Can network intelligence make networks money-makers?

network intelligence can transform retailTech giants HP and Cisco are making the pitch to partners that the arrival of greater network intelligence can help turn the network from cost centre to profitability driver, making network business all the more attractive to customers whose IT budgets increasingly fall under line of business leadership.

In separate presentations at Cisco Partner Summit last week and Interop this week, the two companies made their case for intelligence in the network.

In Cisco’s case, it was a demo of its Connected Mobile Experience, and in HP’s case, it was a preview of location-aware SDN-based apps the company has in development. In both cases, the vendors keyed in on one of the biggest opportunity for such location- and mobile-aware network applications – getting shoppers to buy more.

While HP’s demonstration of location-aware SDN is still at the proof of concept level, the company boasts accuracy down to one meter depending on network configuration. Kash Shaik, director of product, channel, and technical marketing for HP Networking, said it was an example of a way to “make the network a revenue generation engine rather than a cost centre,” by crunching location information from shoppers’ mobile devices, integrating it with buying pattern information, and presenting special offers based on the results.

Over at Cisco, Prashanth Shenoy, director of marketing for the company’s enterprise mobility group, called Connected Mobile Experience “a great way to unlock the potential of your WiFi infrastructure.”

“You take the location data, the contextual nature of what the shopper is doing, and you offer personalized engagement,” Shenoy said. “Then you use analytics from the information provided to understand the customer better and make better decisions.”

The solutions vary in technical detail, and technology philosophy, but essentially deliver the same promise to solution providers – a networking upgrade conversation that can centre around business benefit for top executives, and not get bogged down in the plumbing discussion with network management.

“[The monetization of the network] is something we’ve talked about for a long time, but we’ve never had SDN that can be coupled with things like location services to really change the conversation,” said Dominic Wilde, vice president of global product line management for HP Networking. “Today, it’s a very difficult conversation to just keep asking for more money to provision more network. But when you can start attaching guaranteed SLAs and quality of service for audio vs. video vs. text, and tier the charges to the user accordingly, that makes it a very attractive proposition for C-level executives.”

Wilde gets at a point made by both vendors – this is not just a retail opportunity, and the exact nature of the opportunity will vary depending on the business needs of the customer. There are likely logical applications to be developed in not just retail, but also hospitality and even events management. Whether it’s monetizing through charging the user, or driving more sales activity, there are likely to be opportunities with any public-facing wireless network.

Beyond the need to consult around network architecture, and to develop, assign and deploy applications and networks, there’s also an opportunity to simply sell more stuff.

“As well as adding new services on top of the infrastructure, [partners can] sell more access points, because you need greater access point density to gather more data with greater accuracy,” Shenoy said.