Dashboards give Iowa broadband metrics at a glance

In Iowa, monitoring the performance of the state’s broadband communications network is as easy as checking a dashboard.

That’s the vision Ric Lumbard, the executive director of Iowa’s Communication Network, had for tracking the health of the state-owned carrier. The ICN provides high-capacity broadband services to the state government, education, public safety and healthcare sectors in Iowa.

“We have about 9,000 miles of owned and leased fiber in the Iowa, and we’re connected in every county,” Lumbard said. Although the ICN dates back to the early 1990s and is now the essential broadband carrier for the state, Lumbard wanted to improve monitoring and situational awareness with a business intelligence solution capable of tracking network performance and pulling that data into real-time visualizations of key performance indicators (KPI).

“I needed to know what was going on in the broadband side of our carrier operations,” Lumbard said. This meant tracking how much broadband is being pushed out at a given time, how much was being utilized by each sector, and how many cyber events were taking place.

The source data was spread across various databases, spreadsheets, servers and applications from the ICN and ICN users – which include almost all of Iowa’s government agencies. Getting insight into performance often required pulling manual reports, and Lumbard wanted a way to get real-time insight at a glance. “That was the basis for our looking for a KPI management tool.”

The state chose a business intelligence and analytics solution from Sisense that gave it a customizable dashboard for its KPI front end.

The dashboard uses custom visualizations to show how much broadband use has increased and in what sector, network speed and performance. It also shows trends and indicates if those trends are headed in the right direction. Metrics also cover the circuits supporting the state’s 911 system and real-time occurrences, such as  fiber cuts that interrupt service.

With the interactive dashboards, the executive team and bureau chiefs – all of whom have their own KPIs -- can touch a gauge and drill down into more detailed data. ICN management monitors the actual workflow and transactional data, leadership follows operational data and the executive team sees aggregated KPIs.

The ICN had to set up a dedicated secure server to provide the horsepower needed to support the Sisense ElastiCubes analytics database that collects data from multiple sources to merge, manipulate and query into one set.

Currently, not all of Iowa’s systems are advanced enough to push data to the dashboard, meaning there are a number of metrics still requiring manual reporting.

The integration, according to Lumbard, has not been the challenging part. “Putting them [KPIs] into a dashboard like Sisense has not been difficult,” he said, but developing them has. Once the ICN is actually monitoring processes, the KPIs are only for production metrics. So when a service goes live, it integrates with the Sisense dashboard, and the ICN staff can then see its KPIs on the dashboard at all times. 

The dashboards also feed the Broadband Information Center, ICN’s carrier-grade operations monitoring center. The BRIC tracks all ICN third-party technical applications and oversees all things broadband in Iowa.  

The BRIC has two walls of large flat-panel display screens, referred to as a Visual Presence Monitoring System, that monitor cyber operations, network health and ICN processes. The system can also push content to display screen across the agency. 

Because Sisense’s database server is inside the ICN network, data can flow anywhere the network goes, allowing all bureaus to see the status of the ICN. “We did that by design,” Lumbard said. “We didn’t want Sisense to actually be a cloud apparatus for us, we wanted it … within our network structure.”

ICN can now easily provide timely intuitive reports to statewide officials, stakeholders and commission members.

Still, a key part of Lumbard’s job is to keep tabs on the real-time health of the network, monitoring those indicators “that impact the decisions that we’ll make in the next two hours, not necessarily next fiscal year,” he said.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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