Using Wi-Fi to Sell More Goods and ServicesBy Michael Vizard | Posted 05-14-2013
Using Wi-Fi to Sell More Goods and Services
By Michael Vizard
MGM Resorts International knows a lot about its customers before they arrive and after they depart. However, when it came to engaging with customers within the four walls of its casino and hotel properties, the gambling and entertainment giant was virtually blind.
As senior vice president and chief digital officer for MGM Resorts International, John Bollen was charged with creating a strategic plan for engaging customers while they are on the company’s properties, with an eye toward enticing them to use additional services and amenities via their mobile computing devices.
To accomplish that, MGM Resorts International partnered with Cisco, Qualcomm and Mobilitie, a provider of Internet service, on an ambitious effort to create a wireless network that uses Cisco Mobile Experiences technology to allow MGM Resorts to identify where guests on the company’s properties are physically located.
“Up until now we didn’t have much visibility into how people were spending their time on a trip,” says Bollen. “We know a lot about what they do before they get here and after they leave, but not what they are doing inside our properties.”
A key strategic asset turned out to be the data centers that the company uses to run its business operations. By routing all the wireless traffic back through the data centers, MGM Resorts could take advantage of its installed corporate backbone, which means the company could seamlessly manage the wireless networks as an extension of its corporate network across multiple properties versus having to deploy an isolated network inside every company-owned property.
Bollen says the company offers differentiated levels of wireless service, ranging from best-effort free to paid services that guarantee various qualities of service. The basic idea is to allow casino visitors to more easily find their way around the property and, hopefully, share their experience with others via social networks, in effect turning each visitor into an extension of the company’s marketing efforts.
The overall project, which has been two years in the making, involves 2,200 access points and 129 switches that are deployed over 4.3 million square feet of hotel and casino property in Las Vegas. According to Bollen, the network is capable of supporting more than 120,000 simultaneous users.
Whether it’s to attract convention business or more foot traffic, wireless networking has become a critical business requirement for MGM Resorts. “The club owners need Wi-Fi or they freak out,” says Bollen.
He also envisions using mobile applications to promote, for example, what wines might go best with a certain dinner entrée. “We have a multimillion dollar inventory of wine,” says Bollen. “Selling that is a very good thing.”
Free Wi-Fi access is included as part of hotel guests’ resort fee, and they can pay to upgrade to receive a higher quality of service that recognizes them when they enter any MGM Resort property during their stay.
At present, a user can directly log on to the network or use their Facebook credentials. Moving forward, MGM Resorts, which owns other Las Vegas properties like the MGM Grand, the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and Mirage hotels, is exploring a deeper relationship with Facebook in which the Internet giant would defer some of customers’ cost of accessing the network in exchange for greater advertising opportunities.
In fact, it’s those very opportunities that are at the heart of why MGM Resorts decided to build its own wireless network rather than rely on a service provided by a carrier. Bollen says carriers don’t like to get involved in services that offload traffic from their networks, and making the data rate plan handoffs between various carrier plans is complicated.
Using Wi-Fi to Sell More Goods and Services
Next up, MGM Resorts plans to extend the wireless network so that guests can use their mobile devices to order room service, make a reservation, ask for a wakeup call or do anything else they may have previously relied on a hotel phone to do.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in making all this happen, says Bollen, has been turning all the data that IT collects into information the marketing department can use.
MGM Resorts in the process of developing a wireless monetization ecosystem that now includes a mobile application through which MGM Resorts can continue marketing its attractions long after a guest has returned home, says Bollen.
MGM Resorts appointed Bollen as chief digital officer in order to have an IT-savvy business executive driving a new business opportunity, while company CIO Rebecca Wanta remains squarely focused on optimizing the back-end office applications that drive the company’s business.
Like any venue in which wireless networks can be used to enhance the digital customer experience, the real challenge is making it as simple as possible to access the wireless services.
“We’re trying to take the friction out of the experience,” says Bob Friday, CTO for Cisco Wireless. “Accessing the network should require only two clicks on their mobile devices.”
Cormac Conroy, vice president of engineering for Qualcomm, says Wi-Fi networks can now identify the location of a user within a building, creating new opportunities to leverage the existing network infrastructure.
“We can deliver many more cool experiences,” says Conroy. “This is just the beginning of the journey.”