Datavalet Co-President Daniel Forest discusses managed Wi-Fi market trends
The article originally appeared on RCR Wireless on September 24, 2019
For readers that are not familiar with the company, tell us what Datavalet is and does.
Over 20 years ago, Datavalet began providing high-speed internet access to hotel guests at a time when Wi-Fi was pretty much nonexistent, and a lot has changed since then. Throughout the years, we have kept our ear to the ground, listened to the needs of businesses, and broken into a variety of different industries in Canada and the United States such as restaurants, retail, financial services and healthcare. We’ve also evolved tremendously with regards to the networking technologies that we provide and manage. Currently, we’re managing large segments of branch office networks, such as employee Wi-Fi, firewalls and a variety of cloud-based networking technologies. Our initial focus on guest Wi-Fi networks is still a priority, but we’re putting more and more emphasis on end-user engagement and analytics – getting deeper into the operating or internal networks of our branch customers.
What problem(s) are you helping to solve?
We’ve always helped with providing a superior end-user experience, which we believe means getting people connected seamlessly and easily – bottom line. This priority remains. But networks today have to be more robust, reliable and secure than ever before, and that’s a demanding proposition for a lot of different market segments like quick-service restaurants (QSRs), casual restaurant chains and the retail industry. We provide an enterprise-grade, outsourced networking solution that drives overall customer loyalty and value to users through Wi-Fi – this, in turn, helps our clients increase their revenue. In order to accomplish this, we collaborate with our clients’ IT, marketing and operations teams so we can truly deliver a full line of services that help them meet their business goals.
Tell us about trends in guest Wi-Fi and access management.
Guest Wi-Fi has evolved. It’s no longer just a matter of charging customers 10 bucks a day for high-speed internet access or providing free, open-access Wi-Fi to entice customers to walk in the door. It’s now commonplace, in the minds of a loyal end customer, to provide free Wi-Fi. They now see it as a reflection of the company’s brand, and this mindset won’t go away with next-generation wireless technologies like 5G. A proper guest Wi-Fi experience is an opportunity to engage with customers digitally that can enrich their overall experience, increase retention and loyalty, and improve a business’ consumer insights. It’s low hanging fruit in many ways to different stakeholders in different industries.
To us, Access Management includes guest Wi-Fi but also contributes great value to employees, contractors, and other connected devices such as IoT. It’s really about what we can do at the device level and/or for the end-user. Our offering has evolved to cater to many different points of engagement that extend beyond solely guest access – we want to be a one-stop-shop for our clients.
What differentiates you from other managed Wi-Fi solutions?
Managed Wi-Fi often refers to the ongoing management of Wi-Fi networking equipment along with helpdesk and network operation services, but not typically much else. It usually lacks the richer, value-added applications that are gaining traction in the marketplace today around end-user engagement and analytics. We bring those two worlds together in a managed solution that is both turnkey to an end customer and friendly in its packaging to channel partners. And we’re well beyond our hospitality roots. Altogether, that differentiates us tremendously in the market.
Who are your flagship customers?
Many of our customers are white-labeled to our channel partners, so we’re sometimes stealthy in the marketplace. Unfortunately, we can’t name the large financial institutions, top 50 quick-serve restaurants, or healthcare institutions we work diligently for in the US and Canada. However, we can say that we are extremely honored to have productive relationships with the likes of Starbucks Canada, Tim Hortons in the US, and Air Canada in many countries.
Tell us about your Wi-Fi analytics and marketing solutions.
We’re firm believers that there is important business value in Real-Time Location Services (RTLS). Using Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies to collect data on users and networks in our customers’ venues allows for richer customer experiences, such as personalized communications, special promotions for birthdays, more accurate buying suggestions based on previous purchases, and so on. We’ve been providing user and network analytics for a long time now, but we’ve noticed that we, and many of our competitors, have fallen short of our customers’ expectations and have missed the mark on their pain points. With that said, we’re launching an end-user marketing engagement platform along with a new, advanced analytics tool in the short-term that we have been working very hard on. These are tools that will help our clients analyze their customers’ behaviors and connect with them on a more personal level. We are confident that our customers will be able to get much more value out of these offerings and better drive their business outcomes.
Can you share an example of a deployment you are really proud of?
We are proud of many. We’ve worked really hard with our partners and customers in the last few years on exceeding expectations, and that means reinvesting into our networks and customers relationships in a way that directly addresses their wants and needs. For one of our large restaurant chains, we introduced quite a bit of cutting-edge functionality in the last year. We rolled out wireless intrusion detection and prevention services, we developed store opening and closing hours for their guest Wi-Fi, and increased network availability to meet their operational and client-based demands. We are now contemplating other uses for these technologies that will integrate further into their mobile applications. We’ve listened to their concerns and priorities and delivered on them in short order, which has effectively differentiated our offering. It’s pretty exciting to now talk about the future with them.
Tell us about your roadmap. What exciting features are you working on?
Our focus in the short-term remains on deepening our offering for branch office networks, not only for Wi-Fi but also for on-site networking and security. The release of our new Wi-Fi-based marketing engagement platform is an important step at the moment, which will be followed by our new analytics product soon after. Above and beyond that, our team is working on a handful of important solutions over the next twelve months that will shape our business for years to come. Stay tuned for more on that.
Where do you see enterprise managed Wi-Fi evolving in the next five years with the emergence of 5G?
5G may provide some major, promising benefits in the future, but we’re cautious about the hype. We believe that communication mediums, including licensed and unlicensed radio wave spectrum, must ultimately converge in order to work together to deliver on customer and user expectations. This means appropriately tackling indoor versus outdoor locations, mobility, throughput, speed and total capacity over time with the right combination of technologies. We’re already managing 3G/4G/LTE devices in certain functionalities for mobility or redundancy, and we simply expect these hybrid cases to become more ‘mixed’ and varied in nature. That should represent a wealth of opportunity for our customers, partners and ourselves.
Where can people contact you for more details?
The best way to reach us and get more information about our full suite of services is through our website at www.datavalet.com.