Episode 2: Why Wireless Networks Are Key To Your Customer Intelligence Strategy


Wireless networks have evolved from a commodity to a core part of data strategy, and early concerns about speed and security are being replaced with a desire to know what to do with all the data coming in. Özer Dondurmacıoğlu, VP of location services at HPE Aruba, joined the podcast to shed some light on why you should start thinking about your WiFi network as a business asset.

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John Rougeux: Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of people and places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii, and your host for today’s episode. I’m joined today by Ozer Dondurmacıoğlu, and he is the head of location services at Aruba. Ozer, how are you doing today?

Özer Dondurmacı: I’m doing great, John. Thanks for having me.

John Rougeux: Yeah, you bet. Thanks for being on the show. Really excited to learn your experience, or learn from your experience as a product guy in the wireless network space. I know you’ve got some things you’d like to share with the audience today about how wireless networks can inform your customer intelligence strategy. But before we get into that, Ozer, I’d love it if you can tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you and the team are up to at Aruba.

John Rougeux: I understand you’ve got a translation for your last name that you want to share with us as well.

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, actually I can maybe start with that, actually. It means son of an ice cream maker, thanks to my great, great grandfather’s business back in the day, in Turkey. Apparently he used to have an ice cream shop.

John Rougeux: Very cool.

Özer Dondurmacı: So I’ve been part of the Aruba organization since 2004. Bit of a dinosaur here in the organization. Had seven to eight different roles. Joined when Aruba was a small startup. Of course, we went through the growth stage, IPO, got acquired by HP. And now we kind of operate as an access networking business with wireless, wired location based services. Security services, and a variety of other car powered software solutions within the organization, with our own dedicated sales team, marketing team, support team, services team, et cetera.

Özer Dondurmacı: So it’s still a growing part of the business within HP. We try to create value for our customers in a variety of different aspects of the access networking solution set. And I would say we’re well-known in the market as kind of a wireless networking company, since that’s where our heritage takes us.

Özer Dondurmacı: You know, as the company grew, I grew with the company, spend a lot of time in marketing, tech marketing. And now been working with our location services product teams for the last two years, trying to make an impact in that area as well. That part of the technology’s growing 50 to 100 percent, depending on which region, which theater you look at. So it’s definitely high growth area for us. And it’s an aim to extract more value out of the networking technologies we deploy our customer sites.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. So you are certainly a veteran in the wireless networking space. Looking forward to hearing all the expertise you have to share with us in that regard.

John Rougeux: You know, as you mentioned, there’s a lot changing in that world. So maybe to set the stage for today’s conversation, could you start things off by just walking us through how wireless networks have evolved from more of a commodity, to what’s now becoming a core part of a data strategy for businesses with physical locations.

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, absolutely. So initial data wifi, really nobody wanted to touch it. You know, I’m talking about 2001, 2002. It was not secure enough, it was not high performing enough. There was not enough devices, everything else. Fast forward 15 plus years later, we can’t do without it. Every home is connected with 20 plus devices. Back to the cloud using wifi technology. Corporate environment is no different. Corporate campuses, public venues, no different. Museums, shopping malls are no different.

Özer Dondurmacı: Building a reliable wifi requires a technology like Aruba, right, which is I can manage hundreds of these access points, thousands of these access points in one centralized management portal. I can secure it, I can onboard devices to the right policy on the network. All that enterprise IT [inaudible] requirements that we hear today.

Özer Dondurmacı: Once that is done, you get a great performing network. And obviously it’s a habit for every single one of us out there, to connect to the wifi network and get our jobs done. Or just enjoy our day-to-day activities.

Özer Dondurmacı: One of the key parts of that engagement, is of course, happens on the smart phone, right. So smart phones generate the most traffic. They generate the most, highest level of [inaudible] time when they’re on the wifi network. That’s the first device that you really think about connections to Wifi wherever you enter a new space. And smart phones, they tend to connect to wifi networks that they remembered before. So there’s no action that you need to take. If you’ve been to a space before, your device is going to connect automatically.

