other site, typically affixed to the ceiling. An average grocery store would require about 50 hubs for full coverage, Presley says. “We can provide a complete solution in a large grocery store for under $10,000,” he states.

Specifically, Presley explains, a 30,000-square-foot store would need anywhere from five to 20 hubs, depending on the coverage and accuracy desired, and each employee to be tracked would be issued a beacon in the form of a key fob. The upfront hardware costs include approximately $150 per hub and $50 per fob; there are also monthly or annual recurring fees for the service, which includes data analysis.

Each fob transmits its unique ID number, and the PlaceForge software calculates its location based on the strength of the signal received by the various hubs within a range of approximately 100 feet. The tracking data is compiled, sorted, analyzed and synthesized into reports that managers can then use to determine the exact locations of staff members and assets, as well as where they have previously been. The collected location data can be correlated with point-of-sale (POS) data. All of TimeForge’s software, including PlaceForge, come with a complete Web application programming interface (API), along with pre-built integrations for a number of software suites, including Retalix‘s ISS45, IBM‘s ACE, NCR‘s Aloha, Micros, Dinerware, Restaurant Manager, POSitouch and several others. The data and reports are hosted on TimeForge servers that companies can access via a PlaceForge Web-based application.

The PlaceForge software can generate a report showing where a particular employee has been. (Click here to view a larger version.)

For example, Presley explains, PlaceForge can create a visual map illustrating where employees are at any given time, which can be correlated with POS data indicating which products customers are buying. That information can provide greater insights into scheduling, planning staffing levels and deciding on floor assignments.

TimeForge’s Anthony Presley

Sometime in the future, Presley says, his company plans to launch beacon-based asset tags that can be affixed to shopping carts or to any asset that a company wants to track. According to TimeForge, tagged shopping carts or baskets would enable managers to know which areas of their store customers are visiting the most and least frequently, as well as where and when customer service staff is most needed. Retailers can thus decide how to optimize their entire retail space for maximum customer service. What’s more, by tagging critical assets—such as shopping carts or forklifts—managers can instantly and continuously view not only where equipment is located but also how often it is actually used, as well as where and when it is most needed.

The PlaceForge employee-management solution, which includes the hubs and fobs, is currently available to select partner customers in the Texas area. In mid-September, the system is expected to be made available nationwide through TimeForge and its distributors. TimeForge also plans to showcase its solution at a store as a demonstration next month in Texas, though as of press time, Presley declined to identify the store.