Reflections on Wireless Field Day 6

February 6th, 2014

What a week it was with WFD6 edutainment! Great minds from different vendors presented their great Wi-Fi stuff during WFD6. With so much happening, our challenge was to fit in as much update as possible in two hours.

Cloud comes first

Cloud is what AirTight is and will be evangelizing for years to come. Cloud is much more than just making device configurations remotely from a manager hosted in the Internet. Efficiency of cloud operations, provisioning to suit multiple business models including managed service providers and aggregation of services into single sign-on architecture will dictate what cloud Wi-Fi is about. We are focused on exactly this approach and WFD6 was an opportunity to display some of AirTight cloud’s capabilities to a tech-savvy audience. They say that what matters for success in e-commerce business is not just what is online, but what is in the back-office technology and processes. This applies to cloud Wi-Fi too. In order to scale the cloud, your back-end has the biggest role to play.

AirTight Networks Evolution – Cloud & MSP

Our security DNA: wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS)

WIPS business has been our hidden jewel, because we cannot publicly talk about most of customer success stories to abide by their security policies. There are subtle but crucial points which differentiate between WIPS adding value to infrastructure security or just becoming a nuisance due to false alarms. Whenever we get to demonstrate this point one-on-one with customers in bakeoffs, it was always an “aha” moment and they chose us as an overlay vendor on top of other Wi-Fi infrastructure. It is cheaper from TCO perspective and more secure. While that trend continues, now that WIPS is available at no extra cost with AirTight APs, we will see even more enterprises benefiting from it.

AirTight Networks WIPS at Wireless Field Day 6 WFD6

Finally, the great balloon heist

No WFD6 blog can be complete without the mention of our Wireless Field Day balloon. While WFD5 balloon was put to rest during a short off-camera ceremony at the beginning of AirTight’s session, a new contender has already emerged.

Watch the videos from WFD6:

More on AirTight from WFD6 delegates and participants:

AirTight Networks Rising by Lee Badman (@wirednot)
Wireless Field Day #6 – Day 1 Recap by Glenn Cate (@grcate)

WiFi Access, Wireless Field Day

AirTight at Wireless Field Day 6 #WFD6

January 29th, 2014

Thanks to all who watch the AirTight session live stream!

Videos

You can watch the WFD6 videos on our YouTube channel.

Twitter Highlights

Here are Twitter highlights from the event (in reverse chronological order, so you will get the praise first :-) )

If you are following the event live, use hashtags #WFD6, #MSP6 and #WiFun.

Follow @AirTight on Twitter for live updates.

You can follow WFD6 delegates on Twitter using our Twitter ist.

Wireless Field Day

Wireless Field Day 6 – We’re Back!

January 27th, 2014

Update:

Please see our recap of Wireless Field Day 6

Original post:

Last August, AirTight Networks made its Wireless Field Day debut. We had such a good time with all of the delegates and organizers that six months later we’re back as the opening presenters for WFD6 on January 29, 2014, 10 a.m. Pacific.

We welcome the returning delegates

  • Sam Clements
  • Blake Krone
  • Keith R. Parsons
  • Jennifer Huber
  • Lee Badman
  • Jake Snyder
  • George Stefanick

And also four new delegates!

  • Scott Stapleton
  • Richard McIntosh
  • Evert Bopp
  • Germán Capdehour

Of course we want to thank the Tech Field Day team for their hard work on this event

  • Stephen Foskett
  • Tom Hollingsworth
  • Claire Chaplais

Watch us live (or watch us later)

You’ll be able to see our presentations streamed live at Techfieldday.com. After the event we’ll provide links to the recordings on our web site.

10 am to noon—Pacific, Noon to 2 pm—Central, 1 pm to 3 pm—Eastern

What are we presenting?

Well that’s for you to find out on Wednesday, but here are a few clues to get you started. Another hint: if you ask enough questions on Twitter, perhaps things will start to become a little clearer.

In memory of No. 5

AirTight #5 balloon

Have you seen our balloon?

While WFD5 was an awesome experience, it was tainted with sadness and grief as our much loved #5 balloon disappeared from our premises at the end of the event. The last sighting was at the Meru WFD5 presentation. An investigation proved that Meru was in no way complicit with the disappearance. So perhaps the balloon acted on its own accord and stowed itself away on the delegates’ bus (highly unlikely). It may have been lured away by a bad man (possibly), or was unwittingly taken by an overly enthusiastic delegate caught up in the celebration (maybe likely).

