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Graduate Students Analyze Wi-Fi Data in Accenture Competition

Wi-Fi Analytics Case Competition judged by Accenture senior leadership and industry experts

Unless it’s not working, you probably don’t give much thought to your Wi-Fi connection. But every time your computer or mobile device connects to a network access point, data is generated about your location, movements, and more — data that companies can leverage to spot trends, pinpoint customers’ interests, find new revenue streams, and create new businesses.

In collaboration with the management consulting and technology services company Accenture, a group of McCormick graduate students recently examined new ways for businesses to use and analyze the enormous amount of data generated by Wi-Fi networks. 

“As Wi-Fi moves beyond hotspots in coffee shops to becoming an essential communication utility, opportunities to monetize actionable business information continue to grow,” said Shahid Ahmed, a McCormick MEM alumnus and managing director and North American Network Practice lead at Accenture. “We want to encourage innovative ways to make use of these data points without compromising security or privacy. We designed this competition to challenge students’ imaginative thinking and help them gain new analytics skills that will benefit us all.” 

Held in conjunction with Microsoft® Corp. and Aruba Networks®, the Wi-Fi Analytics Case Competition brought together students from McCormick’s Master of Engineering Management (MEM) and Master of Science in Analytics (MSiA) programs.

Ten teams of students analyzed real usage data for patterns, trends, and user behavior, and on June 7, three teams of finalists presented their projects to a panel of Accenture senior leadership and industry experts.

The winning team proposed a three-prong approach that would enable companies to increase productivity: using wireless data to analyze employees’ movement around the office to determine, for example, if a manager is spending enough time with her employees or if a receptionist is spending enough time at her desk; analyzing space usage to determine how well the company is utilizing its real estate; and analyzing informal social networks in the office to pinpoint well-connected individuals and departments as well as isolated ones.

“We think that this could be a very powerful tool,” said team member and MEM student Francisca Valenzuela.

Other proposals included a human resources tool to identify employees with high connectness for help with change management, and a strategy for allocating bandwidth to areas with low Wi-Fi signal strength.

New cutting-edge software tools and “big data” technologies are allowing for consumer and network insights not possible in the past and are enabling businesses to operate in ways not previously imaginable, said Mark Werwath, clinical associate professor of industrial engineering and management sciences at McCormick and MEM’s director. 

“Until now, this space was largely limited to traditional industry research and data specialists,” Werwath said. “While exploring and experimenting with the many unique uses of Wi-Fi data, these students are coming up with groundbreaking ideas for creating new business opportunities.”

Each finalist received a Microsoft Surface™ tablet, and the winning team won $1,000.