The Terminator franchise has been one of the most successful entertainment series in history, ranking up with the Toy Story trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even the original (and best) Star Wars trilogy. If you’ve been living under a rock, or are Amish, and haven’t seen the Terminator, it starts in the near-future where an artificial defense intelligence system becomes self-aware. After the scared military operators tried to pull the plug, the system (Skynet) decides that humans pose a threat, and summarily launches a nuclear assault on humanity. It’s just the type of stuff you want to talk about with your kids before bed. I’ll be back to the Terminator reference in just a bit.

As with last year, SXSW Interactive had some real face-melting presentations. Whether it was in the title or not, geolocation, virtual display of reality, speech recognition, gesture input, and artificial intelligence pervaded many of the sessions. What this means is that location-based services are about ready to go into overdrive. Although, I know a lot has been written regarding location-based services (LBS), including a recent piece by Joe Webb and DrivingSales’ Eric Miltsch, I got to hear about the future of these services from those who created them. I’m here to tell you, those services are not as simple as they seem.

At face value, these applications look like games, or a means to get hammered with your friends in Vegas. However, most of these tools have already moved beyond the game element, and are starting to drive value for retailers. The key thing you need to understand is that these platforms that we are using today are not permanent. The current technology still cannot support the true potential. Most of the LBS technology we are using today will be obsolete in a matter of months, and will be utterly antique within a decade. The millions of users who use LBS technology everyday will continue to jump from platform to platform because they find it valuable. So while I won’t get hung up on the platforms or the different services, I will tell you this: If you are not using LBS, you will be ignored.

Why would I make such a bold statement? The answer is simple: In just a matter of months, augmented reality hardware will be widely available. For those of you who have seen the Terminator, you will soon have the means to see like the Terminator. You will be able to scan objects by simply looking at them, with relevant data popping up in your vision to help you make decisions. Military jets have utilized this technology for a few decades, projecting critical data onto heads-up displays, and even a few cars have adopted this technology. Soon services such Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Wolfram Alpha, and Foursquare, can, and likely will, supply their data directly onto your eyeball. People won’t just see a car lot anymore – they will see OEM information, vehicle data, pricing matrices, incentives, customer comments, and ratings – all without lifting a finger

Before you quit your job, realize that this technology can also be used to your advantage. Remember that CRM your manager has been bugging you about? What if that technology was leveraged in an augmented reality environment? Imagine if a customer’s name, current vehicle, time of last interaction, service visit frequency, website activity, family information, etc., appeared right next that customer as soon as you looked at them. How much easier would your job be? Would you start taking better notes if the information would automatically be recalled later? Would you terminate skating coworkers? I bet you would.

The good news for some, and the bad news for others, is that augmented reality will be available to the masses come Christmas time. Google will be offering glasses that will be connected to your Android device, and will project its Places and Latitude data into the users field vision at the end of the year. Other hardware and software is being evaluated, and will available next year. Contact lenses offering the same technology have already been tested, and will soon follow. Even without the glasses, there are already enough smartphones for nearly every man, woman, and child in the world, and the technology exists to automatically display alerts on those phones. The Internet age is just hitting its stride. 

How do we prepare for this onslaught the future? By being better today. Claiming your dealership’s Foursquare/Places/Yelp/etc. location is the first step, and frankly it’s not enough. Understanding the users behavior is the next, and most crucial, step. Even without adding users as friends, you can still gather data about their destinations, achievements, tips, and how many friends they have. If you are able to “friend” them, you can uncover more useful information. Understanding how to navigate this information will allow you to see how your customers interact, what they may say about you, and find out how loyal they are to other businesses. All of this information needs to recorded. Right now people have to take the time to gather information about your dealership. YOU must begin capturing just as much data and developing just as much software before you get overrun as it will be the only thing to save you in the future. There is no avoiding it. Take advantage of today’s technology before customers can gather information automatically, tomorrow.

Post Script:

Ignoring technological advances does not make them go away. Consumers take advantage of new technologies every single day. They buy a car every three years. By not embracing these changes, you accelerate the way these changes impact your business. You have created several opportunities for other companies to exploit your desire to keeps things the same. Don’t let the machines beat you. Take every opportunity to learn about new technologies on your own. Use change to your advantage. As it is with the Terminator, technology will just keep on coming. You can’t stop it.

There’s no fate, but what we make for ourselves.