So during your busy day, please take five seconds to reflect on our missing silver mylar number 5 and please keep your eyes on your own balloons – keep them safe and tell them that you love them.

Have a safe and enjoyable Wireless Field Day!

WiFi Access, Wireless Field Day ,

5 Reasons Why Facebook Wi-Fi is for Local Biz, but Not for Retail Enterprises

January 23rd, 2014

Netgear recently announced integration with Facebook on their APs using Facebook Wi-Fi API. Meraki and Cisco have also announced the same capability on their APs. Facebook Wi-Fi franchise is growing. It is easy to configure and get working (except when used on Cisco APs, which requires running separate CMX VM and per-AP license). That is good news for local businesses. However, does this architecture meet the requirements of mid-size to big retail enterprises? Not so fast! Let me explain.

Retail enterprises operate multiple stores across regions, states or countries. They run targeted marketing campaigns for customer engagement. This puts certain requirements on Social/Wi-Fi integration for retail enterprises, which are currently unmet with Facebook Wi-Fi integration.

1) Omni-channel marketing is essential for maximum reach

Facebook Wi-Fi allows only Facebook logins, obviously. So merchants miss out on other social channels like Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Foursquare, etc. In addition to social logins, enterprises also want to promote brand loyalty programs when users access guest Wi-Fi. Facebook Wi-Fi does not allow this as well.

2) In the absence of social handles, there is no direct touch with the customers

In Facebook Wi-Fi, the update about the user being present on that Facebook page is automatically distributed when the user logs into Wi-Fi with Facebook credentials (hence, they call it check-in instead of login). However, the merchant does not get the social handles of these users. Note that this is despite the fact that these social handles are public information and the user discloses via check-in (whose default setting is “public”) the presence at that location. Without social handles, merchant cannot have direct touch with the customers. Retail enterprises thus require provision to obtain opt-in social handles of customers, which is not possible with Facebook Wi-Fi integration.

3) Need for customizable incentives to fuel social engagement

Retail enterprises want to provide incentives for using social logins – coupons or other ways to engage with the brand like premium status in the loyalty program. They may also want to provide additional incentives to user for taking a further step to Like or Follow the brand, or joining a loyalty program. Like or Follow has the benefit that the merchant can then reach out to the user with one on one messaging (much like email). Facebook Wi-Fi has only one simple incentive built in it – if you don’t use Facebook login, you may not get free Wi-Fi, though merchants do not have to enforce this as there are provisions in the configuration to bypass it or use a code in lieu of a Facebook login. In any case, the Facebook Wi-Fi check-in does not facilitate customizable incentive programs to encourage social engagement.

4) Comprehensive analytics and data ownership are important

Social Wi-Fi can provide retailers with rich analytics and user demographics. Retailers also want to own the analytics data. They want the analytics data available in standard format for integration with their existing marketing platforms. However, with Facebook Wi-Fi, engagement data is within Facebook and mixed up with all the other Facebook interactions.

5) No scaling for multi-store environment

This one is a bummer! The automatic update that is posted to user’s Facebook timeline subsequent to a login includes location address configured in the Facebook page. So, if you operate 50, 500 or 5000 stores, each location needs to have its own Facebook page. If you use single page for all those locations, the user location update will go with address configured in that page which may be inconsistent with the actual location where user checks in. This is just an example of how Facebook Wi-Fi is not designed with multi-unit retail enterprise in mind.

Facebook-Wi-Fi-for-multi-site

If you’re an IT or a marketing manager for a retail chain, imagine setting up dozens or hundreds of Facebook pages for your branches

AirTight Social Wi-Fi integration with Facebook, Twitter and others

In contrast, AirTight Networks’ social Wi-Fi is designed with multi-unit retail enterprises in mind. It uses a cloud-hosted captive portal that interacts with users on one side and multiple social media apps including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ etc. on the other. The portal provides all the knobs to customize the campaigns including incentives, landing pages and updates. The captive portal securely stores social engagement information including social handles and demographics that user has chosen to share. The portal provides cleanly segregated and rich Wi-Fi analytics and also makes analytics data available to merchants in standard formats.

For more information:

Learn more about AirTight Social Wi-Fi + Analytics.

Watch a 5-min video on best practices in retail analytics.

Read our blog post on analytics data ownership (hint: in many cases, you don’t own the analytics data your Wi-Fi system generates)

 /Image via Facebook.

Retail, WiFi Access

Retail Analytics: Who Owns The Data?

