“Leading the way” has become an overused catchphrase for all kinds of products and services, whether it’s new concepts and ideas, new jobs, new automobiles, or new breakfast cereals. So when we hear about solution providers “leading the way” towards new loss prevention technology solutions, our expectations are often jaded by past experiences and broken promises.
In a profession often driven by our suspicious nature, we want more than a colorful promotion or flashy sales pitch to convince us that our financial and human resources are being invested in genuine solutions. We want partners that are willing to invest more in a relationship than simply providing a product. We need something more—something legitimate and authentic to validate our decisions. As a result we have raised the bar for our solution providers. Innovation must be captured as an approach to the business rather than just a new concept or product design. “Leading the way” has to be more than a catchphrase—it must be an attitude.
A Different Landscape
We live in a time where change has become the status quo; an era driven by innovation and creativity that urges us to take the next step—and the one after that as we search for answers and set the tone for what lies ahead. As the retail industry adapts to the brisk pace and escalating demands of the new-age retail customer, the landscape is shifting. There are evolving roles and responsibilities. There are new platforms for selling goods and services. There is greater reliance on resilient technology and the tools of the next generation of consumers. There are novel devices customized to fit a world that’s growing and shrinking at the same time.
But there are also new threats. Opportunities for loss exponentially increase with the mounting prospects for growth, change, innovation, and profits. Paperwork errors have become digital errors as inventories can be skewed by a mis-keyed entry or a missed barcode. Reliance on technology can build poor habits and false expectations of accuracy. There are also contemporary crimes, and fresh approaches to the misdeeds that we’ve been dealing with for generations.
There is a greater demand that has been placed on the loss prevention professional of the new millennium. Over the past decade and a half there has been a social and professional shift compelled by the mountains of change which have forever altered the way that we live, work, shop, and communicate. We have new roles and responsibilities coupled with greater expectations to protect and serve the retail community and the retail customer—often with limited resources and manpower to accomplish all of the many tasks that have been thrust upon us. This shift has been acknowledged and largely welcomed as the role has matured and our place is firmly planted in the retail infrastructure.
However, advancements in loss prevention technology must be matched by solution providers that are willing to understand, accept, and adapt to this changing landscape as well. Innovative products that help us respond to these needs are essential. But creative partners that can help us to find new solutions, share their subject matter expertise with our leaders, and educate our teams to enhance effective execution and ongoing performance is what sets the bar between a vendor and a solution provider.
Breaking New Ground
Axis Communications is a Swedish-based company that provides intelligent network solutions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Founded in 1984 by Martin Gren, Mikael Karlsson, and Keith Bloodworth in Lund, Sweden, the company is perhaps best known in the retail industry for IP-based products and loss prevention technology solutions for security and video surveillance.
“Most see us as a video company, but we’re actually an intelligent device company,” says Hedgie Bartol, LPQ, retail business development manager with Axis Communications. “The company is always looking to drive forward. We are constantly asking ourselves, ‘what else can be a network device?’ And then we work together to discover the next solution.”
The company originally started out as an IT company selling print servers. During the emergence of the Internet, the company pioneered network connectivity, becoming a worldwide leader networking technology for printers. Then in 1996 the company invented the world’s first network camera, revolutionizing the industry by transforming video surveillance from analog to digital. But this milestone only marked the beginning.
While customers liked the digital product, most users were currently utilizing analog cameras, which for a number of financial, operational, and logistical reasons could not simply be replaced with the digital devices. As a result the company once again stepped up to the plate, developing the first video encoders which allowed users to integrate existing CCTV systems with the latest Internet Protocol (IP) technology.
Since that time, Axis has continued to transform from a connectivity specialist in the market into a global leader in network video. By developing core loss prevention technology and products and establishing key partnerships the company’s products now include network cameras, video encoders, network video recorders and accessories; as well as video management software products, analytics, and other applications. The company serves many different types of businesses and markets, including retail.
