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Jul 19 2013   1:00PM GMT

Know your mobile data blind spots: Keys to increasing outcomes

Posted by: EmilyHuizenga
Mobile devices, Network optimization

3ba83dbGuest post by Andy Willett, Senior Vice President, NetMotion Wireless

We all know about the rapid adoption rate of mobile technology in healthcare — and the positive impact it’s having on clinician productivity and patient care. However, as the number and scope of these mobile initiatives grows, organizations are becoming more reliant on the connectivity provided by public wireless networks. The problem? These networks sit in a blind spot, putting critical performance information out of sight.

Everyone knows that you can’t manage what you can’t see. For networking professionals, this has traditionally meant tapping into a large portfolio of products and services that provide visibility into how their internal wired networks and applications are performing. But cellular (or mobile broadband) networks are an exception.

While mobile healthcare workers rely on public cellular connections every day to serve patients, how these networks are performing is a huge blind spot for IT departments and support staff. The result is manual troubleshooting of dropped or poor connections, frustrated employees and operational procedures that don’t work as intended, putting an organization’s large investment in mobility at risk.

Survey identifies gaps in mobile networks

While some healthcare organizations might have a general understanding of where their weaknesses lie, a new study by Rysavy Research and NetMotion Wireless of more than 400 networking professionals from healthcare and other field-centric industries pinpoints exactly where many mobile deployments are coming up short.

The survey defined cellular data deployments as those where mobile employees are accessing mission critical applications in the field. Questions were limited to the usage of cellular data only (not voice) by employees on company-owned devices such as laptops, tablets or handhelds. Here’s what the respondents had to say:

Improving connection reliability was the primary challenge, cited three times more often than other requirements, including security and cost control. And, as we all know, in today’s mobile healthcare environment, without a reliable, high performing connection, clinicians aren’t armed with the information they need to do their jobs and serve their patients.

Respondents also cited a lack of tools to help troubleshoot connectivity problems, such as slow data transfers. In fact, more than half of the respondents reported they have no tools for troubleshooting cellular connections at all. Some respondents said they rely mostly on talking with the end user (“How many bars do you see now?”) or calling their carrier’s help desk. In short, they rely on anecdotal information, and lack any kind of analytical data or tools that will lead to improvements in connection quality.

A large number of respondents said they find the process of selecting a cellular carrier to be challenging, largely because they weren’t sure which carriers delivered the best coverage for their area. The generic coverage maps provided by operators are not enough to make a decision; they don’t reflect a healthcare organization’s unique mobile deployment profile, nor are they detailed enough. And conducting periodic drive testing is expensive, time consuming, and only captures a snapshot in time.

Additionally, 40% of respondents admitted it was difficult to track mobile inventory. This group complained about the time that manual methods like Excel spreadsheet can take and the lack of automated inventory tools. One-third report the problem is a lack of visibility into either the use of the modem, or the identity of the modem’s user.

Nearly half admitted they had no systematic method for gathering data on their cellular deployments. So when asked about their ability to measure certain aspects of cellular data use, including 2G/3G/4G usage, disconnection rates, application use and coverage quality, it wasn’t surprising that very few indicated they couldn’t measure any one of them. In fact, nearly one-half said they could not measure a single factor.

Solutions can improve mobile deployments

These findings confirm that healthcare organizations need the ability to gather real-world performance information. This is the only way they will be able to systematically measure, troubleshoot and optimize connectivity in the field, and ensure they are getting the most out of their mobile investments.

Some vendors have identified this gap and are bringing to market tools that IT staff can use to better monitor and optimize their mobile deployments. With these solutions, healthcare providers will be able to reduce IT support demands and extend technology and service contract investments, all while increasing employee productivity. To get started, providers need to ensure their mobility management strategies include the following capabilities:

  • Detailed visibility into network signal quality and the type of technology that is being delivered to field users
  • Reports that highlight adapters that are performing poorly
  • A granular view into what applications and processes are consuming your bandwidth
  • Tools that enable managers to take action centrally, without touching the mobile device, to fix connectivity issues

These capabilities provide the foundation from which healthcare organizations can understand definitively how well their mobile deployment is working, and ensure their field clinicians are always getting the best connectivity possible.

NetMotion is an enterprise mobility management software company that helps organizations address management and security challenges created when connecting mobile field workers to mission critical applications over wireless networks.

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