January 14th, 2014

At AirTight Networks, we talk a lot of SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud). Together these forces have come together to significantly impact and radically change various markets. It’s not hard to wax eloquent about SMAC for long periods of time, but in this article, I want to focus only on the Analytics piece – that numerical, statistical, miracle whip that drives business decisions.

Analytics Data: Type and Collection

In the SMAC model using Wi-Fi as the Mobile piece, data is collected from Wi-Fi access points. The analytics data itself generally falls into one of two categories: 1) Presence, and 2) Opt-in.

Presence Analytics
Presence Analytics is, as it sounds, focused around whether the client device is on-location (“present”) and whether it is inside or outside a boundary (e.g. a store front). This type of data is device-specific (MAC Address), independent from the user of a device (contains no user-identifying information), and therefore anonymous. It is collected by using Access Points (APs) to scan the air and to gather MAC addresses (which only a hashed representation thereof is stored). Presence Analytics can be used for a variety of things, but some examples might include:

  • Understanding total foot traffic (e.g. how many visitors came to your location)
  • Understanding capture rate of visitor traffic (e.g. which visitors came inside your store front and which ones stayed outside)
  • Understanding dwell time (e.g. visit duration) either inside or outside your location

AirTight Presence Analytics

The same capability that enables Presence Analytics also enables similar functions like Loyalty Analytics. Examples of this might be:

  • Understanding visitor frequency (how often do they come to see you?)
  • Understanding visit recency (when was the last time they came to see you?)
  • Understanding repeat visitor information (how many times have they come to this location over a period of time?)

Analytics: Unique visitors

Opt-in Analytics
Opt-in Analytics are obtained through a process whereby a person uses his/her mobile device to willingly engage the wireless infrastructure (and associated back-end systems). The typical scenario involves the use of a Captive Web Portal (CWP) to display terms and conditions and to allow the user to authenticate (log in) using one or more methods, such as:

  • Phone Number with SMS verification
  • Social Media integration (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn login APIs)
  • Guestbook function where the user fills out a web form

Regardless of the process, the user is agreeing to the use policy in order to obtain a benefit, which is most often free Wi-Fi access, promotional coupons, location services, or perhaps all of these and more. The use policy allows the infrastructure to collect a specific amount of the user’s personal information that is determined by the user at the time of authentication.

Other Types of Analytics

Of course, all of those are just simple examples, but to be honest, analytics can get pretty sophisticated. Consider other types of relevant data, such as Engagement Analytics and Wi-Fi Usage Analytics.

Engagement Analytics 
Engagement Analytics might, for example, consist of:

  • Conversion and Bounce Rates (Did they come inside or stay outside? Did they use the Wi-Fi while in the store? Did they buy anything while in the store?)
  • Social Media Wi-Fi Authentication Visitor Logs (Who are they?)
  • Social Media Wi-Fi Authentication Demographics (How old? Male/Female? Where do they live?)

Engagement Analytics

Engagement Analytics allow the organization owner to pair up the device (which is identified with Presence Analytics capabilities) with the user of the device (which is possible because of Opt-in capabilities) and then tie those capabilities into back-end systems such as their CRM. That CRM system could then be used, in conjunction with the wireless infrastructure system and analytics engine, to:

  • Identify and locate a user’s device when it arrives on-location
  • Understand the owner of the device’s habits and desires (e.g. purchasing habits/desires if in retail)
  • Push context-relevant, location-relevant, and personalized content to the user in a timely fashion
  • Provide an entertaining experience while on-location

It might sound space-age, but it’s the holy grail of the retail market right now, and other markets will likely follow suit when retail has proven that it can be done well, end-to-end.

Wi-Fi Usage Analytics might, for example, consist of:

  • Device Types
  • Data Traffic
  • Session Duration

Having access to data such as average session duration may allow a quick service restaurant (QSR) to make a decision about how to configure their Wi-Fi infrastructure system. Some Wi-Fi infrastructure systems have a “black out timer” that imposes a no-use time after a configured period of use time. This type of data may help a coffee shop decide on whether to write their new mobile app for iOS or Android first. It may allow a financial services firm to decide on whether to upgrade their Internet backhaul pipe or apply protocol filtering to block peer-to-peer file sharing applications. There are 101 uses for Wi-Fi Usage Analytics.

All that rich data is just waiting to be mined for business-transforming information that can be easily organized into useful formats and compared across locations, and can help you decide on marketing spend and business expansion. All you need to get started is the right Wi-Fi solution.

