The latest industry news from the Brickworkx experts

We believe that constant education, both for ourselves and for our customers, is a key piece of the puzzle for success. The Brickworkx team likes to share their knowledge and experiences as much as possible. We’re often either at a customer’s location learning from them or at a conference, seminar or industry trade show gleaning as much knowledge as possible. The Brickworkx blog is our outlet to share this information. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Engaging customers via their mobile devices is an exciting proposition for many organizations; however, it has to be done with care. These solutions often carry a significant cost and depend on a Return on Investment (ROI) model to make sense.
Achieving this ROI requires walking a fine line between meaningful engagement and being a nuisance. Here are five best practices to help you do that.

5 ways to ensure your mobile strategy works

1. Think big picture

The goal is to create a user experience that provides vast amounts of data to the organization while delivering value to the customer. Accomplishing that means the experience needs to be immersive and omni-channel (e.g., SMS, email, app-based, digital signage, direct mail, etc.).
Too many organizations jump straight to the mobile application without realizing adoption of mobile applications is low and retention of those mobile apps is even lower. A holistic approach that embraces the web (traditional and mobile), mobile apps, digital and physical signage, and some of the emerging areas such as augmented reality (AR) and context-aware chatbots will be far more successful.
Analytics and business intelligence tools must be included because understanding the success of these messages and their impact on the bottom line is a necessity, as engagement attempts that are ill-received may create a negative effect on the business.
2. Establish a baseline
Before rolling out any new engagement solution or even a single targeted campaign, it is important to understand the baseline. What is normal for a specific time of day, day of week, demographic, location, etc.
If there are areas in which these baselines are unknown, the success of an engagement will also likely be unknown. The length of time to determine a credible baseline depends on business and vertical; however, a month of data will provide statistically valuable data for many organizations.

3. Consider your social credibility

Each engagement or touchpoint with the user must be carefully weighed prior to being implemented, as the organization is spending “social credibility” with the customer in issuing these engagements. Determining that a message is hitting the right person at the right time and place is paramount to success.
While the organization may want to drive a specific behavior, it must be done in such a way that it is graciously accepted by the recipient. For less important messages, consider other channels for delivery—email, direct mail and digital signage integrations are options that are less invasive than a targeted push message.

4. Leverage employee engagement

Business should ensure the human component isn’t lost in this digital marketing frenzy.
Consider a scenario in which an employee could be notified when a user has spent more than five minutes in front of a specific retail display or there has been a high density of users in line for a drink at a sports game or concert venue. Rather than trying to ping users to have them go find another bar, consider triggers that have an employee come over with a mobile payment system and perform line-breaking transactions. This human component may still be considered a “digital engagement,” but it won’t feel like it to the consumer.

5. Keep it fresh

Digital engagements should always be timely and relevant. Organizations can’t afford to be lazy about managing these platforms because pushing irrelevant messages will drive away customers, cause them to remove their mobile apps, and even consider competitors.
Campaigns should also create a sense of urgency—create a fear of missing out or at least ensure customers understand this immediate deal is good for only the first 100 redemptions.
Gamification is one way to keep things interesting for consumers, and it can drive additional spend as it may promise “bonus” rewards for the additional engagement. The solutions should be simple enough that they can be managed by marketing teams and not IT.
Originally posted here with Network World. Republished with permission as originating author. Also available on my LinkedIn page.

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Heading into Aruba Atmosphere this year I was most excited to see Aruba’s new Niara solution in action and learn more about this product as it solves a very real need in every network. Inherently any network policy grants some sort of access to the network and users are free to work within the confines of that policy. Even using 802.1X-based authentication and dynamically provisioned VLANs, access roles, downloadable ACLs, etc. isn’t necessarily enough. Niara solves for these issues in an appealing way and lessens the workloads for SecOps teams.
Case #1: Stolen Credentials
A known valid user can operate within their policy, but what happens if they are compromised either through social engineering, weak passwords, poor password management, etc.? Niara builds a profile of what is typical behavior of a specific user, if their patterns change this will be identified by the system. Perhaps the user starts attempting to access new areas or is visiting new websites—by a change in behavior, it is possible to identify a need for a change in policy, alert the SecOps team, or eventually automate remediation or lockdown of the user. Comparing to a baseline as well as other similar users gives Niara a frame of reference for the user under evaluation.
Case #2: Malware and Viruses
Both malware and viruses are capable of changing the behavior of network attached clients, while numerous tools already exist to help combat these Niara could serve as a welcome tool to identify and isolate infected clients or in a perfect world learn about how a Day Zero Attack might attempt to compromise the network and automatically harden the network in anticipation of this attack. The combination of these capabilities along with Aruba’s open APIs using Aruba’s Exchange offers some very interesting possibilities by enabling the collection of data from ecosystem partners with a greater speciality in the malware and virus arena. Imagine a world in which your firewall vendor has detected a new type of malware, shares that data with Aruba ClearPass and Niara via APIs, syslog, SIEM, or other similar routes and then the network automatically reacts to prevent the spread of that malware at the same time you are being notified.
Case #3: Software Bugs/Anomalous Behavior
If an application is updated and begins to operate differently on the network, Niara can identify this and enable teams to understand the new behavior. New behaviors deemed as risky can be mitigated against and feedback can be provided to the company’s development team. A specific example of this was provided at the conference in a popular file share company who’s update generated unwanted traffic on the network. Niara’s machine learning was able to identify and allow this undesirable behavior to be stopped.
Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company opens the door to a world of possibilities with the addition of machine learning and extends those capabilities elegantly through their open architecture in Aruba Exchange. I would anticipate that this field of machine learning is going to explode in the networking world as IT teams are facing increasingly difficult security challenges and are being asked to do more with less people and less resources. Automation of detection and defense should be able to solve 75-80% of the issues out there, enabling IT to focus on the most challenging and highest value problems out there.

