Not a shoe-in

In the early days of telematics, I used to go to a technology trade show where almost every was a little black box displayed on a four-foot high, draped table.

In the early days of telematics, I used to go to a technology trade show where almost every “exhibit” was a little black box displayed on a four-foot high, draped table. The boxes had names that were inevitably letters and numbers — the ZAPT 1200, the BKOL3, etc. What none of these boxes had, however, was a job to do. They were all solutions in search of a problem.

Talking with the exhibitors themselves would just drive me crazy. The question, “So, what exactly does your product do?” never failed to elicit a long list of functional characteristics. From processing speed to memory and designed-in interface capabilities, I'd hear the whole catalog of performance superlatives.

“But what does it do?”

“Well, that is up to you. It does whatever you want it to do!” some exhibitors would finally answer. “That is the beauty of it!”

It took a few more such shows to figure out that the real “beauty of it” was all in the applications, not in the boxes themselves, regardless of how fast, powerful or multifunctional they might be. In that sense, those early exhibitors were absolutely correct. No matter how gee-whiz a technology is in terms of its operating characteristics, it is of no value at all until somebody uses it to do work — work that is worth doing.

The worth doing part is critical here. All applications are not equal. As evidence, I would like to offer the recently introduced GPS-Enabled Shoe.

Unveiled at CTIA Wireless in Ontario, Canada, this March, the GPS Smart Shoe is the result of collaboration between Enfora, Inc. and GTX Corp. GTXC built the Enabler IIG-A-GPS wireless and location module from Enfora into its 21st century footwear to create what would more properly be called “foot ware,” I suppose, designed to “monitor the whereabouts of loved ones.”

According to a story distributed by ABI Research, the Xplorer GPS Smart Shoe “continuously tracks location and movement history. The information is relayed to a monitoring center through cellular networks using a secure Internet interface. Subscribers are able to instantly log-on or receive alerts, and pinpoint the current location of the targeted user on an interactive map.”

Well. All I can say is, targeted loved ones — you have been warned. If you are going to wander, better go barefoot. Seriously, one could argue that back country hikers might wear them or that tagging toddlers with GPS shoes might add an additional level of confidence to events like going to the park. Perhaps watching over patients with Alzheimer's might even be made easier by these you-can-run-but-you-can't hide boots — that is, as long as the loved one doesn't know how to untie his or her own shoes.

It makes you wonder though, doesn't it? Fleets today are under so much pressure to keep up with technology, how do you sort “the shoes” from the technology-enabled tools that will make a real difference to your own business? At least one part of the answer may be in asking the best possible questions about applications.

Instead of asking my old “what does it do?” question, however, I think there are more useful questions to pose at this stage of the technology deployment game. For starters, I respectfully offer: “What will we do with this capability to improve our operation?” For all you know, you might even have a technology solution in place right this very minute that could be deployed in another area or another way to make business-changing magic.

Heck, for all I know, there may even be magic in those GPS shoes. I wonder if anyone has tried clicking them together and chanting, “There's no place like home. There's no place like home”?

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