Analytics Data Ownership

“Houston, we have a problem.” Yeah, that’s you when you find out that you don’t own the data…

“Say what? That doesn’t sound right…are you sure? Wait…where’s my contract! What do you MEAN I don’t own the data?” Yep, that’s you again…quickly growing worried and agitated since you’re the one who recommended the Wi-Fi vendor who’s either holding onto your analytics data awaiting ridiculous additional monthly fees or who has an analytics business partner who’s trying to perform unnatural acts with your wallet while the Wi-Fi vendor keeps you distracted.

“But it’s my system! It should be MY data! These are MY customers for crying out loud…who else’s data would it be?”

Oh, don’t worry… your analytics vendor has you covered. They can fix you up for… $_______ per AP per year. Or as my man Alan Jackson might say, “But don’t be downhearted, I can fix it for you, Sonny; It won’t take too long, it’ll just take money.”

Of course, if you buy AirTight Networks Wi-Fi and analytics, YOU own the data.

 

 

 

Retail, WiFi Access ,

AirTight Networks Joins with EarthLink for Social Wi-Fi and Analytics

January 13th, 2014

AirTight Networks secure cloud Wi-Fi will power EarthLink’s new WiFi/WIPS solution designed for the multi-unit retail industry. EarthLink announced the upcoming launch of this solution at NRF 2014.

Cloud, analytics, simplicity set AirTight apart

“Consumers are already using their mobile devices in-store to enhance their shopping experience. With EarthLink WiFi, retailers can roll out corporate applications to connect with those consumers and service them more efficiently, while gathering valuable data for marketing and store operations. AirTight’s offering stood apart with its cloud-based management, rich retail analytics and ease of deployment.” — Greg Griffiths, EarthLink Vice President of Retail Solutions

Live social media integration demo at NRF

The solution will be demonstrated at AirTight’s booth #1256 and EarthLink’s booth #1567. AirTight and EarthLink experts will be on hand to demonstrate and discuss the Wi-Fi offering. Visitors to either booth will get to experience the social media integration capabilities by logging into an actual social media portal. The demo will build AirTight’s and EarthLink’s social media reach, and visitors will get something of value – the same experience retailers are now able to provide in their stores.

Wi-Fi – now Infrastructure as a Service

“EarthLink’s full-service network capabilities make our enterprise-class Wi-Fi and security accessible to all retailers, whether small or large. Through our partnership with EarthLink, the technology can now be delivered as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The IaaS model is ideal for multi-unit retail, where IT resources are often not available at an individual store level.” — Kevin McCauley, Director of Retail Market Development at AirTight

Retail-ready, “business first”

AirTight has served retailers for over a decade and has translated that knowledge into an enterprise-grade solution that does not compromise on features and security. AirTight’s secure cloud Wi-Fi dramatically reduces IT resources needed to roll-out and manage the network, resulting in low total cost of ownership. This is Wi-Fi with a “business first” approach, delivering business intelligence and brand engagement. The solution is retail-ready right out of the box, with secure guest and private Wi-Fi, PCI compliance scanning and 24/7 protection from wireless threats.

‘Appification’ of Wi-Fi

“The partnership with EarthLink validates the maturity of our cloud offering and our focus on the ‘appification of Wi-Fi. AirTight has raised the bar on wireless connectivity, converting it from ‘IT plumbing’ to a revenue-generating business initiative. We are excited about partnering with the number one managed service provider in North America and getting this solution into the hands of many more retailers.” — David King, CEO of AirTight

Are you at NRF? See the demo yourself and get a signed copy of The Retail Revival by Doug Stephens courtesy of AirTight. Meet Doug Stephens on our booth between 2 and 3 p.m. on Monday January 13, 2014.

NRF-2014

Retail, WiFi Access ,

Will Target Breach Prompt Retailers to Raise the Security Bar?

January 8th, 2014

Did 2013 have to end with the somber news of a big credit card security breach? But it did! It is reported that 40 million credit cards were compromised in the security breach in stores of a major U.S. retailer Target. This is only a shade second to the earlier TJX breach in which 45 million credit cards were compromised. (After this blog was published, it was reported that the number of affected accounts in the Target breach is as high as 110 million, which would make it more that double the TJX breach!)