Özer Dondurmacı: So you look at the habit of people, just desiring constant connectivity. You look at the habit of the smart phone, being able to connect to some wifi network I’ve connected to before. And the always on nature of these devices, people started asking themselves, wait, there’s a lot of useful data that we can extract from this network.

Özer Dondurmacı: The concerns 15 years ago about security, performance, everything else, now is being replaced by, of course I need to have wifi. But what can I do with the immense amount of data that comes through that constant connectivity and they have it forming technologies that smart phones bring to the table.

John Rougeux: So that space is evolved from being at a point initially where there are a lot of issues around, like you said connectivity, scalability, and certainly not a critical mass of devices to either connected or just present. And now you’re saying that many of those scalability and security privacy issues have been solved, or being addressed. And we also have this huge proliferation of devices. Smart phones included, but other devices as well. And now that’s just providing this constant stream of data back to businesses.

John Rougeux: So the question now, is how do you make use of that data, and how do you inform your customer insights based on what’s possible there?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah. And some of the businesses, I would say they’re just not realizing that oh my god, I actually own this data. Maybe I should put it to good use. You know, if you ask a network IT audience, they would probably say it’s performing great, it’s secure, its’ stable. AP’s are running, knock on wood. And they will just leave it there.

Özer Dondurmacı: But you start talking to marketing audiences, real estate facilities, business operations, and they already assume that wifi of course going to work. It’s of course going to be secure. The line of business starts asking, wait a minute. You’re telling me that a hundred thousand smart phones connected to our network last month, and I don’t have anywhere, I haven’t been storing that information anywhere to give me some business intelligence?

Özer Dondurmacı: So line of business looks at it in a completely different angle, right. They don’t even need to know the differences between different wifi specs and technology. They just go and ask the smart question. If all these devices are connecting, if they’re all accessing these apps, why are we not taking advantage?

Özer Dondurmacı: So as soon as you bring the wifi topic to the line of business [inaudible] then you start finding a variety of ways to look at the puzzle.

John Rougeux: So instead of the mentality being, let’s make sure nothing breaks, it’s how can we get value out of this and inform our line of business?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, absolutely.

John Rougeux: So one of the things you and I have been talking about recently, is just the terms in kind of proliferation of different technologies, and ways to use wireless networks that can really cause some confusion if you’re not technical and if you’re new to that space. I think one in particular you and I were talking about, was presence verses people counting.

John Rougeux: So could you walk us through some of the kind of common points where people get hung up, and maybe clarify some of those definitions for us?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, absolutely. So one of my favorite topics to discuss, dismantle, have a conversation with our customers on. So I usually look at it as three layers. I’m sure we can add more, but three is usually a number that we can all keep in mind for an extended period of time. So three areas, the first one is, the presence and people counting technologies.

Özer Dondurmacı: So we know that this technology could be enabled in a variety of different ways. There are infrared sensors. There are computer vision technologies. There are video camera systems who are able to recognize bodies as they walk around a specific area, specific space. And these systems may not give us the identity of the user. These technologies may not count the number of mobile devices running on wifi or Bluetooth networks. But they’re just giving us the knowledge about presence and people count.

Özer Dondurmacı: Especially infrared sensors. Unless you design them and deploy them in relatively high density, and in a specialized way, you’re not really even people counting with the PIR sensor. You’re just basic detecting presence in a zone of five to seven meter radius. You don’t know who those people are, you just know that there are people there.

John Rougeux: There’s something … Yeah.

Özer Dondurmacı: There could be good information. One of our customers tell us, “Hey, you know what, I want to measure space utilization. I don’t care about engagement, I don’t care about which apps are being used on the wifi network. I don’t want to measure amount of connectivity, how much people, time spending on the network. I just want to know some activity there. Bodies are showing up.

