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Machine learning and AI: past to present

1952 saw the first computer program that could learn as it ran. It was a game which played checkers and was created by Arthur Samuel.

Fast forward to 2019 and the usage of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) has accelerated to real-world use cases that can be applied to modern-day business problems.

Here are just a few of the ways that machine learning and AI improves our quality of life on a daily basis:

  • Receiving a movie or song suggestion while browsing video or music streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify.
  • Using smart devices, such as the Nest thermostat, to determine your home’s optimal temperature settings when you’re home and away.
  • Google provides suggestive “predictions” based on the initial keyword(s) that you type into the search bar.
  • Machine learning and its subset, AI, have been deployed to assist companies with solving legacy problems related to IT systems (e-mail spam, threat detection, and mitigation) as well as physical security (theft and shrink reduction).
  • Document recognition and compliance to check signatures on thousands of documents—a process that takes humans hours or days to complete.
  • Image analysis using ML and AI is showing promise in the detection of cancerous tumors and is being used to diagnose and determine action to mitigate risk.
  • Chatbots, or automated “Level 1” support, provides customer service support without human intervention.

What is Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence?

AI is a broad term that refers to the doctrine or study of training systems to perform tasks in a more efficient manner than humans can execute.

Machine learning is more nuanced and is often referred to as a “subset” of AI. Machine learning speaks to the systems, processes, and specific frameworks that are required to perform a task. This enables technology to actually “learn” and potentially provide value. The goal of machine learning is to ingest data input such as logs and images with the intent of learning things from that data.

Room for opportunity, and what enterprises are doing – by the numbers

I recently came across a Forbes article that polled C-level executives on the state of AI propagation in their respective enterprises. Poll results demonstrate that these leaders want to implement some form of AI in their respective line of business.

  • 47 percent of business executives have embedded at least one AI capability in their business processes.
  • 21 percent say their organizations have embedded AI in several parts of the business.
  • The Forbes article also cited a McKinsey study which found that 30 percent of businesses surveyed are piloting AI.
  • According to a RELX Group survey, 55 percent of government officials are aware of AI but say it is not being utilized, while 37 percent of surveyed officials are utilizing AI.
  • According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, only 15 percent of enterprises have appointed a single enterprise-wide AI leader while 3 percent said they were not sure who was in charge of AI, and none of the respondents said there was a single C-level executive who was in charge of AI at their firm. 24 percent said their enterprise-wide AI efforts were being led by an AI “center of excellence.”

First engagements with clients concerning machine learning and AI – what we have encountered

Most of our clients are generally in the discovery phase. This is when an organization studies how machine learning and AI can help streamline business processes and provide a relevant return on investment (ROI).

Unfortunately, we’ve also learned that many clients don’t know where to start when classifying what data is relevant to implement an AI strategy that aligns with their business needs. And there are often challenges with how they utilize data with an AI/machine learning framework in mind when the identified business process is data rich.

We also see businesses trying to operationalize an AI framework from an IT perspective before clearly identifying the appropriate use cases. We have engaged with clients that want to start this conversation using the same approach they would in sizing a “traditional” IT workload.

What OEM is the market leader, from a server perspective?

What GPU should I utilize?

Can we virtualize this workload? 

What are your other clients utilizing to manage this infrastructure?

Will the new AI platform that I am evaluating integrate with my current network/storage topology?

These questions are fundamentally relevant but are not necessarily the most pertinent at the onset of the AI conversation.  The success of any ML/AI deployment heavily relies on conversations with both business and technology leaders. It is essential to understand the entire business before discussing the speeds and feeds of any technology that will eventually follow.

Personnel, the AI practice, and the ability to execute

Finally, it’s important to mention the overall importance of skillsets that are typically required to deploy a successful AI infrastructure. In most cases, these skillsets are radically different from what enterprises have traditionally needed.

“Typical” legacy application deployment relies heavily on the systems administration and application development skillset. The machine learning and AI deployment shifts that focus from a primarily infrastructure-centric discussion to a more business-centric/data science approach.

This shift requires a new set of skills for success. Machine learning and AI professionals are typically more data driven and often hold advanced degrees in mathematics and/or computer science. They are typically subject matter experts in the area of statistics, data mining, and programming.

