Tough challenges remain for decision makers who want to exploit the benefits of Wi-Fi without seeing their companies simultaneously exploited by cyber thieves. This dilemma is reflected in concerns executives have about choosing the right technology to help them create capable — yet secure — wireless environments.
In a recent UBM Tech study of over 200 business decision makers, half of respondents acknowledge that selecting the right authentication and security solution is a challenge. They also want to ensure that any solution they put in place will handle growing numbers of mobile users, while keeping employees productive and customers happy with their experience.
How can decision makers address all of these requirements? At a minimum, a successful Wi-Fi strategy for guests and employees should focus on five key steps.
1. Clearly outline business opportunities and the capabilities needed to achieve them.Look for solutions that make it easy to create splash pages, push out promotional messages and offers as guests sign on, and help customers connect to social media sites for support when making buying decisions.
Many of these capabilities are being providedin retail-oriented solutions available to vendors of enterprise-class access points and business Wi-Fi services, says Mike Fratto, principal analyst with Current Analysis. “Look for vendors that will let you conduct a 30- to 90-day trial of the solutions,” he says. “Turn it on, try it out on a small subset of users and see what kind of experience you have.”
2. Adopt the latest security best practices and tools. Follow the lead of security-conscious banks that install dedicated T1 lines and broadband connections for their private networks.
This setup helps ensure that hackers can’t use the public infrastructure as an opening to company data and applications. “If you don’t have strong isolation between your internal network and your public network, you’re asking for problems,” Fratto warns. “Without that separation, any opening becomes an avenue of attack.” Separate networks may also reduce management tasks because administrators won’t have to work at isolating internal and external traffic over the same network and setting different security levels on Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs), he adds.
In addition, look for Wi-Fi management solutions that offer controls for authenticating users and limiting when and how long guests can access the network. The controls should also let administrators quickly impose filters for blocking visits to illicit sites and those with a history of security problems. Enterprise-class access points or cloud services are two options for performing content filtering.
3. Don’t sacrifice productivity in the quest for security. Choose management systems that can be run centrally, so the IT staff can universally apply controls. Not only will this help reduce network- management overhead even as the number of access points grows, but it will ensure that companies apply business initiatives and security policies consistently and without the gaps that make some locations especially vulnerable to breaches. Consider cloud-based solutions for centralized management, particularly if the business runs multiple physical locations. In addition, look for tools that let administrators create groups with common configuration and usage policies to further ease management for geographically diverse organizations.
4. Use sophisticated data capture and analytics applications to capitalize on the wealth of consumer information available from guest networks. When shoppers download store apps, accept an emailed promotional offer, or opt-in to location-aware services using their mobile devices, companies gain insights into buying patterns and traffic patterns in physical locations. This data is valuable for choosing and managing inventory and designing stores for the highest impact on sales. Companies also understand more clearly what promotional messaging will resonate best with their most valuable customers and can adjust campaigns accordingly.
5. Evaluate the application-integration capabilities of Wi-Fi applications and services.The best solutions offer built-in connectors to databases, inventory systems and other back-end applications. These hooks can help stores easily merge customer data captured from physical loyalty cards and mobile applications, for example, to give companies a complete view of customers who may use both at different times.
A Competitive Leap Forward
Many of the companies represented in the UBM Tech survey are at an inflection point with their Wi-Fi services. Their leaders clearly understand the business potential of wireless networks, and they have a foundation in place to support both consumers and employees. With the right strategy and technologies, these firms can make a competitive leap forward and turn Wi-Fi into a driving force for both enhanced customer experience and profit-boosting productivity.