After any breach, and surely after the breach of such dimension, discussion on the data security issues at the retailers escalates. Earlier, the TJX breach resulted in stricter wireless PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance requirements. The current Target breach can also trigger tightening of the compliance requirements. This breach may also prompt IT, security and compliance managers at major retailers to take a hard look at the information security aspects of the various technologies that they have deployed. Add to it the fact that retailers are aggressively deploying mobile and wireless technologies like POS, kiosks and tablets in stores. What are some of the core issues they should be looking at?

Don’t be content with “compliance”, demand “security”!

Retailers in these types of breaches often pass the security audits like PCI with flying colors. That exposes the harsh reality that security is distinct from compliance. 2014 is the year of the world cup soccer (football). So let us use soccer analogy to understand this distinction.

Compliance vs security, wireless PCIWhen you are defending a free kick in soccer, you make a wall and your goalkeeper is on alert to block the ball that could go through or around the wall. No soccer team would be comfortable with a sole reliance on the wall and allowing the goalkeeper a break during the free kick. The wall is like “compliance” – it’s one line of defense.

Retailers work hard to get check marks from auditors on their PCI compliance. Vendor marketing does a good job of selling features that help get those coveted check marks. Compliance does help improve the security posture, but is it adequate? Every now and then, this line of defense is breached and if the goalkeeper isn’t standing behind the wall, you are toast! However, if you demand security in addition to the compliance check marks, you can build that inner line of defense.

How will you know if you have the inner line of defense or not?

That is a hard question. One way to answer it is that whether you have it or not depends on the compliance solution you have chosen. If you are using a solution which has compliance reporting bolted on to meet the compliance standard in letter, you probably lack the inner line of defense. On the other hand, if your solution offers PCI compliance as a natural outcome of the strong security fundamentals, you automatically get the inner line of defense.

I can testify to this dichotomy from my experiences with the wireless PCI compliance standard and solutions that are touted to facilitate meeting that standard. Many Wi-Fi vendors have come up with bolt-on WIPS (Wireless Intrusion Prevention System) features with check mark PCI reporting. The real question to ask is: While these systems generate PCI reports in letter and may please your auditor, will they pass the security scrutiny in spirit? So, what are some of the questions you should be asking when scrutinizing the wireless PCI solution to ensure that you are getting the security in addition to the compliance?

  • How much of the security information that the PCI report contains is based on actual scanning of the environment? I have seen many PCI reports based mostly or even entirely on the Q&A type documentation or PASS/FAIL check marks merely based on what feature configuration in enabled in the system. That is fail on security.
  • Is threat scanning 24×7 or is it only occasional spot scanning? PCI does not require 24×7 scanning. It only requires quarterly scanning, but didn’t we just say that we are not interested in mere PCI check marks, we want security. Notably, entire Target breach occurred only over 3 weeks – that is much smaller period than a quarter!
  • Does the scan merely throw raw data at you or does it filter out genuine threats so you can actually act to mitigate them? All too often, I have seen wireless PCI reports simply document all APs seen across all locations to satisfy the so called rogue AP scanning requirement. So, if the report shows 10,000 APs found in of the scan of 100 remote retail locations or 100,000 APs found across 1000 remote retail locations, how in the world are you going to distinguish threat posing APs from this list? If you can’t, this report will meet the PCI clause in letter, but fail miserably on improving the security posture.
  • Is the solution capable of detecting all types of vulnerabilities? For example, can it identify various types of rogue APs? If it only can identify a few types of rogues (such as rogues with correlation between their wired and wireless MAC addresses – so called MAC adjacency), how can you trust that report since there could be unidentified rogue APs connected to your CDE (Cardholder Data Environment) among the large number of APs detected during the scan?
  • Is the solution capable of automatically containing the identified vulnerabilities? Although automatic mitigation is not a PCI requirement, in large nationwide deployments, automatic containment is a requirement for security. Automatic containment reduces the window of vulnerability. Moreover, automatic containment has to occur without  false alarms which can disrupt your  and neighbors’ legitimate operations.
  • Is the solution certified against security standards other than PCI? Again, this is not a PCI requirement, but it meets the litmus test of strong security fundamentals of the solution.
  • Is the solution capable of full security operation at the store level without critical dependence on WAN links?

Does security have to cost more than compliance?

Again, the answer depends on the compliance solution you have chosen. If the solution has PCI compliance reporting bolted on to check against clauses in the standard, you will probably have to add security on top of it, paying considerably more from a total cost of ownership perspective or continue to carry the risk of a breach. On the other hand, if the solution offers PCI compliance as a natural outcome of the strong security fundamentals, you can get security without the extra effort or cost.

