Imagine meandering through a vast shopping mall looking for that perfect gift for someone special. So many stores, so little time. Bet there’s an app for that, you think. And sure enough the mall provides an app to help navigate the shopping experience maze. After logging into the mall’s Wi-Fi network on your phone, the app can pinpoint where you are, help you search for stores that carry the gift category you are searching for, and guide you there too. Once you’ve established your location in the mall network and specified keywords for what you are looking for, analytics figure out which stores carry the merchandise and if any of them are offering special coupons. Lucky you, there’s a match, and a 20% coupon pops up on your phone from a retailer, along with a visual guide to the store’s location. That’s magical for a busy shopper with limited time to hunt down the perfect gift.

Now let’s flip that scenario around and look at what it takes to implement a system like that from the IT perspective. Traditionally a location tracking and mapping app would require a bespoke overlay of BLE beacons and RFID tags that are detected by the mobile app. Configuring, onboarding, and maintaining all the beacons is a very manual exercise in frustration. Each beacon needs individual programming with a separate mobile app, which also needs to be local to the endpoint device in order to configure it. That translates into excessive manual labor just to deploy and service beacons. Beacons also lose battery power, tags get lost, or they get accidentally moved, leading to a continuous maintenance cycle or worse—location errors and performance issues. The bottom line is that the existing traditional location services architecture cannot scale to meet the needs of larger spaces and venues such as retail malls, healthcare campuses, stadiums, and manufacturing floors.

Now imagine a much more scalable architecture based on wireless access points. Instead of manually onboarding, provisioning, managing, and securing hundreds to thousands of individual beacons and tags to create a location overlay, a site may very well have the overlay in place already—if the site’s Wi-Fi network was built with Cisco access points.

Take a healthcare campus for example, with an existing Wi-Fi network based on Cisco Aironet Access Points and Catalyst wireless controllers. The Wi-Fi network is the overlay that senses location beacons and RFID tags on medical equipment and tracks them as them move around the wireless network—each device becoming part of the software-defined network fabric. The connectivity provided by Cisco DNA LTX protocol weaves together all the location beacons, sensors, and tags to create a Digital Space that can be managed and analyzed with Cisco DNA Center. Cisco DNA Spaces provides the ability to see, act, and extend physical spaces throughout a facility. You can see what’s happening throughout properties, act on this knowledge through Cisco DNA analytics, and extend platform capabilities through the Cisco partner app ecosystem.

See and Understand What is Happening in Physical Spaces

The goal of a digitized space is being able to understand the behavior of people and their devices, staff, and tagged equipment in a physical space. What’s the wait time at checkout lines? Where is the nearest heart monitor? How much equipment is idle versus in use? Being able to track and monitor the location and usage of physical objects in a digitized space is essential to understanding the activity of customers, employees, and assets.

Act to Deliver Relevant Services and Notifications

The ability to track and monitor digital assets and devices provides opportunities to improve levels of service, engagement, stickiness, experience, asset use, and staff efficiency. It enables the delivery of relevant services at the right time and right place. Staff can be notified of under-served areas. Vital medical assets can be put to use when and where they are most needed. Specific workflows can be triggered to intervene when problems crop up in the physical spaces. Facilities managers can use historical records to compare activity across distributed sites to understand space usage, traffic flows, and asset distribution. Without the “virtual big picture” provided by analyzing activity in physical spaces, an organization is running blind to the minute-to-minute changes in the flow of business, customers, and assets.

Extend the Physical Spaces Ecosystem

With visibility and control over physical spaces in the distributed enterprise in place, it’s time to integrate the data gathered on people, assets, and devices with applications and workflows. Using Cisco DNA Spaces APIs, location data can augment enterprise applications such as marketing automation, CRM, point of sale, building automation (lighting, HVAC), and HRMS. A university campus, for example, tracks occupancy by room—using the existing wireless fabric—not just floors or buildings, and automates the lighting and heating for individual spaces, providing significant energy savings.

The Cisco DNA Spaces LTX protocol provides third-party beacon and tag providers with an easy way to integrate their specialized products directly into digital spaces. The LTX protocol provides the ability to easily discover, onboard, provision, manage, and secure tags and beacons. In a hospital environment, as new LTX-enabled RFID tags are introduced, they are immediately recognized as a legitimate asset tag by Cisco DNA Spaces, onboarded, and provisioned with the appropriate security and connectivity policies depending on their location. In Cisco DNA Center, the new tags’ locations are immediately visible and ready to be assigned operational characteristics, without having to physically visit and individually program each one. If tags and beacons do not have the Cisco DNA LTX protocol are already integrated into a physical space, Cisco Access Points with built-in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radios can sense them and add their locations to the fabric with default security settings.

While the ease of onboarding and provisioning thousands of tags saves significant manual labor, the security aspect is critical to protecting data integrity and privacy. The LTX protocol establishes secure channels to and from tags and beacons and automates the difficult aspect of managing encryption keys. In addition, data confidentiality is protected as the protocol prevents beacon spoofing and the insertion of unauthorized tags and beacons into digital spaces. A tag not using the authorized LTX protocol is at first assigned an “unmanaged” identity and initially prevented from sending or receiving data, keeping data and authorized devices secure. The LTX protocol also assists with routine maintenance for power management, battery replacement, and lost or moved beacons and tags with a centralized view of alerts in Cisco DNA Center.

Privacy Regulations Designed Into Cisco DNA Spaces

With strict privacy regulations taking effect around the world, data privacy is a key consideration for designing and deploying Cisco DNA Spaces. While not generally an issue for telemetry generated by asset tags and beacons, any collection of personal data needs to be tightly managed. When creating customer experience apps to work with Cisco DNA Spaces, users of the app must be able to opt-in with clear instructions on how data is being collected, stored, and analyzed to help improve their experience, along with a simple opt-out method. Any personal data that is collected by Cisco DNA Spaces is stored in cloud data centers that abide by regional privacy rules in the EU, USA, and China. As privacy regulations evolve, Cisco will adapt the Cisco DNA Spaces ecosystem and cloud storage rules to ensure compliance.

Fusing Physical Spaces with the Digital World

As mobile technology permeates our work and social lives, we’ve become accustomed to thinking of our digital worlds intersecting with the physical world through which we move. Our devices guide us, talk to us, show us videos from around the world, and enable us to instantly communicate with one or hundreds of people anywhere, anytime. It makes sense that we find new ways to take control over the intersection of physical spaces and digital spaces and distill more value out of the union. Cisco DNA Spaces is another revolutionary leap in combining intent-based networking, personal devices, and our interactions with both the virtual and physical worlds. The benefits of fusing physical and digital spaces are only just beginning to prove their value to all types of enterprises.

Join us at Cisco Live Melbourne March 7, 2019, for the Grand Technology Keynote when I will present more details on Cisco DNA Spaces and other innovative Cisco technologies.



Anand Oswal

No Longer with Cisco