These roles typically include:

  • Data scientists, who are proficient with the knowledge of extracting data and who can interpret that data using tools and frameworks commonly found in the ML/AI stack. Data scientists spend a majority of their time collecting, preening, and massaging data to eventually drive actionable results. Data scientists are typically not primarily interested in the hardware technology, infrastructure, or day-to-day operations of a given deployment. Their primary goal is to evaluate data and provide meaningful insights.
  • Data engineers typically have knowledge specific to infrastructure and data architecture. Data engineers are often involved with the methods, tools, and infrastructure required to discover, extract, convert, and move data to its respective AI platform.

These data-centric skillsets are becoming increasingly difficult to find as the adoption of AI increases in the enterprise.

CBTS and our value add with machine learning and AI

The challenges specific to AI adoption quickly become apparent as these disciplines gain traction in the enterprise.

CBTS brings multiple aspects of value to your AI deployment based on our experiences with clients in multiple industries.

Perhaps you are just beginning to examine how an AI framework can bring value to your enterprise. Maybe you require assistance with finding qualified data science and engineering resources in a very competitive workforce. And there’s always a need to understand the right approach when selecting the appropriate infrastructure to deploy and operationalize your AI effort.

You can be confident that CBTS has the expertise to assist you wherever you are in your AI and machine learning journey.

CBTS showcases HPE partnership at Discover 2019

The blizzard of innovation at this year’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Discover 2019 conference is a testament to HPE’s bold technology and business model innovation bets.

CBTS, which is an HPE Platinum partner, was among the conference participants, and Ron Nemecek, Business Alliance Manager for CBTS, participated in a panel discussion. Ron discussed a recent CBTS-HPE collaboration on behalf of a global financial services firm that needed to refresh its data center infrastructure for multiple United Kingdom locations.

CBTS and HPE partnered on a solution that features the latest technology, is sized effectively, and is structured to align the costs of the refresh and new IT infrastructure to the business usage. The solution is delivered via HPE GreenLake Flex Capacity to eliminate the extensive cost of over-provisioning.

It’s a great example of how HPE’s innovation has extended beyond tech products and services into business outcomes for customers, Ron said.

“The new innovation that HPE brings to the marketplace is business solutions and business outcomes that are really desired by our customers, because they only want to pay for what they use moving forward,” Ron said.

“Customers are telling us that CBTS and HPE have listened to what they have been asking for years — getting them out of paying for technology they are not going to use.”

Nemecek said customers are impressed with the GreenLake consumption experience.

“They can’t believe that it is true, and that a company came to them with a partnership to solve the business problem they have had for decades,” Ron said. “That is the innovation that HPE has brought to the marketplace, and they have empowered it through partners with GreenLake 3.0.”

Ron said he sees exponential growth ahead with GreenLake.

“This is what our customers are looking for, and we are going to address their needs,” he said.

Click here to learn how partnering with CBTS drives cutting-edge capabilities.

Municipalities streamline operations with NaaS

Municipalities are following the private sector, which has embraced Network as a Service (NaaS) to improve performance, deliver better services and products to consumers, and lower overall operating costs.

Advanced digital capabilities are reconfiguring the way municipal data infrastructure improves critical functions like emergency services, utilities management, and even traffic control. One of the core technologies involved in this transformation is networking, which can be complex, costly, and difficult to manage.

But as more municipal IT environments transition to virtual, software-defined infrastructure, many cities and towns are starting to recognize the benefits of converting from on-premise networking assets to streamlining operations with Network as a Service.

Network as a Service is reliable, cost-effective

Municipalities benefit from OpEx model

The chief advantage NaaS brings to municipalities is the ability to shift costs from a capital expenditure (CapEx) model to an operational expenditure (OpEx) model. In this way, agencies avoid the high upfront costs of network rollouts and expansion, while adjusting the consumption of resources according to workload demands.

The end result is a more reliable and cost-efficient network experience that allows municipalities to concentrate on their core mission and improve public service for their constituents.

But exactly how does NaaS work?

Third-party support gives municipalities flexibility

While every office has its own networking infrastructure in place, tasks like configuring routers, optimizing protocols, and setting up firewalls can be costly and time-consuming. With NaaS, municipal offices are able to outsource these functions to a third party.