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One of the most promising announcements at Mobility Field Day Live with Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company for me had to be the introduction of ClearPass Extensions. The concept behind this feature is to leverage a repository within ClearPass, such that new features may be created and ran without compromising the integrity of the system and the underlying code with some sort of “engineering special”. This functionality adds substantial value to an already feature rich ClearPass product.

ClearPass Extensions enabled Aruba partners such as Microsoft, Intel Security, Kasada, and Envoy to develop innovative features that may be released ahead of a major release of code which improves feature velocity and more importantly client satisfaction.
Currently this is a relatively closed system with Aruba handling the development as a professional services engagement, but as a service oriented partner we see the light at the end of the tunnel and are looking to truly create some differentiating features for our customers that provide tight integration of ClearPass with the business.
Aruba’s vision for where ClearPass Extensions will go includes a developer community and an “app store” enabling customers to download or purchase apps that have been developed specifically for ClearPass. Customers can also develop their own features, or engage any third party to do the integration for them in the future.
Creating an opportunity for partners to differentiate themselves from each other and rewarding those that truly understand their customer’s business is an appealing idea. Waiting on features that may take six months to be released during a standard release punishes those companies who are creative and forward looking.
This model rewards these organizations instead by giving them a competitive advantage and an option to potentially generate additional revenues depending on how the app stores comes to light. The potential opportunities of these extensions are seemingly infinite and the upside for organizations investing in this are tremendous.

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Simplifying network management is a challenging task for any organization, especially those that have chosen a best of breed route and have a mix of vendors. I ask my customers to strive for these things when looking to improve their network management and gain some efficiency.
  1. Strive for a Single Source of Truth—As an administrator there should be a single place that you manage information about a specific set of users or devices (e.g. Active Directory as the only user database). Everything else on the network should reference that source for its specific information. Multiple domains or maintaining a mix of LDAP and RADIUS users makes authentication complicated and arguably may make your organization less secure as maintaining these multiple sources is burdensome. Invest in doing one right and exclusively.
  2. Standardization—A tremendous amount of time savings can be found by eliminating one-off configurations/sites, situations, etc. An often overlooked part in this time savings is in consulting and contractor costs, the easier it is for an internal team to quickly identify a location, IDF, device, etc. the easier it will be for your hired guns as well. A system should be in place for IP address schemes, VLAN numbering, naming conventions, low voltage cabling, switch port usage, redundancy, etc.
  3. Configuration Management—Creating a plan for standardization is one thing, ensuring it gets executed is tougher. There are numerous tools that allow for template-based configuration or script-based configuration. If your organization is going to take the time to standardize the network, it is critical that it gets followed through on the configuration side. DevOps environments may turn to products like Chef, Puppet or Ansible to help with this sort of management.
  4. Auditing and Accountability—Being proactive about policing these efforts is important and to do that some sort of accountability needs to be in place. This should happen in change control meetings to ensure changes are well thought out and meet the design standards, safeguards are in place to ensure the right people are making the changes and that those changes can be tracked back to a specific person (no shared “admin” or “root” accounts!) to help ensure that all of the hard work put in to this point is actually maintained. New hires should be trained and indoctrinated in the system to ensure that they follow the process.
Following these steps will simplify the network, increase visibility, speed troubleshooting, and even help security. What steps have you taken in your environment to simplify network management? We’d love to hear it!

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Network Management doesn’t have to be overly complex, but a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished is important. In a previous blog series I had talked about the need for a tools team to help in this process, a cross functional team may be critical in defining these criteria.
  1. Determine What is Important—What is most important to your organization is likely different than that of your peers at other organizations, albeit somewhat similar in certain regards. Monitoring everything isn’t realistic and may not even be valuable if nothing is done with the data that is being collected. Zero in on the key metrics that define success and determine how to best monitor those.
  2. Break it Down into Manageable Pieces—Once you’ve determined what is important to the business, break that down into more manageable portions. For example if blazing fast website performance is needed for an eCommerce site, consider dividing this into network, server, services, and application monitoring components.
  3. Maintain an Open System—There is nothing worse than being locked into a solution that is inflexible. Leveraging APIs that can tie disparate systems together is critical in today’s IT environments. Strive for a single source of truth for each of your components and exchange that information via vendor integrations or APIs to make the system better as a whole.
  4. Invest in Understanding the Reporting—Make the tools work for you, a dashboard is simply not enough. Most of the enterprise tools out there today offer robust reporting capabilities, however these often go unimplemented.
  5. Review, Revise, Repeat—Monitoring is rarely a “set and forget” item, it should be in a constant state of improvement, integration, and evaluation to enable better visibility into the environment and the ability to deliver on key business values.