With Airtight, there isn’t a chasm between compliance and security

AirTight provides a wireless PCI compliance solution that also meets the critical security criteria. Central to AirTight’s solution is its best in class wireless intrusion prevention engine, the only one today to earn the highest industry ranking. It excels both in the depth of security and the ease of use at the same time – due to core innovations and patented technology. So with this PCI solution, retailers can enjoy the same level of security that financials, governments and defense organizations demand without the additional complexity and cost.

In order to simplify the deployment and management across 100’s or across 100’000’s locations, AirTight provides cloud managed PCI solution with its plug & play APs/scanners in stores and centralized management console in the cloud. In fact, it was the first to launch such a solution when wireless scanning was added in the PCI standard after the TJX breach in the past.

24×7 wireless PCI scanning and WIPS are an intrinsic part of AirTight’s Secure Wi-Fi offering and is provided at no extra licensing cost. It also offers pure OPEX pricing model for its solution to further alleviate the cost burden. Moreover, retailers can also leverage AirTight’s social Wi-Fi and business analytics built into its retail Wi-Fi offering to increase brand following, recruit into brand loyalty programs and offer secure guest Wi-Fi services in stores. It can’t get better than that!

Wishing you a happy and SECURE 2014!

Upcoming events

Meet AirTight at NRF14 on Jan 13-14 and at ACTS event on Jan 15.

Tune in to AirTight’s technology sessions at WFD6.

 

Best practices, Compliance, PCI, Retail, Wireless security , , , , , , , ,

The Holy Grail of Retail, Part 2

January 6th, 2014

This is part 2 of last week’s post The Holy Grail of Retail. In today’s installment, I discuss what it takes to reach it.

Operational Implementation

There is a set of coordinated technologies required to affect the Holy Grail. A complex set of variables if you will. It’s the responsibility of manufacturers to implement this set of technologies in such a way that they become a simplified, unified structure. This keeps the learning curve short, deployment and operational costs down, and assures a less error-prone implementation. Consider the following parts:

    • Wi-Fi infrastructure with cloud management & social media authentication
    • CRM system integration
    • Mobile devices, operating systems, and applications
    • Managed Service Provider (MSP) enablement (for those customers who want someone else to manage it for them)
    • Security services, such as WIPS and PCI compliance and reporting
    • Location services, which may be integrated with mobile applications
    • Infrastructure analytics and reporting, which may be tied into other systems

What’s even more of a challenge is when one or more of these technologies are provided by multiple vendors who have loose (or no) integration. I shudder to think…

Organizational Unity

Then there are the organizational challenges. While most people avoid this topic like the plague, I’m just the guy to bring it up because it’s reality and because ultimately those who care enough to investigate in this area will benefit.

I’m not young anymore, and I’ve been in the corporate world longer than I care to admit. If I know anything about corporate America, it’s that 9 out of 10 corporations are not operationally efficient or effective. We might have some bright minds and even good products or technology, but we often have poor peer (horizontal), reporting (vertical), and intra-/inter-departmental communication and even worse leadership and people management skills. It’s an epidemic and extremely costly, both to the individual corporation and to the American economy in general. Some other countries and cultures may differ, perhaps significantly, and I’m not speaking on their behalf, but being American, having lived in half a dozen states and worked in large and small companies across those states, I’m asserting that I know what I’m talking about regarding US-based companies.

So, to build upon that assertion, organizations are often unknowingly silo’d whereby, and THIS IS ONLY AN EXAMPLE, you might find within a prospective customer that a CIO and a CMO aren’t really communicating all that well. The CIO has her organizational perspective, goals, and tasks lists. The CMO has his organizational perspective, goals, and tasks lists. They should be coordinating and, at some point, their goals and execution should join hands for the benefit of the company and its customers, right? Well, they should, yes, but do they? Not always. In fact, not nearly as often as you might think.

In addition, most merchandising organizations within retailers are segmented by channel as well. What do I mean? The buyer who forecasts, orders, and is compensated on laundry detergent sales in-store is completely different than the buyer who forecasts, orders, and is compensated on laundry detergent sales online – within the same organization. If retailers want to truly enable ‘omni-channel’ services that are transparent to the customer and to provide a great customer experience, the internal organizational (which could even include the compensation structure) of retailers must change!