The Human Factor
Building user-friendly loss prevention technology solutions has to involve more than just a chip and a patent. It has to be more than a keyboard tapping out a series of zeros and ones. There must be a human element that sets a foundation for genuine interaction and understanding; a sense of community and teamwork that inspires performance.
“Today we are the number-one surveillance company in the world—our technology and our cameras are the best,” says Bartol. “But it’s the people that can’t be duplicated. It’s our culture that establishes who we are. At Axis we believe this comes through three primary concepts.
“First we should think big, setting out to discover the solutions and designs to achieve our goals and dreams.
“Next we should act as one, working together to find the best possible solutions to our shared objectives.
“Finally, we should always remain open, learning from each other and our partners to determine what they want us to know and incorporating that message into our technology products, even if it’s not in our own best interest.”
Bartol sees the Axis Retail Leadership Forum as an important resource towards this objective. The annual forum is used as a shared opportunity for both the retailers and the company to learn the technology, learn what others are doing, provide panel discussions to further support discussion and brainstorm solutions, and allow a joint venture for all involved to constructively arrive at productive conclusions.
“We’re creating based upon what the customer is asking for, which has always been our objective. There are a whole line of discrete solutions that have come out of these forums,” he says.
But providing loss prevention technology products isn’t enough. This is an industry that is built upon partnerships and collaboration—in a variety of different ways. There is an expectation of commitment to the industry, and not just a particular device or product line, in order to be a true solution provider. Thought leadership in loss prevention requires a certain level of perspective in order to maximize the success of these relationships. Without that perspective, products can quickly fade into the next industry widget rather than a true industry solution.
Bartol himself has made that commitment, earning his LPQualified certification through the Loss Prevention Foundation to hone and validate his knowledge and understanding of the core competencies of retail loss prevention. He shares his knowledge and expertise as a member of LP Magazine’s Vendor Advisory Board, providing and absorbing information and learning experiences for the benefit of both practitioners and leadership, and participates in other events that have cemented his place as a valued member of the loss prevention community. “Axis is committed to ensuring that all its business is conducted in a responsible, transparent and trustworthy way,” he says. “I love who we are for the retailers, and the degree to which Axis respects and is committed to this industry.”
The Axis Experience Centers
“Quality is paramount across our entire enterprise,” says Fredrik Nilsson, VP, Americas, Axis Communications. “And it’s just as important within the relationships that we have with our partners and customers. This is what gives us the greatest value. We believe that by investing in training we can help our retail customers get the most out of our technology solutions.
“We work closely with end users to best understand the need. This is a partner-centric model that includes training; as well as investing in planning meetings, helping with rollouts, integrating products, and searching for new methods and products that fit that need and further support our retail partners.”
This approach to the business largely contributed to the development of the Axis Experience Centers. The experience centers are large, interactive technology centers that offer training rooms and meeting space; while showcasing the company’s latest products and technologies in an authentic and practical environment. Customers can even bring in their own products to explore the best ways to integrate the technologies and maximize service and productivity within their business.
Currently Axis hosts experience centers in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Lund (Sweden), Munich (Germany), and Rotterdam (Netherlands). The most recent just opened in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada outside of Toronto. The 12,000 square foot facility features a training centre and a specialized engineering and technology lab available for local partners, customers and industry associations to host trainings, meetings and product tests. The space also features more than 100 Axis cameras and realistic demonstration areas for key vertical markets including retail, government, transportation and gaming.
“The concept behind the Axis Experience Center is about getting closer to our customers and truly providing them with an experience,” said Nilsson. “Each experience center is tailored to meet the needs of the specific business area, highlighting the technology and segments that are most relevant to our customers.”
Building Partnerships that Close the Gap
Unfortunately, many industry leaders still believe that there is a substantial gap between what retailers need, as opposed to what the solution providers believe they want. This is a common theme that has been echoed by many industry leaders.
Regardless of whether a solution provider believes that these comments are accurate—and regardless of whether they believe that the comments are directed at them—this is a common perception that has been shared by industry leadership. This clearly points to the importance of effective communication. It shows the need—on everyone’s part—to close the gap. It tells us that loss prevention leadership is looking for true partners. It tells us that they not only want their solution providers to be good educators, but also students of loss prevention.
