Autodesk is moving beyond the computer-aided design (CAD) market with a product that will allow companies to track their employees through their mobile phones.
The application, called Autodesk Mobile Resource Manager, is due to be launched next Monday. Autodesk claims that it will allow smaller companies to locate and manage their employees without having to invest in new monitoring equipment.
"This product uses an SME's existing IT infrastructure," said Stephen Hurcom, European managing director for Autodesk Location Services. He claimed that while a large firm like Pickfords might be able to kit out its removal vans with GPS transmitters, a small plumbing firm can't.
Mobile Resource Manager is targeted at companies of between five and 100 employees in the transportation, sales and field service markets. Autodesk won't sell it directly to end users, though. Instead, it hopes that the mobile operators will take up and resell the service. According to Hurcom, one major European mobile phone operator has already signed up.
The application runs within a Web browser. Screenshots of the product show that it will allow a manager to observe the position of every worker whose mobile phone is being tracked. An alerts system can set an alarm off when a certain employee reaches a particular location.
Up to 12 months' worth of data can be recorded, which could help firms to check up on the productivity of their staff.
"Monitoring means you can check someone isn't sitting in a lay-by reading the paper for two hours," said Hurcom.
Tracking applications of this type run the risk that employees could be monitored without their knowledge. Autodesk claims that their software addresses this problem. To add an employee to the monitoring system a firm must send them an email containing a code that must be returned by SMS.
A confirmation SMS must also be sent if the employer wants to change the times when a worker is monitored.
It appears that a worker who loses control of both their email account and their mobile phone to another person could be added to a monitoring system without realising it. According to Autodesk, this isn't a big problem. Hurcon suggested that an employee was much more likely to have their handset stolen.
The system will also allow an employee to turn off the monitoring at any time, although this is likely to lead to some searching questions when they're next back at their headquarters.
Because Autodesk Mobile Resource Manager will be sold to mobile operators, Autodesk wasn't able to say exactly how much it will cost to its corporate users.
A company spokesman said that companies are likely to be charged a sign-up fee of a few hundred euros, and would then be charged 10 euro cents for every location request. Setting the system up to plot a worker's location every 15 minutes would thus work out rather more expensive than plotting their progress every two hours.