Obviously if you took a serious look at 1,000 companies of varied size across various vertical markets, you would find variations on high-level organizational issues, but you could expect findings like: poor communication, personality clashes, internal political situations, lack of leadership, lack of management skills, and probably more. These issues affect a retailer’s ability to execute on the Holy Grail just as much, if not more, than having the expertise and funding to execute on the operational implementation side of things.

Enter AirTight

How does AirTight, as a manufacturer, help retailers speed the Holy Grail process?

AirTight provides tightly-integrated technology solutions that are specifically tailored to the retail market. We understand the Holy Grail and how to reach it. Rather than just selling widgets to whomever will buy them, we have simplified a complex set of technology variables into a solution for the retail market.

AirTight provides enterprise-class Wi-Fi infrastructure with a user-friendly HTML5 management platform that can be delivered in one of four ways (hardware appliance, virtual appliance, private cloud, or public cloud) to offer flexibility and scale. Over the high-performance infrastructure, high-value services such as wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS), location services (RTLS), PCI compliance and reporting, robust analytics, social Wi-Fi authentication, BYOD on-boarding, and managed services enablement, and others are available.

Wi-Fi Holy Grail

The technology is there. Some vendors are ahead of others on integrating the complex set of system-wide components that enable the Holy Grail of Retail, and obviously I wouldn’t have spent my entire Friday night writing this blog if I didn’t believe that AirTight Networks was the front-runner among them. What I hope I have conveyed, however, is that there’s more to this puzzle than just some scattered technology and buzzwords. There are multiple technical pieces to the solution that have to be tightly integrated, and there is the human element, which is equally complex. Both are equally important if you are a retailer looking to nab your Holy Grail anytime soon.

NRF2014

Want to see this in action? See AirTight at NRF 2014, where will be demoing social media integration and retail analytics. Schedule an appointment, or stop by our booth 1256!

 

Retail, WiFi Access ,

The Holy Grail of Retail

January 2nd, 2014

In the retail market, the current Holy Grail is to unify the online and in-store shopping experiences (sometimes called ‘omni-channel’ retailing) such that the customer has a personalized shopping experience that promotes brand loyalty. The customer experience should be enjoyable and personalized, with available contextually relevant and timely information that makes interacting with the retailer effortless and transparent.

Technology Is Here
Will every salesperson know your name in not so distant future?

Will every salesperson know your name in the not so distant future?

The technology now exists to enable such capabilities, and retailers can drive a new generation of brand awareness and loyalty programs. The new focus will be on growing the business while leaving behind the worries of showrooming and shrinking margins.

Since the technology is here, why then isn’t every major retailer making a move toward the Holy Grail at a break-neck pace? Why can’t I walk into my local electronics store, expecting this guy to walk up to me with an iPad, and…

“Hi, I’m Jason. Welcome to Electro’s! Glad you’re here again, Mr Thompson.”

“Hi Jason. How did you… Uh, nevermind. Nice iPad.”

“Thanks. Company issue device. Your phone told me… neat, huh? So, how may I help you today?”

“Huh?”

“Oh, sorry. Allow me to explain. Our wireless system identified your phone by its MAC address, which is tied to our loyalty program, which you enrolled in last year. Our CRM system told my iPad that you entered the store. Since my iPad and your iPhone are obviously acquainted, is it OK if I call you Fred? Great, thanks. So Fred, if I were to mention that we have the Riad Wireless BL2009 802.11ac USB 3.0 adapter that’s in your Electro Online Wish List available here in the store, would that interest you today?”

“Well Jason, let me think about that for a second…. uh YES! How cool is THAT?”

“I kind of thought you might like that. I’ll have it pulled out of stock and taken to register 7 for you so that you can continue shopping. Is there anything else that I can help you with today?”

“Actually, yes. Do you have any more of those BL2009 units in stock here at this store?”

“Sure. We have three more. We correlated your Wish List with that of hundreds of others in the area and decided that it would probably be a good idea to stock a few of them just in case. I guess that turned out to be a good idea.”

“Fantastic. I’ll log into your guest Wi-Fi and let my peeps know that Electro has three more units. I bet they’ll be sold by the end of the day. They’re really in demand among my friends. Thanks for your help Jason.”

Wait… wait… wait… No! Not reality! Oh well… now that we’re back, where were we? Ah yes, that break-neck pace discussion. Is anyone else seeing retailers reaching an semblance of the Holy Grail yet? Are you having out-of-this-world, converged retail experiences yet? If not, have you considered why?

Where’s That Business Model Redesign?