As one might expect, there’s also another side to the discussion. Many of the solution providers feel that there needs to be progress made in the development of collaborative partnerships.
“If retail loss prevention teams and technology buyers are more open, then their problems may get solved faster and more creatively. Collaboration is a much healthier approach,” one solution provider recently commented. Most solution providers are also looking for true partners. Many have said that they are willing to learn as well as educate if provided with the opportunity and the partnerships.
This is what makes opportunities such as those provided by leadership forums, user conferences, industry-wide events, and the type of growth and learning experiences offered through resources like the Axis Experience Centers so important. The prospects that are afforded when we embrace the invitation to work together can open the vault to a wealth of possibilities.
“At Axis, we believe what sets us apart is our ongoing desire to understand what our products mean to the end user,” says Nilsson. “We understand the need to reinvest money in innovations. We have fully embraced the enduring need to constantly search for new solutions. But perhaps most importantly, we recognize the need to invest in long-term relationships. These things together are what build successful partnerships and genuine solutions.”
An Industry Imperative
Technology is seen as a primary driver that will impact the role of the loss prevention profession in the years to come. This includes preventing the exposures that new technology may afford, as well as how to best leverage loss prevention technology solutions to combat retail shrink and loss from all sources. It then makes it a mission-critical objective for loss prevention professionals to embrace and utilize these tools in order to impact the many different aspects that are a part of protecting the retail business, our employees, and our customers.
Technologically savvy team members have become vital to successful loss prevention programs. But as the retail landscape continues to change, the loss prevention practitioner must further leverage technology in order to adapt. Industry leaders anticipate that the future of loss prevention is heavily immersed in technology on multiple levels. There will be a growing expectation that all of our team members embrace loss prevention technology and can quickly adapt to the needs of the business.
As a result, the ability to have solution providers that can help the loss prevention practitioner to best use these resources and educate our teams will be at a premium. Solution providers need to be experts in next generation technologies; as well as experts in next generation loss prevention. This expertise must be fully explored to meet and anticipate the needs of retail clients by providing tools that are cutting edge, and continually evolving.
Collaborative thought leadership that helps us to better understand the tools changing the retail landscape is an essential aspect of future development, and solution providers are critical to assisting practitioners on emerging trends. Those that proactively adapt to these trends will lead the industry, drive innovation and add value. Industry leaders and solution providers who see the landscape and forecast where retail is headed will be the ones that will have the greatest long-term success.
However, it is an industry imperative that both industry leaders and solution providers are willing to take the steps to broaden their understanding of this tidal shift in retail. It’s just as important for loss prevention teams to be willing to reach across the table to work together and take action. We must seize the opportunity to collaborate when that opportunity is presented.
Has your organization truly taken the opportunity to fully understand and appreciate the other side of our partnerships? Have you? Taking the time to both share and listen will help complement the technology with effective protection strategies and better working relationships. This is critical for retailers in order to get the results that they are looking for. This will be paramount for solution providers so that they can tailor their products and service offerings based on what’s truly needed to help take the next steps.
As these complex tools become more commonplace, loss prevention practitioners must adjust, adapt, and develop to understand the utilization of these tools and the overall impact on the business. Awareness isn’t enough, and legitimate efforts must be supported by training and education. This will allow loss prevention professionals to become even more actively engaged in impacting the profitability of their organizations.
The steps that have been taken at Axis Communications provide us with a strong example of how important it is to have the right attitude, and how success can be fostered through collaboration and a winning culture. There are other solution providers that offer similar examples, and work hard to provide us with the tools necessary for success. But at the end of the day, that success is often gained by following fundamental principles. Innovation is driven by the right attitude. Invention is typically the product of resourceful application as well as creative thought. Communication is critical, and successful partnerships bring it all together. For all of those already taking the necessary steps to set themselves apart, this should provide ample reinforcement that they are on the right track.