Sponsored by Axis Communications
Loss prevention professionals have historically depended on manufacturers to create the technology solutions that we use to protect our stores. While it’s been up to LP practitioners to deploy these tools strategically and advantageously, LP typically waits for the next novel product release to push protection forward.
But wait no more.
The networking of store devices provides LP executives with an opportunity to let their creative side shine. You don’t need to wait for some company to release a new solution to help you meet your LP mission. You can now devise your own.
“More and more systems and devices are connected to the network and use the same protocol, so why aren’t they talking to one another?” asked Hedgie Bartol, retail business development manager for Axis Communications. “Why doesn’t a camera inform a digital sign that a single male in his 50s is standing in front of it so it knows to show an advertisement for golf clubs? Or if someone is lingering in front of pseudoephedrine products, why doesn’t a PA announcement call for ‘special assistance in aisle 9?’ Or issue an announcement to open a register if lines at the cashier are too long?”
Bartol believes retailers and LP are “just starting to scratch the surface” of what is possible from the networking of devices. Indeed, consumer applications from integration seem to be running ahead of business uses. While smart refrigerators are placing online orders and thermostats are regulating lights and temperatures in connected homes, many retailers have not yet examined how they can exploit that same connectivity and intelligence in their stores.
What is slowing down adoption of integrated solutions? A lack of understanding of what is possible is probably one reason. Another is the fact that integrated solutions typically extend beyond the boundary of basic security and require engagement from other business units, such as operations and merchandising.
Obstacles exist but shouldn’t hold LP back from brainstorming possibilities. There is real value to be had from discovering ways to leverage the power, flexibility, and reach of connectivity. “It’s time for LP to think about integrated security,” said Bartol. “We have the technology. It’s time to think about what we can do with it.” He advises loss prevention practitioners to alter the manner in which they think about their LP tools. Instead of thinking of camera schemes and point-of-sale terminals as individual systems, regard them as a few sensors and network devices among many.
Network connectivity “makes the world flat,” Bartol explained. It allows for compatibility among systems and devices, including those that don’t reside in the same location. The types of devices that can be used in an integrated solution are nearly endless: video surveillance cameras, smoke detectors, access control panels, loudspeakers, lighting systems, refrigeration units, and more. The possibilities are as extensive as the imagination, suggested Bartol. “When the CEO arrives to work, the license plate recognition system in the parking garage can tell the coffee maker in his office to start brewing,” he noted.
More seriously, “The opportunity is there to tie together devices and systems to support the LP mission and enhance business at the same time,” said Bartol. These include providing business intelligence, including insight into in-store traffic flow and behavior analysis, and more efficient operations, with the ability to reduce utility and other costs.
Integration also provides a platform for problem solving. Having trouble with homeless encampments going up at night behind stores? Cameras can observe people gathering, trigger the lighting system to flood the area with light, and alert the PA system to announce that “authorities have been notified.”
At a fundamental level, it’s just about developing rules. It’s not that different from setting your email client to auto-respond that you’re out of the office, or to push emails from select individuals into a certain folder, according to Bartol.
Moreover, the possibilities to enhance LP from integration don’t reside—as they often used to do—in the realm of “one day.” “The technology is already here,” said Bartol. “It’s a matter of bringing people together and forming partnerships so you can outline where you are, and where you want to be in five years.”
Axis’s Bartol identified other keys to integration success, including:
- Maintain a strict adherence to open-platform devices so that components can talk to one another. “There is often a difference between what people say can work and what will work,” warned Bartol. “The key is to pick a path and execute on that path, but to retain the ability to adjust as you go. Don’t paint yourself into a corner that makes it difficult to change course.”
- Establish strong partnerships with suppliers. “It’s critical to have a good working relationship with the people who turn the screws and twist the wires—a good integrator will have an understanding of your business and where you want to go.”
- Be mindful of bandwidth, and forge a great internal relationship with the IT department. As the owners of the network, IT is a critical partner for integration projects—but technology bandwidth isn’t the only type to consider. “Human bandwidth is another important issue, as people now have to do more with less, and staff and budget are being cut,” said Bartol. “You need to be sure you can allocate sufficient human resources to do a good proof of concept and properly analyze the results of pilot studies.”
While a good deal of hype surrounds smart, connected products, they represent a real and practical step forward—one that retailers are only starting to take advantage of to cut expenses, improve operational efficiency, enhance safety, reduce loss, and drive business. Now, rather than waiting on a new product release, integration creates a canvas on which creative and forward-thinking practitioners can paint their own LP masterpiece right now.