Özer Dondurmacı: We say, look, then wifi is not the solution you are looking for. You should really mess in presence detection solutions that will give you 100 percent of the data that you need to be able to make business decisions.

Özer Dondurmacı: So these presence detection technologies, they may not be the smartest in terms of knowing who you are, where you’re coming from, how long you’re spending on the network, which applications you’re accessing to. But they give you a lot of data. Like, 100 percent of people present are actually detected by these technologies.

Özer Dondurmacı: So they’re not a smart, but they give you highest level of data set. Largest set of data set. So that’s number one. I don’t know if you have any questions on that one.

John Rougeux: Not a question, but you’re getting at this idea of tools in a toolbox. And depending on what you want to learn as a business, about your space and the people there, there’s not one technology that’s going to cover all of those use cases, all of those needs. You need to be maybe pick and choose about using the right technology for the outcome that you’re looking for. Is that what you’re getting at?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, pretty much. Because usually this conversation goes into, okay well presence sensors and computer vision sensors, everything else, these are good stuff. I like what you’re saying, but how about wifi? Usually that’s kind of the second question, because wifi is so pervasive, and is so heavily used. And we change the conversation about wifi from presence, to intention to spend time somewhere, or intention to interact with a brand.

Özer Dondurmacı: I mean, if somebody cares enough to sit down, open their phone, open their laptop, connect to the wifi network, go through the wifi network, go through the [inaudible] portal if there is one, or username, password authentication. They’re willing to spend some time sitting there, and getting some work down, interacting with other people. And at that point, they are really intending to use that space in a longer period of time.

Özer Dondurmacı: You might trigger a presence sensor by just walking through a door, or walking through the hallway. But if you’re connecting to the wifi network and you’re spending 22 minutes watching YouTube, sending emails, downloading files from Dropbox, then you’re really intending to use that space. Of course, that connectivity comes with a variety of different valuable information. You might identify yourself to the network through authentication. If you’re an employee working at a corporate campus, once you authenticate through the network, maybe your department ID is a useful context for people who are trying to figure out which departments have the highest needs of application performance, everything else. Or it might be a way to measure people’s intention to spend time in a meeting room, verses the open areas, verses the kitchen, verses the cubicle space. So it can give you some interesting data sets there.

Özer Dondurmacı: And then, if you’re a public venue, obviously you probably care about digital engagement just beyond wifi. Somebody connects to the wifi, but are they accessing your digital brand assets? Maybe your mobile website, maybe your website where you run a variety of different market activities. Are these people connecting to the wifi and interacting with my digital brand assets, or just connecting and passing by?

Özer Dondurmacı: Those are the important, valuable information that you can really gather from wifi beyond presence. And these two technologies are not mutually exclusive. You might use PIR sensors, presence sensors, to turn on the lights when somebody’s walking by. Very useful application, that’s why we use it here in our headquarters. But on wifi a dataset can give you a lot of information about facilities management, your space management. And if you’re a public venue, maybe it would inform the marketing department about how they should be engaging people on a digital domain using wifi.

John Rougeux: So certainly, if someone’s … Like I said, if they’d accessed the wifi network intentionally, then that’s a strong signal that they’re using that space perhaps differently than someone who’s just passing through. They’re investing and spending time in that space for one reason or another.

John Rougeux: And so there’s certainly, from that point once they authenticate, there’s a lot of information and interaction that you can create there.

John Rougeux: One distinction that I hear about a lot, and you probably do as well, is this distinction between registered or authenticated users on the network verses anonymous users who have not necessarily logged in or authenticated. Can you walk us through that distinction? And tell us what sort of insights you can get from those two types of users.

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, I mean as long as mobile devices are scanning the air, because they’re trying to find if they need to connect to a wifi network. They will generate certain frames, wifi frames, on the air for you to pick up using the access points. And that can give us a data point. Does not necessarily tell us who that user is. Usually, private information like Mac addresses, device identifiers, et cetera, they’re not revealed during that process for privacy reasons by iOS and Android.

