Network Data Analytics Supports Back-to-Work Health and Safety
At Cisco Live 2021, the networking provider demonstrated how network data analytics can enable social distancing measures.
In the past, enterprise networks have largely been a means to an end; COVID-19 has made network infrastructure more intrinsically valuable.
Traditionally the network is a conduit to send data back and forth between destinations. But with COVID-19, the network has become a key resource, providing network data analytics on workers’ location and helping ensure workplace health and safety during the pandemic.
Over the past several years, networking providers including Cisco have been perfecting the use of network data analytics to do more than just provide a highway to data transfer. Today, enterprise networks are becoming the purveyor of key data insights about human actions, such as workers’ comings and goings in an office
As enterprises strategize about back-to-work strategies in office settings – even if the future of work is hybrid – the network can take center stage in gathering data analytics to reflect human behavior.
Using Network Data Analytics for Back-to-Work Health and Safety
At Cisco Live 2021, Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager for intent-based networking, discussed the role of the network in helping employers maintain the safety and security of the workplace through network analytics.
With network tools such as DNA Spaces, Wi-Fi 6 and more, “we can make it easy to count people as they transition into the office and understand whether the space is safe and social distancing is what it needs to be,” Harrell said in a keynote on the future of work.
Accordingly, Cisco has developed a series of offerings to monitor employee density and traffic in office buildings as they return to work. One such tool is an Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled Meraki video camera, which can capture employees as they enter or exit a building. IoT data can be fed into the DNA Spaces analytics platform to determine whether a building has reached capacity for the number of employees present.
Wireless access points also provide rich data insights. Wi-Fi access points can help track employees’ physical location and help ensure that workers physically distance. Other elements of Cisco’s include real-time people counting capabilities and density threshold-based triggers to indicate to employees too many people have gathered in an area or that a clean team has been dispatched to a conference room.
If the future of work is hybrid, then smart building technology and automation will be part of the equation, enabling facility managers and IT pros to use network data analytics to track employees’ whereabouts and make adjustments in real time.
Using Track-and-Trace Capabilities: Ensuring Employee Data Privacy
Many employees hew to new mechanisms to ensure health and safety.
A recent SHRM survey of 1,007 employees found that 68% of respondents agree that the use of contact tracing by employers could limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. However, a smaller majority said they would feel more comfortable at work if their employer were to use contact tracing (57%) and that the benefits of the practice outweigh potential privacy concerns (53%).
But there is concern about the use of these technologies as an incursion into employee privacy.
In some states, employees are required to give consent before these apps can obtain these data. Still, the U.S. lacks comprehensive federal legislation on data privacy regarding information collected and stored by contact tracing apps, although a few legislative proposals have been introduced.
Experts counsel caution that track-and-trace measures could place further pressure on a workforce already challenged by COVID-19.
“Employee privacy could be a sleeping giant in the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote PwC in a recent report. “A global workforce that is concerned about their jobs and their loved ones is likely to cooperate with the health-screening and tracking measures their employers may adopt. But what’s the cost to their morale and engagement?”
PwC’s report counseled several steps to prevent incursions into data privacy, such as gathering the minimum amount of data required, ensuring data storage requirements, restricting access to employee health data and providing opt-in/opt-out options for employees regarding data gathering.
Ultimately, enterprises need to balance the need for creating a safe workspace – through the use of network analytics and track-and-trace tools – with the need to comply with laws and respect employees’ privacy.