Most solution providers offer a web platform that serves as a portal for IT staff to monitor and manage the network security and ensure that it meets regulatory compliance.

In this way, agencies are provided with a dynamic network environment managed by a trusted third-party solution provider.

Streamline operations, meet budgetary goals

In the private sector, networking budgets are often constrained due to the pressure faced when trying to achieve a company’s bottom-line as well as the competing demands of the overall IT stack. In the public sphere, budgets tend to be tight as a general rule, lest the elected decision-makers face the wrath of unhappy voters.

In both cases, however, the perpetual goal is to do more with less.

NaaS fulfills this mandate on the network level, while laying the groundwork for enhanced virtualization across the entire IT stack. Rarely does a solution provide improved service at less cost right from the start, particularly in networking.

CBTS helps municipal organizations streamline operations with Network as a Service and delivers an agile, top-notch network infrastructure that meets their budgetary goals.

Discover how CBTS helped a municipality save $12,000 a year by adopting Network as a Service to monitor and manage their infrastructure.

5 key benefits of CBTS NaaS solution for municipalities

The CBTS NaaS solution provides municipal organizations with these key benefits:

  • 24x7x365 engineering support from highly-qualified CBTS experts.
  • Data center support. CBTS establishes the groundwork for a software-defined data center through expert support of existing virtual servers.
  • Infrastructure support. CBTS provides the necessary infrastructure for additional applications, such as Hosted Unified Communications (Hosted UC).
  • Third-party visibility. CBTS offers third-party visibility into servers and individual telephones.
  • Predictable monthly costs. CBTS provides a predictable monthly cost model that builds hardware refreshes into the network lifecycle.

CBTS NaaS also provides a foundation for the extension of virtual networking over the wide area, a crucial element of flexibility for agencies that coordinate with other agencies or non-governmental entities like utility collectives, non-profit organizations, and contractors.

At the same time, CBTS NaaS provides seamless adherence to strict compliance rules, data sovereignty, and other regulatory measures.

CBTS is a trusted IT partner

With CBTS NaaS, our expert engineers are available 24x7x365.

CBTS helps municipalities free up their staff so they can focus on mission-critical tasks rather than spend time conducting patchwork, monitoring the network, or dealing with expensive hardware issues.

In partnering with a trusted solution provider like CBTS, municipalities remove the burden of IT management from their staff and are able to streamline operations with Network as a Service.

CBTS wins VMware partner Innovation Award

CBTS awarded VMware 2018 Partner Innovation Award

Partners Awarded for Extraordinary Performance and Notable Achievements

Cincinnati, Ohio — CBTS is proud to announce that we have received the Americas 2018 VMware Partner Innovation Award in the VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud Solution category. CBTS was recognized at VMware Partner Leadership Summit 2019, held in Carlsbad, CA.

“We congratulate CBTS on winning a Partner Innovation Award as Partner of the Year in the VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud Solution category, and look forward to our continued collaboration and innovation,” said Jenni Flinders, vice president, Worldwide Channel Chief, VMware. “VMware and our partners will continue to empower organizations of all sizes with technologies that enable digital transformation.”

“CBTS is very pleased to receive this recognition from VMware, which validates our strong relationship and our shared commitment to providing an outstanding customer experience to our clients,” said Joe Putnick, Vice President and Principal of the CBTS Communications Practice. “We are excited to build on this momentum in 2019 and deliver continued success to organizations through custom designing a migration strategy to the cloud that will future-proof their network.”

Recipients of the Americas VMware Partner Innovation Award were acknowledged in 11 categories for their outstanding performance and distinctive achievements during 2018.

To be awarded the Partner of the Year for the VMWare SD-WAN by VeloCloud solution category, CBTS had to be a partner with a large focus on SD-WAN by VeloCloud solution whereby our outstanding performance can be attributed to aligning our skills, competencies, sales, and services capacity with our global practices. Our history of successful implementation of SD-WAN is evident in this case study, in which our deployment of this powerful solution delivered innovative results for a client in the healthcare industry.

Learn why successful businesses choose CBTS as their preferred provider of advanced networking solutions in our SD-WAN CIO Toolkit.

Take a look at our guide to learn more about CBTS SD-WAN solution powered by VeloCloud, now part of VMware.

