Published: January 12, 2023
Networking technology has always been about connecting people and their devices to the applications they need. Of course, they still do that. But the pandemic has pushed businesses to rapidly embrace digital transformation, changing the way we use connected systems and how we work. Today, enterprise networks not only connect us, but they also generate, analyze, protect, and transmit huge amounts of data. This data holds untapped potential to help businesses evolve, transform, and succeed in the modern world. Imagine the possibilities of leveraging this wealth of information to drive innovation and gain a competitive edge. The future is bright for those who can harness the power of their network data.
In this blog, based on real-life deployments in production, we will discuss how network data can be leveraged for new business insights, actions, and monetization. There are three key areas that are crucial to harnessing the power of data in today's digital world:
- Data Sourcing – what network data sources are available, and what value can be extracted from them
- Data Collaboration – why vendor relationships should be seen as data consultancy partnerships
- Business Outcomes – proof points showing ways that businesses achieve success with network data
Data Sourcing – The Building Blocks of Data
Before we jump into use cases and outcomes, it’s important to quickly identify what we mean by network data. We can subdivide network data into four categories:
- Network Telemetry – The behind-the-scenes data of your network. Telemetry includes information about system stats (CPU and memory usage), traffic details, the number and types of clients connected, data about ports and interfaces, information about the wireless environment, and even logs and events. On their own, these data points may not seem super exciting, but when you use statistical learning, baselines, prediction, and anomaly detection in an AIOps workflow, they can be incredibly valuable. By using these metrics correctly, you can learn about user behavior, improve the experience for everyone, and make sure your network stays up and running smoothly.
- Location – This data is all about understanding where devices are in the physical world. This data set includes information like the exact position of a device, how long a device stays in a certain area (dwell times), and whether someone is a new or returning user or device. Additionally, location data can track how engaged users are and how close they are to other things, patterns of movement and flow, and how many people are in a specific area (user density and congestion). When you combine all of this data, it can be incredibly useful for a lot of different things. For example, understanding how guests use your space, ensuring your facility is safe, getting insights into how your operations are running, creating great wayfinding and navigation experiences, keeping track of important assets, and so much more.
- Application Usage and Flows –This data category is about understanding how people use different apps and websites on your network. This data category is about understanding how people use different apps and websites on your network. The data includes information about sessions, different types of traffic flowing through your network, and data that describes what people are doing while they're connected. You can gain valuable insight from this data, like understanding user demographics, how long they're spending on different apps, which apps and websites are popular, and which aren't, and even what people say about your brand on social media. One of the most powerful things about this data is that it can be used to create custom insights specific to your business by using application detection signatures explicitly designed for your business.
- Network Connected Devices – There are so many different types of client devices that can connect to networks and provide data. For example, you might have IoT sensors that measure temperature, humidity, motion, or pressure or Wi-Fi phones that give you information about call quality, connections, and mobility. You could also have asset tags that track location and battery life or health kiosks that give you results from biometric scans. These are just a few examples; so many more types of devices can provide you with data. The data gathered from client devices can be loosely or tightly integrated with network infrastructure data, both for operational insight (quickly resolving problems with a nurse's voice device) and business integrations (matching visitor biometric scan data with user density data).
Collaboration – How to Make the Most Out of Your Network Data
As we look toward the future of network data gathering, we see a shifting and evolving landscape. At present, there are two main approaches that organizations take. The first is to gather data from network management applications, which allows businesses to perform certain tasks efficiently but may be limiting in scope. The primary focus is network operations. The second option is to utilize a vast array of open-source tools, to build any type of application to extract data. This offers great flexibility but requires a dedicated in-house data engineering team to utilize them effectively.
Most organizations face challenges with either of these approaches. Off-the-shelf products are designed for widespread use across different markets, which can result in gaps when trying to address your specific business needs. On the other hand, building a solution from scratch requires IT leaders to find and hire specialized software talent and also manage a complex end-to-end data project.
Somewhere in the middle is a recommended path: the solution provider and customer working together to create custom integrations and data feeds, applications signatures, and APIs on top of network data platforms tailored to the customer's needs or market. This collaboration allows for the extraction of valuable data that is enhanced by industry-specific knowledge and insights. Extreme has successfully employed this approach with major sports leagues and other organizations. The outcome is network data that is not just raw and unprocessed, but instead is enriched with business-specific context and expertise.
