Envisioning the Value of Video Is Easy—But Extracting It Can Be Tricky

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It’s probably not difficult for loss prevention practitioners to picture the value that surveillance video solutions can provide. After all, they’re often inundated with promotional descriptions suggesting that today’s video solutions are a panacea for sluggish store sales and high shrinkage. So why do many experts think that expectations from video surveillance systems have only been partially met?

One reason, according to some industry analysts, is a lingering worry among retailers about risking investment on yet another automation technology that might be oversold. Hesitance is rarely due to a lack of awareness or because retailers don’t understand video’s promise. It’s due to a fear that they won’t successfully capture it.

Retailers aren’t necessarily wrong to be cautious, suggested Mike Dunn, ‎vice president of business development at BSI, a leading provider of video security solutions that was recently named—for the second year in a row—retail partner of the year by Axis Communications. Dunn strongly believes in the power of today’s video, which has better quality at its core than it once did. “The improvement in the quality of cameras and images is dramatic, and it’s improving constantly,” said Dunn. “The price point is always improving, the cameras are better than in the old analog days, so right out of the gate, systems are better investments. And then there are the dramatic strides in analytics that are able to use that better-quality video.”

Dunn described how today’s video analytics can provide unprecedented situational awareness. “We can now accurately track one person throughout the whole store even though he or she has to go through 30 cameras,” Dunn explained. “Systems can track using the color of a shirt and the height of the person, and it’s all stored in the metadata.”

We may only be on the front edge of where video will take us, according to Dunn. “I really look forward to where this quality is going to take us because it has opened up the door to countless possibilities.” One increasingly popular possibility is the use of security cameras for business intelligence applications, such as measuring customer traffic patterns, dwell times in front of displays, and time spent in checkout lines.

Again, it sounds ideal. However, real-world deployments of video surveillance systems have not always lived up to customer expectations. Complaints have included a too-high false alarm rate in detecting noteworthy events from the surveillance scene and an inability to unify system components within a single system. Nevertheless, these and other common concerns aren’t insurmountable, and—given the potential payoff—worth overcoming.

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Extracting Value

Selecting the right technology partner is critical to a surveillance system’s success. Many top-name retailers already leverage video to reduce loss, improve store operations, aid compliance, and inform marketing strategies, but it takes the right support from a provider to help leverage value in the ways that fit your retail organization. “There isn’t one solution, one cookie-cutter approach for a successful system,” explained Dunn. “Everyone’s needs are different, requirements are different, what they want to get out of a system is different, and everyone has a different starting point.”

Collaboration is also key, especially as applications expand beyond loss prevention. “Systems may be primarily designed for LP, but when they collaborate with other departments—IT, marketing, operations, and others—that’s when we see the biggest success,” said Dunn. Collaboration not only aids those other departments but may also take pressure off tight loss prevention budgets. “It’s always the hope that other departments will help pay, and we’ve seen cases where marketing and operations actually want to spend more than LP.”

How other departments might eventually use a video management system should also be a consideration—even if they’re not interested right now. “Those future needs need to be in mind because technology is improving, cameras are improving, and there are bandwidth, storage, and accessibility issues. Making sure you’re staying on top of all that is necessary for getting value from video systems.”

It’s common that retailers will begin by using a video surveillance system for its original function of preventing and deterring theft, but—in time—for marketing to want to use the same system to learn where customers spend most of their time or in which direction they typically go after they enter. “We went ahead for one customer and put analytics right on the camera, and immediately, marketing could identify where their most valuable shelves really are,” said Dunn, noting that LP also benefited by identifying often-empty aisles that were acting as a lure to shoplifters. Value in this common scenario is only possible when end-users adopt open systems. “It was possible because the [open-architecture] Axis camera allowed it, so we didn’t need to forklift anything out,” said Dunn. “In the end, even though the use case wasn’t fully determined ahead of time, it all converged into one nice package and the company benefited as a whole.”

Unfortunately, this is an area where retailers can get burned: implementing systems and components they believe to be open, perhaps advertised as ONVIF-compliant, only to discover later that they are closed off from enhancing their system they way they’d intended. “It happens all the time,” said Dunn. “A lot of companies say they’re open, but it’s often the case that they’re just advertising as such.” ONVIF-compliant is by no means a guarantee because the standard is not yet where it needs to be, Dunn explained. “It’s why we stick with truly open platforms, because you never know what marketing and other departments are going to want to do with it—and you need the entire system to support it. We work to avoid calamities like that.”

Hidden Value

Finally, it’s not always the case that fear of disappointment causes retailers to shy away from video investments. Occasionally, retailers may not realize just how far systems have come. Even analog diehards are now switching over to IP cameras, and with the efficiency of today’s compression, cloud-based hosted video is becoming a real possibility for small retailers. “You can get away from the DVR box and store that information on the cloud or private server, and take away that hardware cost and enjoy that flexibility,” said Dunn. “People are thinking, ‘I can’t do it.’ But it’s a myth that such a thing isn’t possible. There have been dramatic strides in this area that people don’t appreciate. You really can do it—and it’s a great option for certain applications.”

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