Waking of the forest: Digital Transformation in COVID times with DNA-Spaces
We have seen an overwhelming amount of transformation in response to the COVID19-pandemic that has impacted and altered most aspects of our lives. We also have seen the rapid digitization of businesses that are quickly reorganizing and launching new applications for ordering, pickups and engaging their customers in new and safer ways. The old adage that necessity truly is the mother of invention and innovation rings true.
But as humans we are both creatures of habit and social creatures – we seek to get back to the “new-normal” and out of our shelters sort of like a forest slowly coming back to life after the storm. However, keeping people safe and healthy as they return to a more normal state will require innovation and transformation as social distancing is likely here to stay. Organizations are faced with a new predicament of needing to measure, track, remind and alert people in public spaces about how to stay safe.
As Sun-Tzu wrote 2500 years ago, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” Many of us do not realize the power that is at our fingertips and the capabilities of our existing network infrastructures. As many people realize, the wireless network keeps a data lake of detailed data on which wireless access point the users are attached to as a normal part of wireless network operations, troubleshooting and analytics. The issue is how to organize this information and transform it into consumable form and how to get it in near real time for the information to be used.
As part of my organization’s digital transformation strategy we started to employ a location based services engagement platform by Cisco called DNA-Spaces (DNA-Spaces Web Page) . Until recently, we primarily utilized the platform for engagement via dynamic wireless portals, mobile user analytics and engagement. In early March of 2020 – as I was looking at our DNA-Spaces portal – I saw that in 2 years we collected more than 1.6 Billion location updates,(yes a WOW moment) and tried to imagine how we could use this location data to help ensure people’s safety amidst the COVID19-Pandemic.
Partnering with Cisco’s DNA-Spaces team we began to work on some use cases and applications specific for COVID-19 which are very exciting. We started working on solving the problem of measuring user density in near real time. While faced with a limitation that with Wireless 802.11 the location accuracy is limited to 9 meters (30 feet), with BLE (Bluetooth) we can get location accuracy down to less than 2 meters. But my organization has a prolific wireless 802.11 deployment and deploying BLE sensors was going to be a significant undertaking. So we started working with what we had which proved to be immensely helpful and more than sufficient.
The first step was to enable alerts based on the number of wireless devices in a building. We looked at the square footage of a building, allocated ~150sq feet per person/device for social distancing and came up with the maximum device capacity in an area. The alerts can be sent via e-mail, SMS, WebEx Bot or WEBHook to a variety of platforms.
Since DNA-Spaces is a platform rich with APIs the next stage was to provide more visual cues to visitors. We began integration with our digital signage system (Industry Weapon ). With this solution when people enter a building they can see the digital signs which will display the building’s maximum safe capacity and current occupancy level – so that people can make a data driven decision to enter the facility or not.
Since we already had the Wireless Controllers (WLCs) connect to DNA-Spaces (Connecting the wireless controller to DNA-Space only takes about 5 minutes), I needed to export the floor maps and wireless access point locations from Cisco Prime Infrastructure (Soon you will be able to do this directly from DNA-Center as well) and import them into DNA-Spaces. After you have your hierarchy imported into DNA-Spaces you are able configure an unlimited number of capacity alerts and triggers. You can set alerts at campus level, building level, virtual zones or on any AP grouping you desire.
There are still several interesting pickles to overcome. Not everyone uses wireless or carries a wireless device – examples being young children and nearly 20% of the population that does not have a smartphone. Further, in meeting rooms when only a presenter is using wireless, the accuracy of occupancy reports can be hindered. To overcome some of these scenarios we can issue “visitor Wifi Badges” or to use the DNA-Spaces integration with the Meraki MV cameras (Meraki Smart Camera webpage) which have the capability through video analytics and artificial intelligence built into the camera to do people counting and feed the data into DNA-Spaces. Ideally you can use the cameras to count people entering and exiting and then use wireless to measure density based on rooms, area or floors with-in the 9-meter accuracy level.
What I found amazing is that using our existing Cisco wireless network, combined with the Cisco DNA-Spaces platform (which comes with your DNA-Advantage license) we are able to leverage our investment to quickly create a safer environment based on real time data driven decisions for everyone as we see our community forests slowly come back to life and out of our shelters in the COVID19-storm.