CBTS Wins VMware Partner Innovation Award

 

About VMWare Partner Leadership Summit 2019

VMware Partner Leadership Summit 2019 offered VMware partners the opportunity to engage with VMware executives and industry peers to explore business opportunities, customer use cases, solution practices, and partnering best practices. As an invitation-only event, it provided partners with resources to develop and execute comprehensive go-to-market plans.

About VMware

VMware software powers the world’s complex digital infrastructure. The company’s cloud, networking and security, and digital workspace offerings provide a dynamic and efficient digital foundation to over 500,000 customers globally, aided by an ecosystem of 75,000 partners. Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, VMware is committed to being a force for good, from its breakthrough innovations to its global impact. For more information, please visit https://www.vmware.com/company.html.

VMware, VMware Cloud, VMware SD-WAN, and VeloCloud are registered trademarks or trademarks of VMware, Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and other jurisdictions.

About CBTS

CBTS serves enterprise and midmarket clients in all industries across the United States and Canada. From Unified Communications to Cloud Services and beyond, CBTS combines deep technical expertise with a full suite of flexible technology solutions that drive business outcomes, improve operational efficiency, mitigate risk, and reduce costs for its clients.

Managed services solution enables client transformation

A fresh start is sometimes exactly what an enterprise needs to modernize data infrastructure and shift processes to a forward-leaning, digital-ready framework. Such was the case with Unilever Federal Credit Union when it recently decided to relocate its main campus, and embrace a managed services solution.

Unilever FCU is a full-service, single-sponsor, non-profit financial institution that is owned by its members and governed by an elected board of directors. Its Corporate Credit Union is Alloya Corporate FCU. This organization provides a range of credit union services, such as compliance guidance and managed services solutions through a partnership with CBTS.

New data environment included key requirements

To bring its services in-line with today’s digital economy, Unilever FCU had to fulfill a number of requirements for its new data environment:

  1. Deploy its own network infrastructure. To ensure both operational efficiency and meet regulatory requirements.
  2. Upgrade its data resources. To accommodate rapid growth and the development of new products and services.
  3. Implement an in-depth data protection strategy. To support the needs of a modern financial institution.

But since every challenge is an opportunity, Unilever FCU seized on this project to implement a wholesale reimagining of the existing data center infrastructure.

Client operates in heavily regulated environment

A key challenge for any financial institution is meeting the regulatory requirements imposed by both regional and national authorities.

In UFCU’s case, this involved maintaining stringent levels of security and data availability, while also developing new services to provide members greater flexibility for their banking needs. This became increasingly difficult to do with aging infrastructure.

Solution leverages managed services model

In consultation with both Alloya Corporate FCU and CBTS, Unilever FCU decided to switch to a managed services model using a hybrid data center and networking infrastructure solution. In this way, the company benefits from:

  1. A high-availability cloud for all production.
  2. Data protection.
  3. Backup and disaster recovery services.
  4. A full suite of services for remote network monitoring and management.

CBTS has expertise to support complex managed services projects

A project of this magnitude requires a deep understanding of infrastructure needs and the emerging business objectives they will ultimately support. CBTS worked closely with UFCU to first design the environment, and then to define the ongoing responsibilities to maintain a tested and proven data ecosystem.

CBTS provides a cohesive solution

We began by assessing the current environment and establishing a set of success-based business objectives. We then developed new policies to guide the design and deployment of a new secure network.

For production workloads, we established a high-availability, multitenant cloud with managed backup and disaster recovery services across multiple CBTS data centers. This places primary production environments within a fully managed, high-availability CBTS cloud. A secondary offsite offers backup and full data replication for Disaster Recovery applications. This environment is subject to complete documentation and annualized testing.

The solutions allowed CBTS to assume responsibility for managing and monitoring key functions, such as network authentication based on group policies developed in conjunction with Unilever. In addition, our experts guided the client’s IT staff on the proper way to pull reports for auditing purposes to ensure regulatory compliance. CBTS oversees any and all third-party integrations and other support needs for the new environment.

Solution meets client’s needs, helps drive business outcomes

Today, Unilever FCU enjoys a state-of-the-art data ecosystem with redundant, secure and universal Internet-based access. We also provided a letter of attestation proving that UFCU is committed to ensuring full protection against downtime and data loss. We work with both UFCU and Alloya to continuously refine regulatory documentation to address stringent compliance requirements.