Özer Dondurmacı: But it gives you a crowd presence detection. It can tell you, there’s this many mobile devices around. And out of those many mobile devices, we think that 70 percent of them are connecting to the wifi network, right. You can kind of compare and contrast devices present, devices that are connected. And that distinction for some organizations is useful, especially if you’re spending a lot of time investing in a stable wifi infrastructure, and your primary goal is connect as many people as possible. Because that’s the start of a digital journey. Digital brand experience for the users who visit your venue.

Özer Dondurmacı: So that level of business intelligence gathering is required, usually if it’s tied to a bigger [inaudible] activity, digital engagement activity, while the owners of the public venues and their marketing teams … And the corporate campuses, it’s usually not a reflection. It’s usually not something that we hear a lot, because you’re at work. You’re going to connect to a wifi network. Our attach rate here at Aruba is 100 percent. Everybody runs on wifi. Everything runs on wifi. And education, everything runs on wifi. So it’s definitely around the public venue space, where we’re trying to measure the effectiveness of a digital engagement plan or a marketing activity.

John Rougeux: Sure, sure. So those attachment rates, like you said, they’re going to vary quite a bit from setting to setting. And it may not even be valuable, or that information may not be valuable to know in certain contexts like you said. Education or corporate campuses, where it’s just going to be 100 percent.

John Rougeux: You know, another technology that I hear you talk about a lot, that’s related to wifi, or at least complimentary, is Bluetooth and beacons. And there’s some different use cases there. Can you explain kind of, what beacons are used for, and maybe what kinds of applications might trigger a business to look at investing in that technology?

Özer Dondurmacı: Absolutely. And that’s really the third piece of the puzzle. So we detected somebody’s presence, and then we realized that we need to turn on the lights. Okay, great. Or we got some useful metrics around spatialization. And then we looked at people who are connecting to wifi network, and how they’re intending to do their work, and how frequently and how long and what type of spaces, and which spaces.

Özer Dondurmacı: So we’ve done those two things. The third piece of the puzzle starts with Bluetooth. Bluetooth gives us the ability to reduce the radius of engagement with the user, from … If wifi offers 10 meters of a radius, gives us a location data point that is 10 meters or so accurate, Bluetooth brings us to zero to three meters, interacting with a smart phone.

Özer Dondurmacı: If I want to have my smart phone interact with a Bluetooth beacon by just touching that beacon, I can enable that. Or I can have, I can create a blue dot experience on that phone with three meters of accuracy, in order to guide someone from point A to point B. Or for them to be discover, or they are in discovering a type of nearby amenities, parking spot, a restroom, a store with their preferred product or et cetera.

Özer Dondurmacı: And that is usually enabled by the Bluetooth technology. At that point, we’re not in the presence domain. We’re not in the intention to spend time, measuring the intention to spend time. We’re really in the business of measuring interaction with the physical space. Do I want my smart phone to tell me more about the space that I’m in, using an indoor mapping engine, using my blue dot, using my current specific location. Do I want something happening on my smart phone, or in my physical space.

Özer Dondurmacı: So Bluetooth is usually used for interaction. It has even a lower attach rate compared to wifi, because it demands the use of a mobile app on the smart phone. So today, iOS or android, they both demand the use of a mobile app to be able to access the Bluetooth stack on your phone, and interact with Bluetooth beacons around you. Of course, a mobile app can be part of your brand strategy, your engagement strategy. But we should be realistic about the download rates, right. Our employee facing app, for example at Aruba, has 60 to 70 percent attach rate. And our best public venue customers have about 35 to 40 percent attach rate.

