There’s a scene in the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Commander Riker asks a crew member if she knows where Lt. Commander Data is. She smiles indulgently at the First Officer, remarks he must be new to the Galaxy class starship, and presses a panel on the wall to ask the computer where Data is currently. The computer replies with the information, and arrows lead Riker down the corridor to the holodeck.

We’re not quite all the way there yet, but new wayfinding and facilities management technology from MappedIn, a Kitchener, Ont.-based start-up, is moving us ever closer. Co-founder and CEO Hongwei Liu says the company’s founders got together as university students with the idea of helping people find things and navigate indoors.

“From there, we started working with customers in malls and airports, and re realized the real problem we were helping businesses solve was managing their own spatial data,” said Liu.

He describes a customer base that is quite fragmented and siloed today, with an organization having several teams each doing similar things for their own uses. A facility will have one team that hires a contractor to take the building CAD file, make it look pretty, and put it on a wall or kiosk. Another team will do the same for the web site. Leasing creates a site plan and produces materials to attract clients, and facilities management does their own map for tracking cleaning carts, keys, and other assets.

“We realized these organizations have a really fragmented process of manufacturing the same information four different ways,” said Liu. “We help these businesses manage, optimize and deliver their indoor spatial data by giving them better tools to optimize the information and get it to consumers.”

There are two sides to MappedIn’s business. The consumer-facing side is about moving from static displays no one looks at to interactive displays that can drive customer engagement. It goes from an interactive kiosk where a shopper can find the quickest route to their desired store, to an app on their smartphone they can use to take the directions with them.

“In the retail world it’s becoming more important to provide a convenient customer experience or they’ll just buy it online,” said Liu. “When I’ve budgeted an hour-and-a-half to go to the mall, if you save me time I’ll spend it looking at what else you can sell me.”

While this is a use case that will come out of a facility’s marketing budget, Liu said MappedIn realized the deeper need is around facilities and data management. Rather than each department reinventing the wheel, MappedIn has built a web portal that contains all the organization’s spatial data and editing tools to help each department work with the data within its own departmental needs, as well as APIs to tie into third-party software they may be using.

MappedIn's consumer app for a mall shopper.
MappedIn’s consumer app for a mall shopper.

The information on what stores people are searching for and visiting, and when, also provides an intriguing possibility for big data analytics. The technology isn’t yet available to track where someone using the app physically goes within the mall, but Liu said what they can measure is intent. The mall already knows how many people walk in the door as they have sensors at the entrances, and they know what the sales are. What they don’t know is what happened in between.

“In some of our retail stores we’ve engaged five to 20 per cent of their traffic just on their mobile app. We can see what customers are looking for and how they entered, and we can infer their motion based on what they wanted to do,” said Liu. “We’re building a visualization engine to display the different data sets. Big data is useful but only if you can actually look at it. We believe the best way to analyze it in the facilities setting is visually.”

One layer will show traffic, another layer will show intent based on what was being searched for, and a third would likely be revenue.

“So we can tell a mall corridor on Wednesday had high traffic but only average revenue, so let’s investigate what happened,” said Liu.

“That kind of insight is only possible if you’re pulling it all together,” said Liu.

Malls are just one client. Other organizations such as airports, university campuses, and others with large facilities are good fits for the technology.

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