When I walk into any kind of retailer, whether big-box discounters, restaurants or QSR, department stores, supermarkets, warehouse retailers, specialty shops, convenience stores, or any other, I’m just not seeing very much forward momentum. Jeff Roster, Gartner’s retail practice lead, said in a recent webinar that the retail industry would require “Business Model Redesign” due to the impact of Gartner’s “Nexus of Forces” (essentially the SMAC concept that AirTight talks so much about). I guess that business model redesign process is going more slowly than hoped-for with most retailers… What do you think?

  • Perhaps “break-neck pace” is relative, and my expectations are ridiculous?
  • Could it be lack of funding in the retail sector?
  • Maybe it could be a shortage of technical expertise among retailers?
  • A lack of motivation perchance? (e.g. they’re making lots of money with no competition)

No. I wouldn’t guess that it’s any of these reasons. Where I think the problem lies is with 1) operational implementation, and 2) organizational unity. You know what they say, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

In part 2 of this post I will discuss the operational implementation and organizational unity in greater detail. Stay tuned!

/Image via Wikimedia Commons

Retail, WiFi Access

Network troubleshooting in distributed Wi-Fi environments

November 20th, 2013

Wi-Fi is installed after everything else in the network is already set up – switches, routers, servers, firewalls, VPNs etc. Naturally, customers rely on their Wi-Fi solution provider to alleviate any network problems that arise during the Wi-Fi deployments, even though the problems are not necessarily Wi-Fi specific.

Network issues aren’t something new in any project. However, the troubleshooting task becomes challenging when it needs to be done remotely and when there isn’t much onsite IT help. This is often the case with the distributed Wi-Fi deployments. Also, due to the heterogeneity of the network infrastructure in many environments in the distributed vertical, sometimes very stealthy network problems are encountered. Take these recent troubleshooting examples which underscore these points.

Number Jumble in DNS Forwarding

In a recent distributed Wi-Fi installs that we were involved in, the AP would fail to connect to the cloud. After eliminating a few obvious possibilities, we found that the AP was failing to perform a DNS resolution. The customer was using Google DNS. So, we put the DNS request packet from the AP under the microscope and found it to be properly formatted. We did not have access to many parts of the customer’s network to view the logs. Then, one of us made an interesting observation – when the AP pinged something in the Internet, the AP would briefly succeed in performing the DNS resolution. Upon pursuing that lead, we found out that when there was no ping, the DNS request used source port 1024 and failed, but when there was a concurrent ping, it used source port higher than 1024 (since 1024 was taken up by ping) and succeeded.

Need Wi-Fi troubleshooting? Call up a networking Jedi!

Need Wi-Fi troubleshooting? Call up a networking Jedi!

That meant some network element in the packet path was blocking the DNS request with the source port 1024. There is no restriction like this in the DNS protocol on the source port number. Linux implementations have been known to follow the convention to use low ports only for Kernel privilege processes. Some network element in the packet path seemed to have incorrectly adapted that convention to some packet filter rule on the interface. Even then, it seemed the implementation glossed over the detail, since Linux privileged ports are below 1024, not including 1024. Patching the AP software to exclude port numbers below 1025 in the DNS requests solved the problem (though we and even the customer still do not know what was blocking the original DNS requests).

Grumpy RADIUS

In another case, we got panic call from a customer saying that putting an AP in their network disrupted the network. Everyone thought there must be some malformed packet coming out of the AP that some switch or router did not like. We examined several packets from the AP to ensure there was no rogue packet in there. Then the investigation moved to network servers, starting with DHCP and DNS, and we found them to be in good health. Then came the turn of the RADIUS server, which is where unusual activity was spotted. After the AP deployment, the RADIUS process showed frequent restarts. But why would that happen? After all, RADIUS requests from the AP were well formatted. Digging further, we discovered that the contractor had put in an incorrect RADIUS secret in the AP. Instead of gracefully rejecting requests coming from the AP, the RADIUS server process used to restart upon seeing the incorrect secret (and without writing any logs). Entering the correct RADIUS secret in the AP fixed the issue. Hopefully, the customer will now maintain or upgrade their RADIUS infrastructure.

Toast to Network Jedi

I have many such stories to tell and I am sure many of you too. The real heroes in troubleshooting stories like these are the engineers who jump in to resolve insidious problems during Wi-Fi installs. What is also impressive is that they do this in the networks that are completely new to them and often only remotely and partially accessible. My shout-out to all the networking Jedi for making Wi-Fi work in more networks every day!

 

 

WiFi Access, WLAN planning