And as a fully managed environment, Unilever FCU can now relieve its internal IT staff of the day-to-day burdens of operating a data center to focus on more productive pursuits involving the delivery of outstanding member services.

Innovative security tools at 2019 RSA Conference

This year’s RSA Conference (RSAC) was bigger than ever – and I don’t mean that in the rote sense of “more exciting! Action packed! Full of more interesting things to see and learn!” I mean it literally – the physical space used by the conference that promises to showcase new innovative security tools covered more square mileage, and what was there was more densely packed. Good thing I brought my walking shoes.

So, does more equal better? Feedback from our customers and peers points towards the negative.

RSA reflects the crowded security solution market

Simply put, the security solution space is overcrowded. It makes sense – protecting your business, data, and assets from online threats is more of a concern now than it’s ever been. And certainly the market has reacted as one would expect, by growing exponentially. Standing shoulder to shoulder, vendors clamor for your attention, nearly every one guaranteeing they’ve got innovative security tools that will provide the assurance you’re seeking.

CBTS offers guidelines to help evaluate innovative security tools

Our team is uniquely positioned in this market. Our role is not to make empty promises to customers, standing between them and cybercriminals with a cape and tights. On the contrary, our customers depend on us to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Customers expect us to point them to the practices and technologies that can materially improve the maturity of their security program. It requires a trained eye, to be sure, to identify these innovative security tools.

So what does CBTS look for in an enormous expo hall like RSAC’s? How do we pick our winners?

Guideline 1: Show me that your solution works; don’t just tell me

Execution is critical. More than what you say you can do, I want to hear success stories from your customers. What did their deployment look like? What other solutions did it displace or complement? What kind of staff does it take to admin and use? What kind of risk did it mitigate, and how? What threats did it stop or detect that couldn’t have been found otherwise?

Guideline 2: Innovative security tools must follow standards

Following standards is a personal big-ticket item for me. I was quite pleased to see how many vendors have adopted the MITRE ATT&CK Framework as a taxonomy to describe the kinds of threat tactics and techniques they can impact. If a vendor starts off the conversation by telling me the CIS Top 20 control category in which they fit, or the NIST 800-53 requirements they satisfy, I’ll be smiling ear to ear.

Guideline 3: Be wary of solutions that promise to solve all of your problems

The vendor that under-promises and over-delivers is valuable in my book. Claims that a product can solve all my security problems, or detect and stop every zero day exploit forever, will make me roll my eyes and move on. I want technology that solves very specific problems, tells me what it can do and what it cannot, and doesn’t try to boil the ocean. No product – no vendor alone, even – can satisfy every security need we have. Realism does the customer and the market a lot of good.

Guideline 4: It all comes down to innovation

Finally, innovation is at the top of my list. I look for technology used in truly new and interesting ways, and occasionally, I’ll find something new under the sun. Today anyone can cook up a fancy dashboard and an attractive, flashy UI. However, most of them are sitting atop the same approach as their conference floor neighbor. If I walk away from your booth and think, “huh, I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I think it could actually work!” that’s a healthy sign.

3 examples of innovative security tools

The SIEM space is a great example of a market segment where we’re starting to see more innovation. Here are three high-profile new offerings we saw announced around RSA:

  • Backstory, the new security analytics app from Chronicle, takes a new approach to log aggregation/correlation and incident investigation. Instead of presenting a simple table of log data from a structured query, analysts enter queries for common investigation-starting indicators – say, an IP address, username, or hostname. Backstory then provides a set of context-driven answers that give the analyst valuable insights immediately.
  • The demo of Azure Sentinel from Microsoft also caught my eye. While the investigation experience was much more reminiscent of a traditional SIEM, the UI presented an easy process to integrate event sources from Azure services, such as Azure SQL and Office 365, as well as sources from a variety of other network, server, and application platforms. An accessible, cloud-ready SIEM may be just what Azure customers are looking for.
  • Cisco’s Threat Response tool is similar – a “SIEM-like” interface that aggregates data from a variety of Cisco security products, such as Umbrella, AMP, and ThreatGrid. It also provides a really slick query/investigation interface to data from all of these tools.

