Context Matters

With context-aware technology, employees can quickly find the supplies and colleagues they need.

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TMH recently migrated its asset-tracking system to AeroScout's application running on top of a context-aware, Cisco-based wireless infrastructure. The infrastructure includes the year-old Cisco MSE, which hosts a Cisco Context-Aware Software module for capturing, storing and analyzing contextual information.

TMH made several adjustments in the new wireless infrastructure, which was designed with the help of Louisville Ky.-based systems integrator Radiant Networks LLC. For one thing, it switched from an omnidirectional to a high-gain directional patch antenna. In doing so, it flattened out RF propagation, providing the ability to focus radio signal coverage on each floor and reduce interfloor interference. It also deployed newer APs, moving from the Cisco 1230 to the 1242, and decreased the AP power output to better define RF propagation, Adams says.

In addition, TMH increased the density of APs from 250 to 545 and moved the devices from the center to the perimeter of each floor. "So now every AP fires into the hospital rather than just providing an omnidirectional sphere," Adams explains. Because the new infrastructure tracks assets so accurately, nurses now typically have to search no more than two storage areas to find what they need.

Adding context awareness has improved patient care, increased productivity for the nursing staff and cut spending on medical devices, Adams says. The success of the application has prompted TMH to look for other ways to take advantage of context-aware technology, he adds.

For instance, the hospital is running a test to see if it can eliminate the need to manually record refrigeration temperatures, by tagging coolers and sending readings over the network to the MobileView software every 10 minutes. If temperatures drop below a prescribed point, appropriate personnel receive alerts on their mobile devices, Adams explains. Depending on the results of the pilot test, the hospital could extend its monitoring application to other systems, he says.

Three Challenges

Of course, context awareness doesn't happen in a vacuum. Enterprises must be mindful of a number of challenges, one of the biggest being privacy, industry watchers say.

"Some of this personal privacy stuff just screams at you," says Michael Finneran, principal at dBrn Associates Inc., an independent wireless consulting firm in Hewlett Neck, N.Y. "We see a lot of this from local governments, which want to use location services to find out where their housing inspectors are sleeping."

But unions have balked at such uses, suggesting that supervisors don't need to know everybody's whereabouts all the time. A work-around would be to disable monitoring during the lunch hour and after 5 p.m., and to promote the idea that monitoring can help improve worker safety, Finneran suggests.

A second challenge is the federation of information, Gartner's Clark says. Adding context awareness to a system might require an ID from a user's carrier, a meeting time from a smartphone calendar or information from a social media platform. But ownership of the information is a big issue. Does the carrier own the ID, or does the user?

"Whoever owns that information will need to be compensated, either monetarily or in service," Clark says.

Last is the challenge of complexity. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the next level is correlating all of this context information, and there's a lot of opportunity to make the world more complex than simple," Clark says. "The trick will be to figure out how to keep it simple and in a way that's scalable, agile and quick."

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