Social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) technologies are high on everyone’s investment priorities list - so much so that SMAC has become the new enterprise IT model. Research firm Gartner refers to the trend as the Nexus of Forces, a convergence of technologies that is building upon and transforming consumer behavior and ushering in the next-generation of business technology.

“Although these forces are innovative and disruptive on their own, together they are revolutionising business and society, disrupting old business models and creating new leaders,” says Gartner. Therefore, the SMAC model calls for evaluating individual technology investments by how well it helps you integrate social, mobile, analytics and cloud services to transform your enterprise.

According to RIS’s Store Systems Study 2013, retailers highest investment priority is mobile, and rightfully so. A lynchpin technology for enabling mobility in brick-and-mortar retail is Wi-Fi. Does your Wi-Fi solution provider pass the SMAC test?

Here’s a few things to look for when evaluating Wi-Fi for large, distributed retail environments:

Social Integration

Social is a major driver of SMAC. It was largely people’s desire to socially interact with friends and family on the go that drove the rapid adoption of smart devices, so make sure social is integrated into your Wi-Fi solution. Social integration allows customers to login to your guest Wi-Fi via their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ account, making it super easy and far more likely. Retailers not only gain a mechanism for rapidly growing their followers and fan base with high-value users - those consumers who have already visited their store - but can now put a name to what was otherwise an anonymous shopper. Armed with this information, retailers can integrate an individual’s in-store shopping experience with her online habits and customer loyalty programmes to send highly personalised and relevant, location-based offers, coupons or other information directly to her mobile device. The customer, in turn, can opt to share that information and positive brand experience with her own social network of friends and family. And the cycle continues.

Secure Mobile

You may be inclined to think that any Wi-Fi solution would meet the “M” for mobile SMAC requirement. However, in retail environments where payment information is exchanged over the network, secure mobile with a capital “S” is of paramount importance. As you investigate WLAN vendors, make sure they have a complete solution for PCI-DSS compliance and reporting. For large, distributed environments, security should be automated and simple to deploy, manage and maintain with little or no local IT support. Look for features such as automated scanning for detection of rogue devices or “man in the middle” attacks, and automated preventative measures and actions for immediately eliminating the threat.

Even environments that don’t yet offer guest Wi-Fi access should have a solution in place for dealing with bad guys who may be out to scam your customers and possibly harm your reputation. Therefore, look for solution providers who can offer you wired and wireless intrusion prevention that can evolve and scale to provide you with the access you’ll need when you’re ready.

Analytics

Customer analytics provides valuable business intelligence to increase customer loyalty, engagement and revenue. However, because customer data comes from a large and growing variety of sources - through social interactions, loyalty programmes, POS systems, online browsing history and in-store real-time browsing - nowhere is SMAC integration more important.

A good Wi-Fi analytics report should provide real-time and historical trends such as number of Wi-Fi user devices present in or near the store, type of device, where they are located, how long they linger, and at what time of day. It should also provide information on repeat visitors of specific stores and groups of stores. When integrated with social media, analytics become far more powerful and personalised, providing not only the identity of mobile in-store shoppers, but information such as “likes” and interests to help push highly targeted and relevant offers and information to your customers.

Cloud

Not all cloud-based Wi-Fi solutions are equal. Look for a controller-less architecture that is purpose-built for large, distributed enterprises. Things to watch for:

Scalability and multi-tenant support

The solution should be able to scale to tens of thousands of locations or devices. A hierarchical location-based architecture should enable multi-tenancy (the ability to separate accounts, configurations and data) within a single customer account (e.g., corporate vs. franchisee, or across multiple brands)

Reliability

Your vendor’s globally distributed data centre environment should offer four nines (99.99%) uptime and local and WAN-based high availability and redundancy. While managed via the cloud, all of your access points and sensors should be able to operate even when connectivity to the cloud is lost.

Location-aware centralised management

Web-based management should be simple and intuitive, and provide administrators with access and reporting based on their role and the locations that they manage.  

Zero-touch provisioning

Solutions should be plug and play, requiring no IT staff at remote locations. Access points and sensors should be automatically discoverable and configured when connected to the cloud.

Retailers are strategically deploying SMAC across key business processes and technology deployments, combining the best of virtual and physical retail shopping to create data-rich, personalised channel-agnostic customer experiences.

At the heart of the SMAC model is relentless attention to the customer experience. By focusing on the way customers like to shop and consume information, and enabling those experiences with technologies such as in-store Wi-Fi with integrated social, mobile, analytics and cloud services, forward-thinking companies will continue to compete in this rapidly changing digital world.

According to the recent IBM study, From Transactions to Relationships: connecting with a transitioning shopper, what consumers want is a personalised in-store experience that not only mirrors the experience they get with online shopping, but is seamlessly integrated with their on- and offline shopping habits, preferences and history.

Dr Nadia Shouraboura talks about how online and offline retail can come together to create the perfect shopping experience. 

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Additional Information:

The Store Is Media And Media Is The Store | blog post by Doug Stephens @RetailProphet

Are You Talking To me? Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud | by Geoffrey Moore @geoffreyamoore

Going Beyond The Checkmark: 8 Steps to Secure Retail Wi-Fi [infographic]

Secure Cloud Wi-Fi for the Distributed Enterprise  | audio ebook

AirTight Social Wi-Fi Solution Brief