Most interesting, though, were the licensing models for these three products:

  • Backstory is not priced based on log volume or events per second – common models from nearly every major SIEM player in the market – but instead based on number of employees. As a SaaS product hosted by Google, this means that storage is elastic and customers can maintain a virtually endless archive of data.
  • Cisco’s Threat Response may be even more appealing. It is free for use by Cisco customers that use AMP for Endpoints, Umbrella, next-gen firewalls, and ThreatGrid.
  • Microsoft’s Azure Sentinel, in its current preview program, is also free of charge to Office 365 customers.

CBTS wants to hear from you

So the next time you’re elbowing through a mass of people in a conference hall with the swag flying left and right, keep these criteria in mind.

And remember, CBTS has been helping customers leverage innovative security tools since 2005. Please contact us and let us know how we can help your organization.

UCaaS roadmap starts with deep assessment

This is the first in a three-part series sharing our tips for creating your UCaaS roadmap.

Once you’ve made up your mind to embrace Unified Communications (UC), it’s time to start building a roadmap to get you there. You’ll need a savvy combination of technologies, processes, and people to make the most of UC opportunities. A robust UC roadmap will keep you moving in the right direction every step of the way.

To build your UC roadmap, you must be clear on two points:

  • The tools you’re already using, and how you’re using them.
  • The new UC tools that hold the most hope for transforming your business.

A three-step process can help you develop the technology-and-features component of your UC roadmap.

Step 1: Assess your equipment

Make an inventory of all your devices—handsets, tablets, smartphones, PBX gear, etc.—including the location of each item. Your UC system has to replicate these device functions, so it’s crucial to document them at the beginning.

Establish priorities for offices, departments, and divisions that should be the first to migrate to UC. Map out a strategy for implementing UC in each of these areas.

Consider a phased migration to reduce the strain on your IT team. Each phase helps you work out the bugs and learn to prepare for problems rather than merely react to them.

Step 2: Identify tools and features

Audit your staff’s communication and collaboration techniques. Find out all the tools they use, how often they use them, and what the tools accomplish. You may find people are using non-business approved applications and tools to plug gaps in your system.

Once you understand your people’s processes and tools, start identifying cloud-based apps and other UC services that can make their jobs easier. Keep a sharp eye out for:

  • Innovative tools people have been doing without.
  • Unauthorized apps and services that haven’t been vetted by your IT team. Make sure you understand why people resort to tools.
  • Business functions that UC tools can transform. You have dozens to choose from; zero in on the ones that can do your organization the most good.
  • Opportunities to improve collaboration. You may be able to meld video conferencing with text messaging to strengthen relationships with customers, for instance.

Step 3: Analyze your underlying network

UC brings a host of high-bandwidth operations into your LAN and WLAN. Make sure your network can cope with the demands of real-time voice and videoconferencing.

If you anticipate that UC will widen your customer base, make sure you plan for expanding your network capacity. A cloud-based UC solution allows you to pay for only what you use, and it can scale with you as your needs change.

Finally, make sure your firewall and other security technologies dovetail with your UC program.

Aligning the present and the future

Crafting a well-thought-out UC roadmap will help ensure that everything you’ve learned from building your business informs the development of your new UC system. CBTS expert engineers can guide you through every aspect of a UC transformation.

For more guidance, download our free eBook on perfecting your cloud communications journey.

Read about Unified Communications from CBTS.

 

Related Articles:

Six ways UCaaS drives business transformation

3 elements to a UCaaS roadmap

UC journey begins with three steps

IT innovation at MotorCity Casino Hotel

In the fast-paced world of casino gambling, David J. Nehra, CIO of the MotorCity Casino Hotel, uses innovative solutions with the help of CBTS to meet the needs of casino customers, management, and his technical staff.

MotorCity is one of three casino complexes in the Detroit metro area. The car-themed casino includes a 400-room hotel, ample convention space for business meetings, and special spaces for theater, musical entertainment, and private parties.

Nehra has responsibility for IT in addition to all AV, and intelligent lighting at the casino and hotel. He leads a team of more than 50 associates.

Lessons learned

Nehra worked in IT for several consultancies before joining the casino industry in 1999.  He was named to his current position at MotorCity in 2005.