Özer Dondurmacı: So we’re looking for 30 to 70 percent of the people, even if it’s a really successful, really popular mobile application. But you know what, usually employees who are the most engaged, fans who are, they are your biggest fans about your brand. People who really want to interact with doctors and nurses at a hospital facility, they’re the ones who like to take advantage of this extra service. And probably those are the first people who will give you useful feedback, and probably those are the most frequently cared for audiences that you need to serve.

Özer Dondurmacı: And especially within public venues, we all know that if you show up at a stadium or a museum or a shopping mall, if there’s a frequent visitor who ends up being your VIP program, or your fan program, they’re going to be the one who are spending the most time and money with you as a public brand. And it’s perfectly acceptable that only our fans, only our VIP customers really download that app, and start interacting with you in these physical environments.

Özer Dondurmacı: So interaction with the physical environment usually reserved for the most valuable audiences, and those most valuable audiences are usually the most vocal about how they would like to see that space evolve, and your brand do things to change whatever needs to be changed.

John Rougeux: So the takeaway there, is just because your business is an app, just because you’ve deployed beacons or Bluetooth within your space, that doesn’t mean that you should expect 100 percent of people to engage through that means. But for people who want to interact with your brand, that provides another level of granularity and interaction that is a compliment to other technologies like wifi, or people counters or cameras or things of that nature.

Özer Dondurmacı: That is correct, that is correct. Yeah, I mean these three pieces of the puzzle … presence gives you limited amount of information about the person who is present there. But quite accurate, lots of data points. You move over to wifi, you might not have 100 percent coverage of everyone. You’re not counting bodies. You’re really counting connected mobile devices. At that point, you might get 70 percent attach rate, 80 percent attach rate. But it still provides lots of useful data about how much people are intending to use a certain space.

Özer Dondurmacı: And then the third piece of the puzzle, Bluetooth is usually reserved for fan engagement, and engagement with your most valuable audience.

John Rougeux: Got it. So just one last question for you today Ozer. It’s hard not to talk about these connectivity technologies without also talking about privacy. It’s such a huge topic today. What should marketers, operators, venue managers keep in mind, in terms of respecting visitor’s privacy when using these technologies?

Özer Dondurmacı: Yeah, I feel like it’s a must. Because once end users get the news that you may not be respecting their privacy, they’re not going to care about really engaging with you all that much. I think the concerns about security and privacy are increasing every day for a variety of reasons, primarily what’s on the news cycle. So it’s kind of a mandate. If you are collecting some information, make sure that you’re open about what you’re going to do with that data, and how it’s going to be used. And how that data will be used to improve everybody’s experience, and not just for the sake of data collection.

Özer Dondurmacı: And not bothering the end users for sign ups and constant email communication, and constant push notifications. Constant advertising. Nobody wants that, nobody likes that. You’re going to turn a bunch of customers away if you’re a public venue, and you keep doing that. If you’re higher education institution or a corporate campus, you’re going to piss your students and employees off. So just do it in a way that it’s open, but the amount of activities, the number of engagements that you drive through this data is also as minimal as possible. People have enough distractions on their phones and laptops on a day to day basis. Just don’t turn your engagement model into a spam essentially, right.

Özer Dondurmacı: So definitely be open about it, and don’t spam anyone. Those are, I guess, the obvious two recommendations.

John Rougeux: Be open, no spam. Love it. And I think that’s great piece of advice to leave our audience with today. You know, it’s been a real pleasure having you on the show today. Lots of great insights on wireless networks, how they can inform your customer insights strategy in different ways. If one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you, maybe ask a question or two, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Özer Dondurmacı: Honestly, Twitter is usually the best way. O-Z-E-R-D-O is my handle. I would love to answer any questions there.

John Rougeux: All right, good stuff, Ozer. Thanks again for being on the show today. I really appreciate your time.

Özer Dondurmacı: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, John. I appreciate it.

John Rougeux: Thanks, take care.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: podcast@skyfii.com. See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. If you have questions for Özer, you can get in-touch with him via Twitter.

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