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As network engineers, administrators, architects, and enthusiasts we are seeing a trend of relatively complicated devices that all strive to provide unparalleled visibility into the inner workings of applications or security. Inherent in these solutions is a level of complexity that challenges network monitoring tools, it seems that in many cases vendors are pitching proprietary tools that are capable of extracting the maximum amount of data out of a specific box. Just this afternoon I sat on a vendor call in which we were doing a technical deep dive of a next-generation firewall with a very robust feature set with a customer. Inevitably the pitch was made to consider a manager of managers that could consolidate all of this data into one location. While valuable in its own right for visibility, this perpetuates the problem of many “single panes of glass”.
I couldn’t help but think, what we really need is the ability to follow certain threads of information across many boxes, regardless of manufacturer—these threads could be things like application performance or flows, security policies, etc. Standards-based protocols and vendors that are open to working with others are ideal as it fosters the creation of ecosystems. Automation and orchestration tools offer this promise, but add on additional layers of intricacy in the requirements of knowing scripting languages, a willingness to work with open source platforms, etc.
Additionally, any time we seem to abstract a layer or simplify it, we lose something in the process—this is known as generation loss. Generation loss is the result of compounding this across many devices or layers of management tends to result in data that is incomplete or worse inaccurate, yet this is the data that we are intending to use to make our decisions.
Is it really too much to ask for simple and accurate? I believe this is where the art of simplicity comes into play. The challenge of creating an environment in which the simple is useful and obtainable requires creativity, attention to detail, and an understanding that no two environments are identical. In creating this environment, it is important to address what exactly will be made simple and by what means. With a clear understanding of the goals in mind, I believe it is possible to achieve these goals, but the decisions on equipment, management systems, vendors, partners, etc. need to be well thought through and the right amount of time and effort must be dedicated to it.

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I had an opportunity to attend a Mobility BU hosted training at Cisco HQ in Santa Clara. This training covered Hyperlocation, Connected Mobile Experience (CMX) and the Enterprise Mobility Services Platform (EMSP). I had been looking forward to this ever since I received the invite, having invested time into the solution as early as 2013. These technologies are unified in purpose in that each of them have a role to play in transforming the end-user experience and enabling businesses to engage with their customers in new and interesting ways.
As one of the Wireless Field Day 8 delegates, I had an opportunity to see the Hyperlocation Module (HALO) up close and personal, however we never got a chance to actually play with it. For those interested, I wrote a detailed blog post about the technology after the WFD8 event. This time around however, we not only got to spend time talking through the technology and its use cases, we actually spent time playing with it in the CMX Lab at Cisco HQ. Seeing hyperlocation in action is impressive and the accuracy was within one meter as advertised. While the location accuracy is great, what is really intriguing is the network is aware of where the user is rather than relying on the user to interact with a beacon or something similar. I had the opportunity to walk around the floor space with an iPhone6+ and watch its movement on the screen. The response was impressively crisp for being 100% Wi-Fi based, but not quite as smooth as beacon-based movement tracking. This distinction is important though as beacons do require a user to be using their app to adequately engage, where as hyperlocation is simply the network being aware of the device and its movement inherently.
Detect. Connect. Engage.
Cisco’s CMX software works by detecting the presence of a device on the wireless network. Presence is simply the device being local to a given access point, it does not necessitate location, however location is an option and can be accomplished through standard triangulation or by the addition of the HALO module. Connection is the process of getting the user to opt-in through captive portal, SMS, social media, or mobile app. Some organizations are challenged with mobile app adoption so alternatives are a welcome addition. Lastly once the user is connected, engaging with them in new and innovative ways is the goal of the platform.

My Connected Mobile Experience (CMX)
Playing with CMX at the Cisco lab was fantastic—we walked around with various devices ranging from phones to Ava the telepresence robot who drove herself around the lab. Our movements generated a ton of data for CMX which we could then use to send notifications, trigger an action, etc. The reports and analytics offered around these actions are simple to navigate and provide powerful insights for organizations.

Enterprise Mobility Services Platform (EMSP)
EMSP is an open, cloud-hosted mobile application platform which provides an intelligent way to deliver customer engagement and is used with CMX to leverage location based services. Upon location acquisition of customer, EMSP wifi-enabled, browser-based captive portal provides a mobile experience specific to the location of the mobile device user, who they are and what they’re doing. EMSP then provides event-based, actionable insights which enable improved monetization and conversion of customer from looking to buying, from general presence to engaged interaction. In addition, the EMSP solution includes a tool suite for rapidly and dynamically updating content for the context-aware mobile experience. With this in mind, EMSP simplifies and accelerates time to deployment. It has the intelligent hooks to act upon the insights provided by CMX location services to improve the client experience, influence behavior, solicit feedback and automate workflow.

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