Nehra is deeply familiar with many different IT systems and technologies. During his time as a technologist he learned the importance of thinking like a customer and personally engaging with the technology he uses.

Before instituting changes in technology, Nehra personally tests the new features along with his technical staff. MotorCity also conducts surveys and focus groups among casino patrons and hotel guests to gauge their interest in new technology.

Nehra is also keenly aware that while consumers expect the latest and greatest in electronic wizardry, they don’t necessarily care very much – if at all – about the technological underpinnings.

“I need to be a technology geek, but this doesn’t mean that they need to be,” the executive says.

‘Alexa, turn on the lights!’

As part of an upcoming renovation at the hotel, Nehra and his team are experimenting with an Alexa-enabled voice system for guest management of the casino’s luxurious hotel rooms.

“If we do our jobs right, when guests enter the room, they’ll be able to say, ‘Alexa, turn on the lights!’ or ‘Alexa, turn down the heat,’” he said.

Before testing the voice system with hotel management and IT staff, Nehra implemented the system in his own home and vacation cabin in the Michigan woods.

“My wife and my 72-year-old father needed to be able to use this automation system before we would proceed at MotorCity,” he said.

Keeping the noise down

A major problem for hotels is complaints from guests about noise levels. It can sometimes be tough to tell which room the noise is coming from, Nehra says.

Consequently, he is now rolling out various IoT devices capable of identifying a room that’s generating too much noise when guests are watching a ballgame on TV, or celebrating a successful night in the casino.

When fully deployed, the technology will monitor noise levels in each room and allow hotel staff to proactively engage with guests, and politely ask them to lower the volume or celebrate a bit more sensibly.

Nehra is also preparing to deploy a video management system, which will employ a variety of professional services from CBTS, with an eye toward possible expansion of that relationship into other areas.

Recruiting topnotch staff

Nehra has high expectations, but is flexible when it comes to employees who need to change shifts or work at home certain days of the week.

“We treat everyone with dignity and respect,” he said.

Nehra also mentioned that MotorCity offers an elaborate associate dining room, with all meals included at no charge, so they can take advantage of the excellent food at MotorCity.

“Turning mealtime into something really nice, offering perks, and being flexible helps mitigate the burden of work for your staff,” Nehra said.

To learn more about the CBTS Professional Services team, please click this link.

7signal helps clients maximize WiFi potential

CBTS periodically asks IT Leaders to share their insights and perspectives on important technology issues and challenges. These conversations also provide a glimpse into interesting companies and organizations – from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. We recently chatted with Veli-Pekka Ketonen, founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the Cleveland-based startup 7signal Solutions, Inc.

 

What’s the driving force behind the formation of 7signal?

There was no visibility into how WiFi is actually serving the end users, how it’s doing its purpose. 7signal was founded to bring this visibility and bring manageability to WiFi networks so they can be managed through metrics and not ad hoc.

How are most WiFi networks managed?

We are trying to move from this kind of ad hoc management to proactive management, where the network is managed based on metrics. There’s a dashboard. There’s a breadth of information on how well the service is working, and proactive actions to make it work better before any users actually start complaining. So, that’s really what the company was created to do. And that’s what we are still doing.

How has WiFi increased in importance to retailers and other customer-facing organizations?

The most practical example has been the in-store experience like the Apple store model – mobile Point-of-Sale (POS). That’s a direction where most of the retailers want to go. It’s not a simple change. So, just get rid of the cash registers and have the people walk around with a tablet, right?  But moving to that model impacts the sales, the model, maybe store layout, and things like that.

What are the other applications of WiFi in retail, aside from mobile POS?

There are of course other things to enrich the store experience. There are apps and promotions. Then there is analytics, so you understand how the customers behave while they are in the store, tracking where the customers move around in the store. And maybe it’s not that sexy, but there are handheld scanners to do the inventory management. All these require a very good network.

What’s an example of how one of your customers is leveraging WiFi in a retail environment?

We have The GAP as our customer, and they use handheld scanners. I think they want to do a mobile POS. They use Wi-Fi a lot in their warehouses for collection and gathering the items. Another example is Panera Bread. Panera alerts the customers when their order is ready. It uses table trackers and that system requires WiFi.