By embracing a consultative and collaborative approach with customers, a vendor can create a unique path towards unlocking the full potential of network data and go beyond simply collecting network data and instead transform data into a powerful tool for driving innovation and growth.
Extreme Networks has a history of leveraging the rich network data of sports and entertainment venues, including stadiums and arenas, to drive successful outcomes. These types of venues have data requirements similar to those of other enterprise businesses. These venues have operations that include retail, hospitality, office space, and logistics, and therefore, require information to support these areas. The data requirements of these venues are varied and ever-changing but can be grouped into a set of common themes, similar to the needs of most other enterprises. These include:
- Benchmarking – Network data provides valuable insights for creating baselines and comparing business trends over time. By utilizing network flow data analytics, organizations can track metrics such as number of clients, traffic, app usage, and location hotspots, which can be compared event-to-event, day-to-day, and seasonally or year-over-year. Benchmarking allows for the measurement of variability between sites, an understanding of how guest preferences change over time, and the identification of web usage trends. This information can assist organizations in making better decisions regarding ad placement, sponsorships, concessions, and other ways to connect with customers. It also serves as a qualitative anchor for business decision
- Experimental – Technology evolves rapidly, and high-performing businesses are constantly experimenting with new technology solutions and gathering data to measure their effectiveness. Using network data, such as application adoption, time spent on the app, and location metrics, businesses can evaluate the success of experimental mobile app features and evaluate how users respond to advertisements. Businesses can use network data, including metrics on entry and exit flows in the mobile application, to assess how changes to these processes affect congestion and wait times. Other network data, such as the types of operating systems in use, can affect decisions on which devices and ecosystems to prioritize when experimenting with new technologies.
- Governance & Security– Every business has data governance and security concerns. Network data allows for monitoring and enforcement of governance priorities. It also provides information on dimensions such as roles, devices, SSIDs, locations, and time of day which can be used to profile security vulnerabilities and swiftly take appropriate action.
- Direct Monetization– The data your network collects can lead to new revenue streams you never thought possible. By analyzing data on how people use certain apps and websites like preferred gambling sites, dating/meetup sites, and social media platforms, you can find potential partners and opportunities for advertising. This data can guide your business development strategy. Additionally, you can also monetize your data directly, through data exchanges, which enable data assets and insights to be shared or sold directly—such as leasing network capacity to connectivity partners and reselling data analytics and insights to them.
Enterprise customers have shown a desire to use network data for both standard network uses such as gaining insights on location and presence, IT operations, and social engagement, as well as for solving business problems that are related to networks. Some of these adjacent themes include:
- Occupancy Analytics – Post-pandemic, companies with multiple locations are using data on location and presence from wireless systems and combining it with information on market value, taxes, and other expenses related to facility operation. This information is being used to make decisions about commercial real estate and to find ways to reduce costs.
- Energy Efficiency – Enterprises are exploring ways to increase energy efficiency by gaining visibility into their network's energy consumption, creating a baseline, and then using the data to reduce their carbon footprint and optimize energy costs. This is driven by a desire to align with green energy values and the need to manage rising energy costs.
- Customer Experience – The customer experience is an often-heard buzzword, as it should be. With the help of maturing AIOps solutions (including machine-generated dashboards), businesses are monitoring user network experience (e.g., connection process, application issues, wait times) in an effort to optimize networks for visitor satisfaction, employee productivity, and operating continuity. Measuring and improving customer experience through the analysis of network data is a perhaps the most important trend in network analytics due to its real-world benefits.
As previously stated, the future is bright for those who can harness the power of their network data. If you're facing business challenges, using network data could provide solutions. You can gain valuable insights by integrating various types of data, such as location data, connected device data, sensors, and third-party sources. Our company is committed to leveraging the potential of network data to help customers address their problems and streamline their business operations. If you're interested in working with us to explore the various data sources and tools available, please don't hesitate to contact the Office of the CTO at Extreme Networks. We would be happy to discuss how we can support you in improving your business outcomes.