Inspiration

Inspired by recent world events, and in particular the NHS Nightingale Hospital requirements within the UK, CAE has identified a requirement within the healthcare sector to be able to rapidly deploy IT network infrastructure. This infrastructure is required at various locations including pop-up hospitals, COVID-19 testing sites and community outreach support centres that are rapidly provisioned to support shielding of vulnerable people and increase care capacity.

Due to the critical and time sensitive nature of work within the healthcare industry any opportunity to minimise the complexity and time to commission new infrastructure is essential, therefore we believe leveraging the integration available within the Meraki platform can deliver this goal.

What it does

Using the Meraki Dashboard API, the CAE application is a single step Meraki deployment tool which enables the healthcare industry to setup an entire suite of Meraki solutions using a single step action.

As demonstrated in the video submission all a user of the application has to do is simply enter the hospital ID number and barcode in the serial numbers of the Meraki devices (MX/MR/MS) that will be going to site, all of the configuration is then completed automatically in the background by pulling the data variables from a user friendly spreadsheet. This includes the automatic configuration of hostnames, network tags, IP schemas, VLAN assignment, switchport assignment and much more, resulting in saving hours of configuration time and money.

Furthermore, as part of the single step action the application integrates into the WebEx Teams API to automatically create a new Space specifically for that newly created Meraki network on the Dashboard and adds in the on-demand CAE NOC (Network Operations Centre) support group.

This on-demand NOC support group combines a Dialogflow bot, to automate addressing several common deployment issues, with a 24/7 support presence to quickly help support the newly created network and the physical deployment / go-live. This additional support presence is not the standard first line support, instead it consists of a real-time SLA with a dedicated team of specialised Meraki engineering resources at CAE helping to get networks online rapidly and with more agility.

The advantages of this CAE created application is as follows:

• Risk mitigation – through the rapid and consistent deployment of infrastructure leveraging automation and the underlying APIs. In the context of the pandemic, this is absolutely critical as resources can be up and running rapidly with full confidence in their capabilities allowing patients to be treated faster;

• Significantly reduced network deployment times – achieved through automation and integration facilitating the decrease of the touch points from factory to field engineer. As a result, care facilities can be stood up in a shorter timeframe which benefits the primary aim of the facilities;

• Reduced (CapEx) deployment costs – through the removal of the need to prestage hardware and send highly qualified networking-orientated resource to deploy. This allows a right-sized professional services effort to be leveraged, including the use of non-IT skilled resources, widening the pool of available resources which can be used. Ultimately, this also ensures that the available budget for healthcare can be used optimally and with more focus on the care of patients;

• User friendly and simplified interface – which heavily reduces human input errors allowing equipment to be provisioned quicker. In addition to these characteristics, integral support for a handheld barcode scanner allows deployment engineers to scan and register Meraki devices directly into the application with minimal effort;

• Configuration standardisation and efficient updates – which is critically important throughout a large scale install base and allows confidence in the capabilities of the underlying environment. This is achieved through integration and auto binding of configuration templates, which in turn will assist in future “change at scale” configuration updates;

• Targeted support – allowing on-site deployment resources to access the on-demand NOC group automatically created as part of the deployment. This facilitates faster and more personalised responses coupled with a reduced time to resolution for issues faced whilst deploying the Meraki solution.

How I built it

We utilised the Meraki Dashboard API to automate the process of creating a new network and deploying Meraki infrastructure across this. The application has been built using ASP.net framework. Using RestSharp we built a HTTP client library from which we could then perform REST based API calls and also deserialise REST responses. This logic allows for the automated deployment so long as the hospital/site number and Meraki device serials are inputted. The application itself has been hosted on a Microsoft IIS webserver.

The same framework has been used to integrate with the WebEx Teams API allowing automatic room creation and for members to be dynamically assigned. These WebEx Teams spaces allow field engineering teams or none technical staff to have an immediate dedicated network support team available to them. Members of these WebEx Teams are members of the NOC as well as Chatbots created using Dialogflow API. An extensive knowledgebase of Meraki issues and troubleshooting steps was put together based on CAE’s networking and support experience. Dialogflow offers integration to this knowledgebase allowing for a whole suite of issues to be troubleshooted via chat automatically. The human members of this group offer additional support to primarily assist with any additional issues and can also feedback repeat issues/question into the existing knowledgebase for future automation.

Challenges I ran into

Our team’s skillset is primarily in network support. As such, the main challenge we faced was being presented with an entirely new challenge and area of knowledge we had to upskill in. We utilised existing documentation, guides, and resources in order to produce our application.

When building the Dialogflow chatbot integration a substantial amount of time was required to populate the knowledge base for these bots to leverage. Although time consuming, we were aided by our background within network support.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

Utilising existing skillset/knowledge and utilising this to our advantage (building on chatbot knowledge base).

Upskilling and knowledge obtained from all the team who participated in putting together our application. Exposed members of the team to; ASP.net, RestSharp, Dialogflow and more.

Confirmed the real-life benefits of our application with those working within the healthcare sector, primarily saving time, money, and man-power. Please see additional evidence “Feedback from Harling & Michael Sobell House Hospice” from an engagement with the healthcare sector during the Hackathon.

What I learned

Gained exposure and additional knowledge in a variety of areas; ASP.net, RestSharp, JSON, Diaglow and more as well as a better understanding of the various API's used.

Explored a variety of different problem-solving models/frameworks to initially decide on the application; SURF, 7 point problem solving model.

The economic and customer benefits associated with the designed application. Following a project from initial idea to a developed concept with feedback from professionals within the target market. How to expand on the existing application and create other projects.

What's next for Automated Network Deployment & Support Healthcare App

We would really like to look at formalising a "Healthcare-as-Code" practise and methodology by using integration with the Meraki Dashboard API and others that were part of this Hackathon.

Also we explored locating key health care workers and also infectious patients within a facility using BLE beacons. This can be used to track contact and can also be placed on equipment such as hand sanitation stations and ventilator equipment. Also integrating with the Cisco Vision Dynamic Signage Solution we could display and alert if certain staff haven't come in contact and close proximity with a BLE beacon tagged sanitation station for a certain number of hours so should be prompted visually on the Ward digital sign.

Additional management of Meraki dashboard from the NOC support group within WebEx Teams space using the API, for example being able to reload and diagnose Meraki equipment from Teams Space.

Built With

  • .net
  • asp.net
  • dialogflow-api
  • http
  • iis
  • meraki-dashboard-api
  • restsharp
  • webex-teams-api
+ 46 more
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