Over 15 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, universities have been among the hardest hit institutions. With many universities closed to in-person sessions and others struggling to maintain a safe learning environment, the pressure to find solutions for managing the virus has been high. In response, Kiana Analytics, a Silicon Valley-based scaleup, created a solution by innovating on their existing WiFi-based device location technology to produce a COVID-19 exposure solution that helps identify and isolate infected individuals.
As a fast-growing company that supplies GDPR, CCPA and other privacy compliant location solutions for corporate campuses, education facilities, factories, hospitals and elderly care facilities, Kiana was able to leverage their patented device detection technology to strengthen the physical safety and security of universities with their COVID-19 exposure solution.
“Higher education is struggling to get students back on campus and mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure,” said Nader Fathi, CEO and Co-Founder of Kiana Analytics. “That’s because if somebody tests positive they may get other people on campus sick, including students, faculty, visitors and staff. And if there’s an outbreak, they’ll have to close the school. Compared to corporate campuses, universities have a more transient community that increases the chance of virus exposure, making timely testing, tracing and treatment paramount.”
To help prevent COVID-19 shutdowns at universities, the Kiana solution uses existing building WiFi networks to locate the mobile device IDs of those who have self-reported a positive coronavirus test and identifies everyone else’s devices that were exposed to those individuals and locations where exposure occurred. To protect personally identifiable information (PII), only a limited number of university staff with the correct access privileges can see the actual names. These names are never seen or stored in Kiana’s system. Only encrypted device IDs are stored.
One institution of higher learning, Dominican University, near Chicago, has worked closely with Kiana to deploy their privacy-preserving COVID-19 exposure solution on campus to find and isolate infected students. Even after identifying and isolating students who tested positive, the university was still concerned about concentrated groups in classes, study areas and lounges. To address that, the Kiana solution can aggregate the campus population’s mobile phone location data and create heat maps showing administrators crowded hotspots in real time. This enables admins to distance students if too many are congregating in one place.
But when it concerns higher learning, other factors come into play besides the health and safety of the campus population. The then CIO of Dominican University, Jill Albin-Hill, expressed her concern to Kiana about the cost of ownership, privacy and reusability of their solution.
With limited IT budgets at universities even in the best of times, Albin-Hill needed to reuse her existing WiFi infrastructure to save on costs. In addition, the university had to have a PII and HIPAA-compliant solution that maintained the protected health information of all people on campus. Finally, Albin-Hill envisioned reusing the Kiana solution post-pandemic to find out which facilities on campus were underutilized and overutilized to better align Dominican’s facilities with usage patterns.
“Dominican’s initial interest was how to keep students and staff safe, then consider cost, privacy and reusability,” said Fathi. “With our technology, they were able to identify and isolate those exposed to COVID-19 and keep the campus open. Now they’re planning for the post-pandemic applications. With site management information from the Kiana solution, Dominican is now looking at how to re-engineer their space. For example, they may reschedule classes in an alternating pattern to prevent crowding in certain areas.”
To make their COVID-19 exposure solution work, Kiana needs to store and crunch a large volume of data. For example, if there are many people on campus at the same time, hundreds of gigabytes of location data can be generated over a short span of time. That data needs to be ingested very quickly, processed and deployed in the form of real-time heat maps. And all mobile devices within the campus WiFi coverage area have to be pinpointed. This also requires real-time data support. All this data gets collected by Google Cloud Platform (GCP) instances located around the world. But Kiana was running into utilization and cost issues. Some regions were nearly idle but the resources still had costs.
Also, with a finite number of engineering staff, Kiana could not spare the personnel to set up their service for Europe- and Asia-based customers. “Kiana has an international footprint, and it’s a challenge to operate worldwide, no matter how big your company is,” said Sebastian Andreatta, COO and Co-Founder of Kiana.
To help meet their business challenges, Kiana looked to SADA, a Google Cloud Premier Partner and MSP. The teams at the two companies quickly started to work together to address their challenges. Kiana soon learned the details of how to use the tooling within GCP to optimize their consumption. To address the larger utilization and cost issues, SADA’s Technical Account Manager (TAM) performed a committed use discount (CUD) exercise. With the results of that exercise, SADA helped fine-tune Kiana’s cloud usage to reduce additional spend and provided critical information about what consumption levels to tune for to enable future cost savings.
For their international customers, Kiana works with GCP to spin up instances in countries located in Europe and Asia. Now a Kiana COVID-19 exposure solution backed by GCP resources can be stood up in a couple weeks, whereas it could have taken Kiana much longer, perhaps a month or more, to roll out the solution.
In fact, GCP’s global footprint proved to be a real difference maker because Kiana always expected to go worldwide.
“We have multinational customers, so it’s very crucial for us that GCP has sites everywhere.”Sebastian Andreatta | COO and Co-Founder, Kiana
After engaging with SADA, Kiana has seen its GCP costs drop dramatically. By collaborating with SADA’s technical account management team, Kiana decreased its cloud computing costs up to 40%. SADA was also able to work with Kiana on a run-rate to better predict future costs.
In addition to a good cost structure, Kiana also gets better cloud performance in comparison to market alternatives. “We did early due diligence on GCP when we ran another company with applications on AWS,” said Fathi. “For Kiana’s COVID-19 exposure application, we discovered that GCP performance was much better and the cost was much more attractive than compared to AWS.”
And after GCP and Kiana set up international instances, SADA provides ongoing technical support to keep the Kiana COVID-19 exposure data flowing smoothly. If there are any questions, Kiana can always reach someone at SADA. “I cannot overemphasize the role of support for Kiana Analytics,” said Andreatta. “We get immediate and effective support from SADA. I can put in a regular support ticket via email and get help that way, but when I need an immediate response, it’s great that I can pick up the phone and reach my SADA point of contact on the first ring.”
Most importantly, for their customer, Dominican University, Kiana achieved life-saving results when they were able to successfully track and help keep isolated a number of COVID-infected students. This prevented those students from exposing other people on campus to the virus. Also, because of the Kiana solution, Dominican University was able to create a bubble around their sports teams, and they were able to continue practicing and competing throughout the pandemic.
In summary, Kiana chose SADA and GCP because:
- The competitiveness of the cost structure exceeded their expectations
- SADA provided technical expertise for cost optimization over the long term
- A Kiana COVID-19 exposure solution backed by GCP can be brought online anywhere around the world in a couple weeks
“Now, with the help of GCP and SADA, the Kiana solution is not only available in North America but also Switzerland, Germany, Singapore and other places. In a world where due diligence and response time is key to public health and safety, the fact that we can bring up a site across the globe in a couple weeks is huge. Extending our capability to make an impact globally enables us to help more people return to work and school safely.”Nader Fathi | CEO and Co-Founder, Kiana Analytics