Are there other customer-facing industries looking at similar uses for WiFi?

Banks are envisioning lounges where people come to their branches, and they take care of their banking business, but they might use their laptop, have a cup of coffee, and have access to the internet. Similarities to Starbucks are obvious. Hospitals have a lot of medical applications using WiFi, and the staff needs to access WiFi. Patients want reliable access while they stay there. Stadiums and arenas use WiFi, not only to provide access to the internet, but also for other emerging applications like ordering food and drinks from the seat.

What are the pain points that emerge in this space?

The interference is one of the key problems with retail because stores are close. It’s completely uncoordinated network buildup. So, one store has no control of what is in the other store, or how the WiFi is configured, how it is used. But the radio waves do propagate. What’s happening in the neighbor stores directly impacts how well your WiFi is working. The air interface gets overloaded. Basically, too many data packets in the air from improperly configured networks essentially consume the air time and then you have a poor experience.

A widely acknowledged challenge is that remote facilities do not have any IT professionals onsite. Especially WiFi expertise is centralized to corporate headquarters. At the same time, WiFi networks lack capability to assess and measure their state and the experience they offer to users. This makes managing the networks very difficult. We can bring the visibility. We can remotely pinpoint where are the issues so they can be addressed in a timely fashion.

What are the pros and cons of going completely WiFi?

WiFi is interesting technology. It’s kind of a victim of its success. It was made so resilient that it can handle almost impossible conditions. If there’s a lot of interference, or very bad signal coverage, or low signal strength, it will always try to work. It will try to adapt to the conditions and provide some connectivity. If you want to have well-performing WiFi and a good user experience with WiFi, you need to do better than that. You need to carefully plan the network, and then you need to carefully look after the network.

CBTS is helping organizations manage their networks to improve the customer experience and support mission-critical applications like Wi-Fi. To learn more about our network solutions, please click here.

The key to strong security programs

Congrats are in order for the folks over at the National Institute of Standards and Technology! A few weeks ago, a new version of their Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (which we call the Cyber Security Framework, or CSF) was released.

The CSF, as with most other NIST Special Publications around security, receives regular updates to keep pace with the changes in the threat landscape, the security product market, and new regulatory compliance requirements in a variety of industries. I talk often to customers who are facing the challenge of protecting their data and systems, but find it hard to adjust as those factors change year to year, and they feel there isn’t sufficient organizational focus on practicing good security.

What is a security program?

You may have heard the term “security program” before – you’d certainly hear me mention it in these conversations with customers. Maybe it’s why you clicked on this article. What is a security program? What’s so magical about it that I need it in my organization?

When I describe a security program, I’m talking about the collection of individuals, teams, and their efforts to protect their organization from a variety of threats. I’m talking about the policies, standards, and guidelines they enact to formally document roles, responsibilities, actions, and behaviors of employees, users, third-parties, and anyone else that might have a role in this protection effort. I’m talking about the management efforts to advance the maturity of the organization’s protection effort, and to mitigate risks to the business.

It’s a team, led by a leader or group of leaders, much like many other teams in your organization. Yours will look similar to other teams … and also very different. There’s no one right way to build a security program (but certainly plenty of wrong ways). What helps is a guide – and the NIST CSF is a fantastic, free guide built just for that purpose.

It defines five Functions for which the security program is responsible: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. It details how to build a security program, and grow it over time, to achieve this goal. And it provides a way to measure your capability and the success of the program and how to tell if it is meeting its goals.

JD Rogers, the CISO of Great American Insurance, did a fantastic talk last year on how he and his team used the CSF to develop a strategy to grow and measure the success of their security program. The slides from the talk are here.

CBTS will help you with security

If your organization doesn’t have a security program today, and you might be a person considered responsible for security in that organization, the NIST CSF is absolutely worth a read. It may seem daunting, but Rome (and its security program) wasn’t built in a day. You may be able to look back a few years later, after beginning these efforts, and see real change that’s been affected because of this practice. You might even sleep better at night!

If you’re interested in seeing how you stack up to the NIST CSF, or if you’d like help with those critical first steps of building your security program, come and talk to us. We’ve helped many businesses in many industries with this process and we’d love to help you.

Read more about Security offerings from CBTS