Wireless networks have helped millions of employees connect to corporate networks and the Internet. But thinking about Wi-Fi as simply a tool to connect people to networks is incomplete. Instead of viewing wireless networks simply as a way to move data, we should really be thinking about Wi-Fi as a tool to drive business outcomes. For starters, we can use location awareness that the infrastructure provides about connected things and their users. Machine learning can aggregate millions of anonymized data points on wireless network usage, and create insights that can spur our digital transformation.
Don’t get me wrong. A wireless network is still great at powering the modern office. It allows employees to take their phones and laptops and log on without being tethered to a desk. It’s also a necessary amenity for visitors to your facilities. But if you configure your wireless network in the right way, there’s a vast amount of telemetry you can collect about not only user and device connectivity but also application performance. That data, in turn, can enable workplace digitization and personalization, in ways that go straight to your bottom line.
The Mobility Imperative
Today, for example, employees waste a lot of time when moving around a campus. A lot of the time they’re looking for available conference rooms, which seem to always be in short supply. Wouldn’t it be great if the wireless network could tell them which conference rooms were currently empty, as well as where the colleagues they were supposed to be meeting with are at that moment? How much time would that save your company every month? Digitizing physical spaces will allow employees to use their time more efficiently.
Even better: What if they didn’t have to suffer that endless commute to the office every morning? What if they could check into any office near their home, log into the corporate network, and have everything they need to get the job done, no matter where they are? How much happier and more productive would they be? Personalization will become increasingly important to employers, just as it is to consumer-facing industries such as retail, hospitality, and healthcare.
Much has been written about how IoT is changing the manufacturing process and supply chain, but it will also have profound impacts on the office. When you walk into that conference room and it recognizes you, sets the lighting exactly the way you like it, and fires up the devices you like to use, that’s a nice perk that makes work a little more pleasant. But when it automatically turns off the lights and HVAC when no one is the room and saves the company 10 percent on its electricity bills, that’s a change your CFO can get behind.
Value Beyond Connectivity
The wireless network is where Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) meet, providing improved efficiency and performance. Today, IoT solutions are fragmented. Besides millions of unsophisticated devices, there are a variety of incompatible communications protocols, operating systems, and tagging systems. Eventually, we believe common standards will win out, and sensors will become plug and play.
Similarly, while many organizations have implemented these kinds of capabilities as pilot programs or in limited locations, they’ve been expensive and difficult to scale. However, this is starting to change, and it’s something we at Cisco are keenly interested in. We are helping customers in verticals like retail, hospitality and healthcare to build fully automated infrastructures that provides full network assurance while providing connectivity to the multitude of IoT devices. Cisco’s intent-based networking architecture enables segmented network access for IoT devices with policy-based automation and integration of the IoT and IT infrastructure.
While we’re doing this, we’re anonymizing private data like IP addresses, personal information, and so on. We will ensure data protection, privacy and security, and adhere to existing and emerging regulatory frameworks, such as GDPR.
The abilities to digitize and personalize the workplace are already enabled in Cisco’s DNA Spaces, built into every Cisco or Meraki access point. Cisco DNA Spaces is in part indoor GPS for devices, allowing administrators to locate every machine that’s logged onto the network, in every building on campus, down to the floor level. Cisco’s next-generation Access Points with built in Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee capabilities will be able to provide even better location analytics and services.
Because you must log in to the network to use DNA Spaces, the network knows who you are, which means it can start to personalize your digital workspace based on your habits and preferences. It’s the beginnings of Office as a Service, where employees are no longer dependent on a particular building and can work wherever they want.
Transformation happens when organizations take existing resources and find new use cases for them that drive productivity, increase revenue, lower expenses, or help launch new lines of business. Every business in every industry needs to discover the use cases and technologies that provide the best ROI for them. More importantly, establish security, and data protection programs where users can choose how they want to proactively drive the value exchange.
My advice: Don’t overlook your Wi-Fi network. It could be the secret weapon in your journey to digital transformation.